Interfaith Leadership Institute Conference (ILI) –
An Inward Journey of Leadership, Tolerance, & Inspiration
By Javad Anjum, Doctoral Student in Aphasiology, OU
|Javad, IFYC Founder Eboo Patel and UCM Director Melissa Wales at ILI Aug. 2014|
When I signed up to attend the three-day ILI Conference in New York City this summer, I experienced a range of emotions from excitement and curiosity, to uncertainty and anxiety. Although I have actively engaged in facilitating youth leadership activities and promoting interfaith harmony at a smaller level in Ohio University, it was the first time I was going to experience aspects of interfaith cooperation and leadership initiatives at the national level. As I come to find out later, the conference had a significant international participation, wherein allies and students from various parts of the world actively engaged; in an array of interfaith leadership training sessions and celebrated interactions with fellow attendees from diverse faiths, denominations, and traditions.
I went to the conference with a broader idea of what to expect, and did my homework of thoroughly browsing the IFYC website and formulating questions that would help me gain more clarity into the Better Together Movement in general and my role as an interfaith leader in specific. The conference provided me with an engaging experience wherein, I was able to discuss with fellow allies and students about what interfaith cooperation meant to them and learn more about their interfaith work across campuses and communities. This not only instilled in me a sense of belongingness to the community of interfaith leaders, but also presented me with novel and creative ideas to fuel our own interfaith cooperation efforts at Ohio University. It was great to see interfaith leaders from diverse affiliations working in cohesion across campuses and communities to restore and enable peaceful and harmonious coexistence. I learned that successful interfaith leaders had a few things in common; first, they never talked about what was “different” among people. They always appreciated positive and shared values across different faiths and denominations and identified ways of working together with a sense of unified purpose. Second, interfaith leaders strived to develop “positive relationships” with people who may hold “different” views. Third, they promote a “safe space”, wherein fruitful interfaith discussion and community service efforts are realized without any threat of fear, anxiety, or prejudice. Finally, interfaith leaders are very passionate about their work. Equipped with a contagious enthusiasm for interfaith work, they readily share personal “stories” that motivated them to choose the path of interfaith cooperation. During the duration of the conference, I observed that every attendee was willing to share their experience in doing interfaith work and were open to collaborations for future projects.
The individual training and plenary sessions of the conference were carefully crafted to inspire, motivate, and enable allies and students in performing interfaith work. It was hard to overlook the ingrained culture of interfaith diversity and tolerance at the conference. I felt that we are all part of a larger movement and our unique identities, aspirations, and efforts are helping to take this cause forward. While the individual sessions focused on enhancing and facilitating interfaith cooperation knowledge and skills, plenary sessions included guest speakers and team discussions. Most individual sessions included training both students and allies in delegations of 3-4, (such as Ohio University, Utah Valley University, and Ohio State University, etc.,) which not only helped us focus our efforts into improving interfaith work in our own campuses, but also provided an ideal platform to discuss individual strategies and tips with other campuses as well. Additionally, some individual training sessions were conducted separately students and allies, wherein the training module and content was designed to address specific issues facing interfaith work. Plenary sessions were highlighted by insightful and engaging talks by guest speakers including Eboo Patel and past ILI Alumni, who provided valuable tenets of their knowledge and current efforts in interfaith cooperation. These talks offered wonderful opportunities for the attendees to seek solutions for challenges and problems they were facing in their interfaith work. Some of the important topics included handling challenging conversations, enhancing campus presence for interfaith work and leadership, seeking funding and resources, and identifying potential allies.
I noticed that the ILI conference inculcated in me, a series of small, significant, and insightful changes that have positively impacted my interfaith beliefs and helped me gain clarity of vision as an interfaith leader. The experience has given me a tool kit that I can utilize design, develop, collaborate, and convene interfaith work at Ohio University, and beyond. I have learned from the experience of other allies at the ILI, the challenges we are facing as interfaith leaders and the solutions we need to formulate. I look forward to applying my knowledge and skills I obtained at the ILI, to enhance current interfaith efforts by UCM in Athens. Specifically, I envision to contribute significantly to the Better Together campaign at Ohio University in its current mission of promoting interfaith cooperation in the campus through community service projects and interfaith initiatives. I recommend ILI to anyone interested in interfaith work and youth leadership. There is something to learn for everyone, regardless of the type of faith, affiliation, and denomination or the level of current involvement in interfaith work.