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Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America

Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America

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by Eboo Patel

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An inspiring call for Americans to defend the values of inclusiveness and pluralism by one of our best-known American Muslim leaders
In the decade following the attacks of 9/11, suspicion and animosity toward American Muslims has increased rather than subsided. Alarmist, hateful rhetoric once relegated to the fringes of political discourse has


An inspiring call for Americans to defend the values of inclusiveness and pluralism by one of our best-known American Muslim leaders
In the decade following the attacks of 9/11, suspicion and animosity toward American Muslims has increased rather than subsided. Alarmist, hateful rhetoric once relegated to the fringes of political discourse has now become frighteningly mainstream, with pundits and politicians routinely invoking the specter of Islam as a menacing, deeply anti-American force. In this timely new book, author, activist, and presidential advisor Eboo Patel says this prejudice is not just a problem for Muslims but also a challenge to the very idea of America. Sacred Ground shows us that Americans from George Washington to Martin Luther King Jr. have been “interfaith leaders,” and it illustrates how the forces of pluralism in America have time and again defeated the forces of prejudice. Now a new generation needs to rise up and confront the anti-Muslim prejudice of our era. To this end, Patel offers a primer in the art and science of interfaith work, bringing to life the growing body of research on how faith can be a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division and sharing stories from the frontlines of interfaith activism. Pluralism, Patel boldly argues, is at the heart of the American project. It is a responsibility we all must share, and Patel’s visionary book will inspire Americans of all faiths to make this country a place where diverse traditions can thrive side by side.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, lets his love for his work and his country shine through in this brief but charming introduction to the importance of interfaith work in America. Patel is particularly concerned with the contemporary mistrust of Muslim Americans, but his focus is broader, as he argues eloquently that America, by its very founding principles, should be a pluralist society, citing historical examples of religious tolerance. Patel also muses on practical considerations of interfaith leadership; he has adopted the somewhat counterintuitive practice of educating mostly individuals who are already committed to interfaith tolerance rather than trying to convert the unconvinced, since he has found that inspiring these individuals to action allows for a broader impact as they share their commitment with their own social networks. In some sections the book is only loosely organized, and sometimes Patel veers too far into the political arena, with examples that are likely to be outdated soon, but generally his expertise and blend of compelling personal anecdotes with researched argumentation makes this work an accessible and inspiring introduction to the meaning and practice of pluralism. Agent: Don Fehr. (Sept. 4)
Kirkus Reviews
The furor over the establishment of the "Ground Zero Mosque" underscores this interfaith leader's urgent plea for pluralism. The Chicago-based founder of the Interfaith Youth Core and appointee to President Obama's Inaugural Faith Council, Patel (Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, 2007, etc.) writes out of a deep concern over the virulence found in the "anti-Muslim blogosphere" in reaction to Imam Feisal's plans for a Muslim community center near ground zero. Planned by Feisal as a "place of peace, a place of services and solutions for the community," Cordoba House nonetheless raised hackles among conservatives, who branded even moderates like Feisal and Patel, who have devoted their careers to interfaith cooperation, as extremists. Nearly 10 years after 9/11, the community was stunned by the verbal attacks, and Patel wondered how anti-Muslim fervor could have again reached this pitch. He sought out some of the model leaders for guidance, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, fiercely devoted to taking an inclusive, pluralistic approach; popular American Muslim speaker Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, who welcomed the current conservative backlash as "a national discussion we've needed to have"; and the Dalai Lama, who declared his ignorance of Islam and proceeded to immerse himself in the study of the religion. Especially elucidating is Patel's exploration of historical examples of American bigotry, including Peter Stuyvesant's banning of Quaker prayer meetings and the pernicious current of anti-Catholicism in national politics, from the Know Nothing Party of 1854 to the Evangelical opposition to JFK's candidacy for president. Catholicism was deemed anti-freedom, hierarchical and bent on world domination, much as Shariah is considered today. Patel looks at what truly works in inculcating interfaith cooperation: bringing youth of all backgrounds together to share stories and develop personal understanding. A passionate call for nurturing tolerance and diversity.
From the Publisher

“Eboo Patel is a remarkable young man with the wisdom to seek truth and the courage to speak it. One of America’s foremost advocates and practitioners of interfaith understanding, he has written a book that combines timely social commentary with compelling history and a wealth of personal anecdotes. Sacred Ground is a refreshing, thought-provoking, myth-smashing, and deeply patriotic exploration of American identity and ideals.”
—Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

Sacred Ground is simultaneously a chronicle of religious tensions in post-9/11 America and an account of how to create, through trial and error and critical self-reflection, the most successful interfaith movement in the country.  Patel probes like a professor, inspires like a preacher, and writes like a poet.  I really loved this book; it is a tale that is truly hard to put down.”
—Robert D. Putnam, author of American Grace
“Interfaith cooperation is one of America’s founding ideals. It still sets us apart from much of the world. Eboo Patel has lived that value and, in this book, spreads that good word. Uplifting and invaluable, Sacred Ground is essential reading for our polarized era.” 
—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin
“Eboo Patel has been a transformative force in our young and tumultuous century. And he has an utterly original experience of what robust religious identity can mean in modern lives. With this book, he opens the idea of ‘inter-faith’ into a vision of America that is practically informative, refreshingly challenging, and full of hope.”
—Krista Tippett, host of public radio’s On Being

“At a time when ignorance and suspicion are holding us back from building true community with our neighbors, Eboo Patel offers a light in the darkness. He challenges the bigotry and intolerance that is seeping into our political rhetoric, reminding us that America is a country built on the pillars of pluralism and tolerance. In both Sacred Ground and his wonderful interfaith work, Eboo offers an opportunity for us to move to higher ground in our relationships with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to play our part in building a ‘beloved community for all people,’ both in the United States, and around the world.”
—Rev. Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics
“Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, lets his love for his work and his country shine through in this brief but charming introduction to the importance of interfaith work in America… [H]is expertise and blend of compelling personal anecdotes with researched argumentation makes this work an accessible and inspiring introduction to the meaning and practice of pluralism.”
Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
Beginning with the controversy over building a Muslim community center near ground zero after 9/11, this inspiring book encourages Americans to increase interfaith cooperation, tolerance, and inclusiveness.

Product Details

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New Edition
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5.86(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.88(d)

Read an Excerpt

From chapter 1, "Ground Zero"

A few months after 9/11, my father went to a banquet hosted by a Muslim activist organization. Somber prayers were offered for the victims of the attacks, and appropriate anger was directed at the terrorists. One of the hosts gave a passionate address about the coming threat to Muslims in America: how our rights were about to be trampled by the government in the name of security. The response, he told the fired-up crowd, should be a Muslim civil rights movement.
      The chief guest at the dinner was the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Perhaps the Muslim speaker felt as if he was paying homage to the movement Jackson had helped lead. If so, what happened next must have come as something of a shock. Jackson opened his speech by saying there is no such thing as Muslim civil rights.
     There is a well-honed sense of victimhood in some segments of the American Muslim community. You can see it in the e-mail newsletters of certain Muslim organizations. Every other story is an incident of a Muslim being wronged. Some Muslims have become expert in stringing such stories together, collecting them into a grand narrative of Muslim suffering stretching from Gaza to Green Bay. During the Ground Zero Mosque episode, I half-expected to see such newsletters linking the prejudice faced by American Muslims to the oppression of Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, and Chechens. Instead, something very different happened. American Muslims contextualized the Cordoba House events not in the narrative of global Muslim suffering, but in the arc of American minority groups that have experienced discrimination. The talk was not about Palestinians and Iraqis over there, it was about blacks and Jews right here. Muslims began studying the American experience from the perspective of minorities that had been marginalized. They expected to find parallels to their own suffering. What they did not expect was a lesson in what it means to be American.
     America has not been a promise to all its people. “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock,” Malcolm X said. “Plymouth Rock landed on us.” Whatever the faiths of the workmen who came to Mount Vernon, they laid their bricks next to Washington’s slaves. We are a nation whose creed speaks of welcoming all communities and whose practice has too often crushed them. But, to borrow from Maya Angelou, the dust was determined to rise, and generous enough to carry the rest of us with. People who knew the whip of the slave master in Alabama, the business end of the police baton on the South Side of Chicago, people who could easily have called our nation a lie, chose instead to believe America was a broken promise, and gave their bodies and their blood to fix it. As Langston Hughes wrote, even though “America never was America to me,” he was still committed to making the promise of this nation real, declaring one line later in his poem, “America will be.”
That night at the Muslim activist banquet, Jesse Jackson wanted to make sure his audience left with a full understanding of the meaning of the civil rights movement. The marches, the sit-ins, the braving of fire hoses and attack dogs, had not been about safeguarding the rights of one community. The purpose was to expand and secure a framework that protected all communities. “We weren’t fighting for black civil rights,” Jackson told his audience. “We were fighting for your civil rights. You have a choice right now: you can talk about an America where your people don’t get sent to the back of the bus, or you can talk about an America where no one gets sent to the back of the bus.”
     I could sense the emotion in my dad’s voice when he called to tell me about the event. He paused for a long time, collecting his thoughts, and then said, “We owe our presence in this country to that movement.”
     It was a movement not for the African American Dream but, in the words of Jesse Jackson’s mentor, Martin Luther King Jr., for “the American Dream, the dream of men of all races, creeds, national backgrounds, living together as brothers.” It was not only a movement that helped pass legislation dismantling racist policies in the domestic realm but also a movement whose spirit changed immigration laws as well, ushering in the Immigration Act of 1965, legislation that allowed people like those gathered at that Muslim banquet to come to America. King had a vision of a nation where all communities participated in the privilege and responsibility of pluralism, a vision that included religious identity as readily as race: “One of the first things we notice about this dream is an amazing universalism. It does not say some men, it says all men. It does not say all white men, but it says all men which includes black men. It doesn’t say all Protestants, but it says all men which includes Catholics. It doesn’t say all Gentiles, it says all men which includes Jews.”
     Registering your story in the narrative of American discrimination offers opportunities for commiseration, but more importantly, it gives your community a dramatically expanded set of responsibilities. You quickly learn that other American communities used their moments of suffering to work for a nation where no one suffers. You quickly realize that other people’s struggles have secured your rights. It begins to dawn on you that you have a responsibility to use the moment when the spotlight shines on you to secure the rights of others. “Whoever degrades another degrades me,” wrote Walt Whitman.19 That is the heart of the American spirit.

Meet the Author

Eboo Patel is the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core and the author of Acts of Faith. He was a member of President Obama’s inaugural faith council and is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, Huffington Post, CNN, and public radio. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons.

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Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eboo Patel is a young man with a vision far older than his years. He very clearly articulates the questions, hurdles, and possibilities of interfaith relations and survival in this country. After reading his first book, I have had to read them all and, also, lead a study group using his Interfaith Cooperation program. No one who has read any of his work can remain unchanged by his clear and unbiased descriptions, explanations, or suggestions.