Once a year, and again in a few days time, communities around the world will commemorate another anniversary of those lost on September 11, 2001.
Some will be nationalistic, displaying flags and posting patriotic messages to social media.
Some will take another approach, sharing religious symbols of diverse faiths spelling out the word “Coexist”.
Community leaders will organize vigils, townhalls, and convene events planned for the National Day of Service.
Across the interfaith movement, observances of 9/11 will also honor those killed in the backlash against religious minorities.
So many anniversaries have now transpired, uniting activists and celebrities and political leaders and clergy and neighborhood captains in a shared pledge to redouble efforts to heal fractures that have so starkly separated Americans.
As a start, we need only remember another 9/11.
21 Years Later
Today in the United States, a majority of both major political parties now fear for the future of democracy. Studies like these echo in nations around the world. In the European context, studies show “political disaffection” is simmering, citing that EU citizens increasingly believe that government is simply too overwhelmed to adequately meet the social and economic needs of a people.
As faith in the very institutions designed to protect each of us is waning, an earlier interfaith commemoration summoned at this time could help.
Last year, the Parliament of the Religions was privileged to host Eboo Patel at its first virtual and eighth global Parliament. Patel’s work is synonymous with the neighboring Chicago-based organization Interfaith America, started (and recently relaunched under its new name) by Patel, a national force in the interfaith movement, a public intellectual, organizer, author and founder.
Patel’s credits (alongside fantastic books) include building the Interfaith Youth Core across the nation at a time when young Americans of diverse religious backgrounds were entering adulthood still reeling from the affects of September 11, 2001.
IFYC made its field of focus U.S. college campuses, where opportunity was rife to promote interfaith awareness and opportunity. Coinciding with the launch of IFYC, Patel held a multi–faith advisory position to the Obama administration and boosted participation through a White House interfaith challenge.
IFYC’s recent rebrand into the newly expanded nonprofit Interfaith America is working to reach beyond academia to support the public by creating multi-sectoral programs in cultivating religious literacy. The premise is for citizens to resonate with the ideals of [religious] pluralism, practice cooperation across differences and become a participant in achieving democracy, justice, and equity.
For many of the virtual attendees of the most recent (2021) Parliament of the World’s Religions, Patel as keynote was a familiar face, promising much to report on the landscape of interfaith activities across the country.
Yet with so much in flux, Patel centered his talk on the past, restating the reasons he understood the interfaith movement came to fruition at all.
His was a straightforward pitch on why the first World Parliament of Religions and the message of another 9/11 is so valuable:
“The Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago was the beginning in so many ways of the modern interfaith movement [in the West].
On that day, September 11, 1893, the great Swami Vivekananda addressed the assembly, used the opportunity to speak of tolerance between religions, highlighted the theology of interfaith cooperation from his own Hindu faith, invited the assembled august group to do the same from their diverse faiths, and ended his speech by saying that “from now on… all fanaticism, all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and all uncharitable feelings between people wending their way to the same goal would hopefully end.”
Those of the “august group” of the first World Parliament looked a lot more like America today than the U.S. of the 1893 World’s Fair.
What did they know that we’ve forgotten?
In a two-volume publication called “The Parliament of the World’s Religions” reporting on the 1893 gathering, English missionary Rev. George T. Candlin is quoted on the final day of meetings heaping praise upon the city that made history hosting the first global gathering of representatives of religious in the West, dubbing Chicago “a school… the city that knows what no other town or city in the world yet knows.”
Patel knows. He concluded his recent Parliament keynote with a wish, that [we] “live in to the spirit of 9-11 1893, to the spirit of religion as a bridge to cooperation. And let us remember that bridges do not fall from the sky, or rise from the ground. People build them.”
As September 11 returns to our radar, let’s take to social media to post about Vivekananda’s 9/11.
Imagine what we would say to Jain saint Virchand Gandhi, U.S. suffragette Susan B. Anthony (and 18 other women), and religious leaders from around the world who traveled to Chicago in 1893 and heard Vivekanda’s plea to the “sisters and brothers of America.”
In our era, no religious ordination is required to become an interfaith actor. The Parliament of the World’s Religions is calling upon all people of faith and goodwill, each partisan concerned that democracy is dying, to see in themselves what Vivekananda saw in the audience in 1893 when he said “people wending their way to the same goal” and join us in 2023 in building Patel’s bridge and “Defending Freedom and Human Rights.”
At the 2023 Parliament Convening, the interfaith school of Chicago re-opens its doors and welcomes all learners to the table.
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