many societies around the world where religious differences have boiled into
armed conflict, young people are at particular risk. Often, they are recruited by religious extremists to join in
terror campaigns against rival religious communities. But as we hear from in
this report written by VOA's Mohamed Elshinnawi, a growing interfaith youth
movement is working to counter the extremists, and to give young people the
tools and training they need to build more peaceful, tolerant societies.
its headquarters in the midwestern city of Chicago, a private organization
known as the Interfaith Youth Core is training what it hopes will be tomorrow's
peace-makers. The not-for-profit
American group teaches young people how to build bridges of friendship and
understanding across cultures and faiths.
It provides leadership training, program funding and support for
networking projects among groups of young people around the world.
Muslims at Forefront of Interfaith Youth Movement in U.S.
Eboo Patel, a well-known Muslim and social activist in the United States, is
the founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core. He says young American
Muslims are at the forefront of the interfaith youth movement.
use it as an opportunity to manifest the peace-building commands within
Islam," Patel says. "They use it as an opportunity to articulate
their very misunderstood religion in the world. And they use it as an
opportunity to get to know people from different backgrounds with whom they
share many values."
people comprise a large and growing percentage of the populations in many of
the most religiously volatile corners of the world. These are often places, says Patel, where traditional
socio-economic patterns are breaking down, where people from different
backgrounds and faiths are interacting more closely and competing for
influence, and where frictions are mounting between religious and civil law.
this turmoil, Patel says, it can be difficult for young people of faith to
understand the value of a pluralistic and tolerant society. He believes the interfaith youth movement
he's helping to build focuses on some essential truths: that people of all
faiths deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and that there can be no
peace between nations without peace between religions.
Recruit for Peace in Middle East
Rizk is the founding member of the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue,
a private group based in Beirut, Lebanon, that specializes in conflict
resolution and religious dialogue. Rizk believes the interfaith youth movement
has been an important counter-strategy against extremist recruiters.
[interfaith] youth movement can actually recruit them for peace
initiatives," he says. "We
can provide models for co-existence in different parts of the world; then
clearly that would be a help to peace in the future.
says the movement's belief in religious pluralism is a key part of its efforts
to help defuse seemingly intractible conflicts in the Middle East and
we are talking about relationships between Muslims and Christian young people.
In another instance we are talking about relationships between Sunnis &
Shias," Rizk says. "I think there will come a time, hopefully, when
there is peace in the Middle East that we can expand to include Muslims and
Christians and Jews."
Out to Young European Muslims
U.S government, too, recognizes the importance of this interfaith youth
movement. Farah Pandith is a specialist
with the U.S. State Department's Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Her
office works with young European Muslims interested in studying the American
model of religious pluralism.
is hopeful that they are "sharp enough and strong enough when they are
dealing with their identity problem, and they are being told that they cannot
belong, they are being told they are different, and they are being told that
the Jews and the Christians are not their friends, that they have the ability
to be able to push back against that insane ideology."
believes that educating young Muslims in Europe and elsewhere, as they struggle
to find their identities in today's chaotic world, can help them appreciate the
value of peaceful interfaith dialogues, and so better resist the lure of