EBOO PATEL was raised in a Chicago suburb, the son of Muslim immigrants from India. Like many young first- and second-generation Americans, Patel’s adolescence involved balancing multiple identities, which at times led him to feel deeply alienated and like an American “other.” But he didn’t take the path of violence that, in 2006, led seven “al Qaeda- inspired” young men to plot to destroy Chicago’s Sears Tower.
Instead, Patel found the radical peace work of James Baldwin, Dorothy Day, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, and the Dalai Lama, which set the course of his life. In 2002, Patel received his doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship and has been pioneering the religious pluralism movement ever since.
In 2003, Patel founded the Interfaith Youth Core (www. ifyc.org) to encourage youth to clarify their own religious identities by pairing interfaith dialogue with community service. In 2007, he published Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. Eboo Patel visited Sojourners in June 2008 and talked with associate editor Rose Marie Berger.
ROSE MARIE BERGER: Tell us about your introduction to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement.
EBOO PATEL: It is impossible for me to overstate the impact of Dorothy Day and Christian social justice work, because it came at such a fragile and flammable time of my life. Basically, and this happens to a lot of people, you come to consciousness and realize that everything you were taught was wrong—about fairness, about equality, about Christopher Columbus, about Thomas Jefferson. At 17 or 18 years old, I raged. I felt like that was the only thing I knew how to do, and, to an extent, that was what was encouraged in the kind of identity politics/social justice crowds that were around.