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Acts of Faith: The Story of an American…

Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul…

by Eboo Patel

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Every time we read about a young person who kills in the name of God, we should recognize that an institution painstakingly recruited and trained that young person. And that institution is doing the same for thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of others like him. In other words, those religious extremists have invested in their youth programs.

The above may be the most important takeaway from Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. Whether one is talking about religious extremist groups, political extremist groups, racist groups, and/or gangs, they are all cultivating a foundation made up of young people who feel angry, rootless, and marginalized in some way. Patel makes an argument that extremists are not born, but created and groomed.

The book is part memoir about Patel's life and struggles to connect with religion and community, part essay about the factors that play into religious extremism and violence, and part history of the Interfaith Youth Core, the group Patel and others founded in 2002. Patel sees his early college years as a period when his own anger surrounding race, religion and social issues made him ripe for becoming an extremist, a situation he stopped short of only because of his family's habit and insistence on volunteering service and a couple of teachers who acted as mentors. Three are some amusing stories in this part as Patel has no problem poking fun at himself. The meat of the book is in the last half, however, when he discusses how youth are drawn into extremist groups who have carefully designed outreach programs to appeal to their emotions. Patel argues that it is not only possible for people from different religions to be devout to their beliefs while working together for the common good, but that service and tolerance are the common core to all religions.

I read the book mostly to see what Patel had to say about how and why youth end up in extremists groups. Admittedly, this is a subject that baffles me because I find the idealistic mindset of activists almost as bewildering as that of religious or political extremists. (My pet theory is that all social justice activists are rampant extroverts who have no idea how exhausting they are to be around. Bless 'em, I'm glad they exist, but I'll never be comfortable around them.)

Two things I think might have improved the book. First, the included reading suggestions contain some interesting titles, but it would be more functional formatted as a list. Readers could then easily print it out or refer back to it without having to weed through blocks of text to find the book titles. Second, Patel talks a lot about how groups like IFYC can strengthen an individual's ties to their religious roots by cooperating with others in a religiously plural setting, but he never really addresses what that means for youth who have no religious roots. I remember going to college with kids who had never set foot in a place of worship, had never read a scripture from any religion, and whose parents and even grandparents were agnostic or simply "unaffiliated." That was at a Southern US university over a generation ago. I'm not seeing anything to suggest the "unaffiliated" group has gotten any smaller. So how does a young person strengthen their "root" religion when there isn't one? Patel seems to just assume everyone grew up with a religious tradition to go "back" to. I saw only one brief mention of this in the book where a teen said he "wasn't really religious" and Patel tells him he is welcome anyway. I think it would have been interesting if he'd talked a little about the experiences of some of the "unaffiliated" kids when they get involved with IFYC.

( )
  Yaaresse | Apr 24, 2018 |
An inspiring story with a powerful message: we have to do more than just fight against fundamentalism; we need to offer (and explicitly offer to youth) a meaningful alternative. Compassion and understanding across perceived boundaries and differing beliefs is more than just a nice idea. It is worth our work; our dedication; our sacrifice. Patel's story is interesting (though it skirts self-advertisement at a certain point). I would have been interested in a little more on what brought Patel to embracing Islam as a young adult. ( )
  bibleblaster | Jan 23, 2016 |
  StPeders | Sep 4, 2015 |
Acts of Faith technically is the story of an American Muslim, but that part of the subtitle really throws off your mindset for what the book is meant to be. The point of this book is more the “Struggle for the Soul of a Generation,” which is the other half of the secondary title. The author is telling the story of his life in America and how he found a way to create the Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that encourages young people from all around the world, with any religious belief, to come together and do acts of kindness and charity for those in need. The story will move you, no matter your faith or you lack of belief in any one religion or another, but do not expect it to be about an American Muslim beyond the fact that the author is both of those things. I picked up the book thinking it would somehow show struggles in being accepted and how those struggles formed his actions later on, which didn’t really happen.

Still, this book is a must read for anyone who wants to help their child (or a pupil in their class) open their mind to the world around them, discover the diversity of culture and religion, yet find similarities within everything in order to get along. There is no doubt that this is a world in need of young people who stand up for peace and love rather than who go out and blow things up out of anger and hate. As the book says, the twenty-somethings who are acting with violence and hatred are doing this because it is how they were taught, it is what they were told to think. Subject someone at a young age to literature that says people with orange fingernails are all creatures of the devil and that is what they will believe. Take the same children and teach them that people with orange fingernails have fingernails, just like everyone else in the world, and you will have not only educated them, but promoted kindness and acceptance all at once. ( )
  mirrani | Nov 1, 2013 |
S ( )
  paakre | Apr 27, 2013 |
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Book description
Eboo Patel's memoir (Beacon Press) was the 2011-12 Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Common Read selected by a committee of UUA staff. A 2008 speaker at the UUA General Assembly, Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), an international, nonprofit, youth service leadership organization. Ten years after 9/11, Acts of Faith describes the vulnerability of youth to violent, fundamentalist influences and makes a case for all of us, particularly youth, to promote pluralism by engaging in interfaith dialogue and social justice work.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807077275, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:07 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"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."--Publisher.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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Beacon Press

3 editions of this book were published by Beacon Press.

Editions: 0807077267, 0807077275, 080700622X

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