Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle For the Soul of a Generation

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With a new afterword
Acts of Faith
is a remarkable account of growing up Muslim in America and coming to believe in religious pluralism, from one of the most prominent faith leaders in the United States. Eboo Patel’s story is a hopeful and moving testament to the power and passion of young people—and of the world-changing potential of an interfaith youth movement.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A beautifully written story of discovery and hope.”
—President Bill Clinton
“[A] visionary book, part coming-of-age memoir and part call-to-action . . . A shining vision of the possibilities of interfaith cooperation and pluralistic discourse.”  
—Adam Mansbach, The Boston Globe
“The best recent American statement about living one’s faith in a pluralistic society.”
Robin Lovin, Christian Century
“Remarkable . . . A well-written, compelling testimony to how one man is trying to ensure that different religions can live side by side in peace.”
—Paul Raushenbush,

“Eboo Patel is an exciting new voice of a new America: diverse but not divisive, hopeful but not utopian. He speaks for all of us from a rising generation of bright, brown, and bold Americans who have much to offer a country embarking on a new millennium and in need of new blood.”
—Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, executive director of the Zaytuna Institute

Publishers Weekly
Patel, a former Rhodes scholar with a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford, is the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that unites young people of different religions to perform community service and explore their common values. Patel argues that such work is essential, manifesting "the faith line" that will define the 21st century. Patel's own story is more powerful than the exhaustive examples he provides of how mainstream faith failed to reach young people like Osama bin Laden and Yighal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin. With honesty, Patel relates how he suffered the racist taunts of fellow youth, and, in response, alternately rebelled against and absorbed the religion of his parents-Islam-but in his own way. Meanwhile, he continued to pursue interfaith work with vigor, not quite knowing his end goal but always feeling in his gut that interfaith understanding was the key. This autobiography of a young activist captures how an angry youth can be transformed-by faith, by the community and, most of all, by himself-into a profound leader for the cause of peace. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Intriguing memoir by an American Muslim of Indian descent who discovered a calling to interfaith work. Patel, a founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, traces the personal journey that led to the group's formation and introduces readers to its philosophy. He describes his early years in suburban Chicago, "trying to fit in as a brown kid in a white world." In college, the author explains, he came to view America as a source of oppression and violence and took up the banner of radicalism with a vengeance. A variety of experiences and the influence of friends and mentors taught him to exchange rage for caring, and his life took off in a constructive direction from there. Patel points out various moments when, had he fallen in with religious or political extremists, everything could have gone wrong. Instead, the YMCA, the Catholic Worker movement and other organizations occupied his energies. Figures as diverse as Eric Rudolph and Osama bin Laden started out as troubled youth like himself, Patel notes, but were taken in by mentors who taught hate and violence. The lesson? Reach out to young people with a positive message before others reach them with a violent one. From that simple realization and a deep interest in religious pluralism, Patel joined with others to start the Interfaith Youth Core, which provides opportunities for young people from diverse backgrounds to interact and learn from each other. The author's message is compelling and overwhelmingly affirmative. His memoir is at times overloaded with detail, but it's an entertaining page-turner that juxtaposes youthful mistakes with remarkable moments of insight. Offers a worthwhile look into the burgeoning interfaith youth movement.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807077276
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 7/15/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Eboo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit building the interfaith youth movement. He is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and CNN. Named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report, he was appointed by President Obama to the Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Acts of Faith is the 2010 recipient of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in Religion.
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Read an Excerpt

Introduction: The Faith Line
Someone who doesn’t make flowers makes thorns.
If you’re not building rooms where wisdom can be openly spoken, you’re building a prison.
shams of tabriz
Eric Rudolph is in court pleading guilty. But he is not sorry. Not for the radio-controlled nail bomb that he detonated at New Woman
All Women Health Care in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed an off-duty police officer and left a nurse hobbled and half-blind. Not for the bomb at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta that killed one, injured dozens, and sent shock waves of fear through the global community.
Not for his hate-spitting letter stating, “We declare and will wage total war on the ungodly communist regime in New York and your legislative bureaucratic lackeys in Washington,” signed “the Army of
God.” Not for defiling the Holy Bible by writing “bomb” in the margin of his copy.
In fact, Rudolph is proud and defiant. He lectures the judge on the righteousness of his actions. He gloats as he recalls federal agents passing within steps of his hiding place. He unabashedly states that abortion,
homosexuality, and all hints of “global socialism” still need to be
“ruthlessly opposed.” He does this in the name of Christianity, quotxi ing from the New Testament: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
Felicia Sanderson lost her husband, Robert, a police officer, to
Rudolph’s Birmingham bomb. During the sentencing hearing, she played a tape of speeches made at her husband’s funeral. People remembered him keeping candy for children in his patrol car and raising money to replace Christmas gifts for a family whose home had been robbed. Felicia Sanderson pointed to Rudolph and told the court, “He has been responsible for every tear my sons have shed.”
Judge C. Lynwood Smith sentenced Rudolph to two life terms,
compared him to the Nazis, and said that he was shocked at Rudolph’s lack of remorse. But many others felt a twitch of pride.
Eric Rudolph might have been a loner, but he did not act alone.
He was produced by a movement and encouraged by a culture. In the woods of western North Carolina, where Rudolph evaded federal agents for five years, people cheered him on, helped him hide, made
T-shirts that said run rudolph run. The day he was finally caught, a woman from the area was quoted as saying, “Rudolph’s a Christian and
I’m a Christian . . . Those are our values. These are our woods.”
Of all the information published about Rudolph, one sentence in particular stood out to me: Rudolph wrote an essay denying the Holocaust when he was in high school. How does a teenager come to hold such a view?
The answer is simple: people taught him. Eric Rudolph had always had trouble in school—fights, truancy. He never quite fit in. His father died when he was young. His mother met and followed a series of dangerous iconoclasts who preached a theology of hate. The first was Tom Branham, who encouraged the Rudolph family to move next door to him in Topton, North Carolina. Eric was soon drawing Nazi symbols in his schoolbooks at nearby Nantahala High School. Next,
Eric’s mother moved the family to Schell City, Missouri, to be near
Dan Gayman, a leading figure in the extremist Christian Identity movement. Gayman had been a high school principal and knew how to make his mark on young people. He assumed a fatherly relationship with Eric, enrolled him in Christian Identity youth programs, and made sure he read the literature of the movement. Gayman taught
Eric that the Bible was the history of Aryan whites and that Jews were the spawn of Satan and part of a tribe called the “the mud people.”
The world was nearing a final struggle between God’s people and Satan’s servants, and it was up to the “conscious” Aryans to ensure victory for the right race. Eric took to calling the television “the Electric
Jew.” He carved swastikas into his mother’s living room furniture.
His library included virulently anti-Semitic publications such as The
Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, Anne Frank’s Diary: A Hoax, and
The International Jew. Under the tutelage of Gayman and other radical preachers, Eric Rudolph’s hate did what hate always does: it spread.
I imagine these preachers felt a surge of pride when Rudolph responded to Judge Smith’s question about whether he set off the bomb in Birmingham with a smug, “I certainly did.”
Middle school students in Whitwell, Tennessee, are giving tours of one of the most profound Holocaust memorials anywhere in the world: a German railcar that was used to transport Jews to Auschwitz.
The young people ask guests to imagine how it might feel to be one of the seventy or eighty Jews packed into that tight space, hearing the wheels clanking as the train took them to torture and death. They explain that the railcar is filled with millions of paper clips, each one a symbol of a Jew murdered by the Nazis. One student says that to see a paper clip now is to think of a soul. The sign at the entrance of the memorial reads: “We ask you to pause and reflect on the evil of intolerance and hatred.” The sign on the way out states: “What can I do to spread the message of love and tolerance these children have demonstrated with this memorial?”
One Whitwell student tour guide, about to graduate from eighth grade, reflects, “In the future, when I come back and see it, knowing that I was here to do this, it will be not just a memory, but kind of like in your heart, that you’ve changed the way that people think about other people.”
Whitwell is a town of fewer than two thousand residents, located outside Chattanooga in the coal mining region of southeastern Tennessee,
about a hundred miles from where the Ku Klux Klan was born.
It has two traffic lights and a whole lot of god bless america signs.
The mines closed thirty years ago, leaving the region even poorer than it was before. You can count the number of black and Latino families in Whitwell on two hands, and you won’t need any of those fingers to count the number of Catholics, Jews, and Muslims, because there aren’t any.
Why would white Protestant kids in a poor region with a history of prejudice care so much about educating people about Judaism? The answer is simple: people taught them. The principal of Whitwell Middle
School, Linda Hooper, wanted the students in her school to learn about cultures and people who are different from themselves. “Our children, they are respectful; they are thoughtful; they are caring. But they are pretty much homogeneous. When we come up to someone who is not like us, we don’t have a clue.”
She sent a teacher to a diversity conference, and he came back with the idea of a Holocaust education project. “This was our need,”
Hooper said.
Over the next several years, the students at Whitwell studied that horrible time, met with Holocaust survivors, learned about the rich tradition of Judaism, and taught all the people they touched about the powerful role that young people can play in advocating for pluralism.
Lena Gitter, a ninety-five-year-old Holocaust survivor, heard about the project and wrote the students a letter: “I witnessed what intolerance and indifference can lead to. I am thankful that late in life
I can see and hear that the teaching of tolerance is alive and well and bears fruit. When you ask the young, they will do the right thing.
With tears in my eyes, I bow my head before you. Shalom.”
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Faith Line     xi
The Crossroads of the Identity Crisis     1
Growing Up American, Growing Up Other     19
Identity Politics     37
Real World Activism     59
An American in India     77
The Story of Islam, the Story of Pluralism     101
The Youth Programs of Religious Totalitarians (or Tribal Religion, Transcendent Religion)     125
Building the Interfaith Youth Core     151
Conclusion: Saving Each Other, Saving Ourselves     175
Afterword     181
Acknowledgments     183
Bibliographic Essay     185
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