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Eboo Patel – Spokesperson in the Making

By Paul Chaffee

Emerging Leaders

Born in 1975, Eboo Patel grew up in Chicago, raised in a Muslim family that had immigrated to America’s urban Midwest from central India when he was a toddler. He grew up a high achiever, eventually taking his doctorate in religion from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. His “big idea” of an Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) was conceived in 1998 during a United Religions Initiative planning conference at Stanford University. In 2002 the new organization was incorporated.

IFYC was five years olds when Patel published the award-winning Acts of Faith (2007), detailing his spiritual quest. This includes distancing himself from Islam, integral study of great religious activists from different faiths, recovering his own faith, and starting a new kind of interfaith venture. Subsequently IFYC has become one of the most dynamic interfaith organizations on the planet. Its laser focus on service and leadership training already lends the agency an influence exceeding its own highly regarded programming.

Acts of Faith is a compelling read and much more than a biography. Its stories reflect the same quandaries so many of us face in learning to respect and make friends with ‘the other.’ Service is a central theme. So is the spiritual, practical need to counter young people tempted to terrorism with young people dedicated to peacebuilding among all our diversities. Just one book to introduce your congregation/class/community to interfaith? Acts of Faith is a great choice – short, contemporary, moving, with plenty to chew on.

The Washington Post invited Patel to become a religion commentator. He has presented at TED, the Clinton Global Initiative, and a host of other major forums, including gatherings sponsored by the world’s major interfaith organizations. The sidebar to your left contains a small sampling of videos of Eboo on the internet, an excellent way to go straight to the power and clarity of his vision.

Now in his mid-thirties, Dr. Patel has mentored a generation of young adult leaders already doing remarkable work in this country and abroad. As a Muslim American pioneer, he has become an influential religious voice, driven by a love for the whole human family, challenging the rest of us to engender healthy, vital interfaith community wherever we live. Today his attention is focused on promoting new young adult voices telling their faith stories. TIO will have an article about them next month.

Eboo Patel in Person

The good graces of You Tube put getting acquainted with Eboo Patel a computer click away.

In a 2008 Youth Action Net posting, he talks about growing up in, starting IFYC, and story-telling in our lives.

A more recent presentation at St. Mary’s College of California draws on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi for an extraordinary six-minute ‘homily’ about the religious importance of the interfaith movement, especially among young people. This short introductory clip offers a reservoir of issues worth pursuing. Perfect for a class being introduced to the idea of interfaith relationship.

If you have 20 minutes, Patel’s discussion of “Religious Pluralism in a Democracy” (part 1) (part 2) weaves together the importance of religious pluralism and an interfaith strategy for the coming century. Highly recommended.