Shaping Islam in America: 10 Young Muslim Visionaries – Eboo Patel – The Bridge Builder
From Islamica Magazine
by SABAHAT ADIL
With the exception of a few littérateurs, not many of us read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Rumi’s Masnavi and Tagore’s Gitanjali side by side. Our tendency to neatly categorize ideas and objects based upon differences leads us to place these writing in their own realms as, to us, each work stems from three appar¬ently distinct traditions. For Ebrahim “Eboo” Patel, a social entrepreneur and cultural visionary born and raised in Chicago, this is not the case. He calls it the jazz approach: The traditions from which each of these authors stem— American, Islamic and Indian—are interconnected in their values, resonating with one another. As literary masterpieces, Patel finds each of these works “playful and profound.”
Such recognition of unity through diversity is simply one instance of Patel’s remarkable vision for changing the world.While an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Patel found that he did not quite fit the lifestyle of an activist, professional or academic, three groups with which most students were associated. Rather, he saw pieces of himself in each of these spheres.After graduating from UIUC in 1996, Patel became a teacher in Chicago, and then went to Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship.There, he earned a doctorate in the sociology of religion. Inspired primarily by Nobel Peace laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus, an economics professor in Bangladesh who pioneered the field of microfinance, Patel came to recognize that he could make his innovative ideas a reality in a way that could help change the world.
Patel calls himself a social entrepreneur, someone who instigates long-term change by coming up with new ideas and building them into something concrete.
With such a focus, Patel founded the Interfaith Youth Core in June 1998. Diversity, Patel argues, is often discussed in terms of racial and ethnic differences, but seldom in regard to religion. Also, interfaith conferences nowadays rarely include the leaders of tomorrow—today’s youth.
His Chicago-based organization brings religion into the diversity movement and young people into the interfaith movement, with social action at the crux of each endeavor. Defining an essential linkage between pluralism, faith and service, the Interfaith Youth Core provides opportunities for young people to work together in service and action programs now at work across cities in America and other countries.
With the next generation of the world’s religions interacting with one another through service proj¬ects, for Patel, the experiences that emerge are priceless. For this visionary, each social action project is more than just an activity: it is a crucial step in changing the world through the nurturing of religious understanding and mutual respect among the leaders of tomorrow.