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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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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 |
This book changed my life. Patel, who studied religion and society as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford and founded the Interfaith Youth Corps, writes about his own religious formation (or lack thereof) and how he views pluralism and interreligious dialogue and service.

Patel, the son of Indian Muslim immigrants, grew up in Chicago with little sense of religious identity. It was simply never discussed either in higher school or college. It was only after becoming a part of the Catholic Worker movement and meeting Brother Wayne Teasdale that Patel began to quest after his own religious identity. After all, as even the Dalai Lama told him, you should stick with your heritage and your roots.

Patel went back to Islam not in a mosque, but through contacts with people from other traditions. In other words, his "faith formation had occurred in the midst of religious diversity" (73). While sitting in Buddhist meditation, Islamic prayers he had learned in childhood came up in his mind, spontaneously working their way out. This led to another realization, one which the IYC is based on: interreligious learning and contact does not weaken religious identity into a kind of bland syncretism. It strengthens religious identity by helping one see how their tradition is unique and bringing them into the position of speaking for their tradition. The IYC is founded on Patel's impatience with the way ecumenical counsels had nice banquets with lots of speeches that never seeped down into the actual parishes and religious adherents. Drawing youth into interfaith service is doubly important, as the youth are the future of the world.

My religious formation also happened in the context of pluralism. Even as I was in RCIA, I was sitting at the local zendo. At first this posed no problem. But after meeting other "Zen Christians," I was confronted with an uncomfortable fact: for people who were raised in Christianity, branching out seemed fine. But for me, an adult convert still struggling to learn prayers and scripture quotes, it seemed best to work on one tradition before I dive into another.

Patel's book affirmed my intuition that this caution is unnecessary. I can honor my experience, indeed dive into two traditions at the same time. To paraphrase Patel, I know that my tradition is my home, but I have open windows.

The other thing I thought of in the course of this book was a praxis for social change. I have been taking this course in social justice and technology, looking at how social entrepreneurs have addressed MDG goals. While dialogue isn't an MDG goal, interreligious and intercultural peace and understanding is certainly a global necessity. How can I bring these two together?
How can I work to change the world? How do I bring my desire to change the world together with my desire to be an academic and work with ideas and books?

Last but not least, Patel's book affirmed my understanding that folk from many different walks of life are realizing that contributing to the world in the context of one's tradition is better than isolating oneself or opposing the world as a way to reassert identity. This is a trend I have been learning about in Catholicism, particularly in Vatican II; here is a Muslim saying the same thing. Very touching.

"Even articulating the hope is helping to ake it a reality. Keep praying for it and meeting people who feel like you do, and it will begin to take shape." (71) ( )
1 vote JDHomrighausen | Dec 8, 2012 |
Eboo Patel is very smart and is a former Rhodes scholar. He has doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford and 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. "
He tells two stories in this book.

He tells his own personal story, one of growing up Muslim in America, being bullied by other kids because he was brown and Muslim, and his rejection of and later return to the Muslim religion that he was raised in.

The other story that he tells is how impressionable teenagers are brought into extremist youth groups because their religions have failed to engage them in positive ways. He gives examples of Christian, Jewish and Hindu extremist groups as well as those that are Muslim.

Eboo's personal story is interesting and I learned more about the Muslim religion that I did not know. He is an Ismaili Musilim, part of the Shia group that follows an Imam who is a supreme leader to them rather like the Pope is to the Catholics. Their current Imam is known as the Aga Kahn. Eboo's parents wanted him to learn service and charity to others and so they made him participate in a YMCA youth service group, which he feels helped to give him identity and kept him from possibly falling prey to extremist Muslim groups.

Eboo feels that extremist groups are more political than religious and that none of them really represent their religions as their religions are meant to be practiced. He recognizes that extremist groups give huge amounts of money to create youth indoctrination groups, which certainly is true of the Muslim extremist groups. He tells about the school that Osama Bin Laden went to and decribes some of their teachings and methods. He also gives examples of White Supremacy groups posing as Christian Youth educational groups and of a small Jewish extremist group in the 1960s. He also tells of the Hindu extemist group called the National Volunteer Corps or RSS whose goal is "a pure Hindu nation" and while initally attracting youth w/ Hindu ideology, this group has been responsible for the murders of thousands of Muslims.

Eboo feels that the solution to extremist groups is to unite the youth of the various religions together to serve for a common purpose so that they will know and understand one another as similar human beings. His group, the IFYC strives to do that. I think that is a nice idea. ( )
  herdingcats | Nov 7, 2011 |
If authenticity would be a race Eboo Patel would probably win in his category. This was the main reason I loved his "Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, in the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation." He had a simple thesis that he deduced from his own life experiences and he lived up to the principle built around it. It also helps that I can wholeheartedly agree with his idea. It was, as stated on page XVI of the Introduction:

This is a book about how some young people become champion of religious pluralism while others become the foot soldiers of religious totalitarianism. Its thesis is simple: influences matter, programs count, mentors make a difference, institutions leave their mark.

The book is an autobiography of a "life examined", which is worth living and already made a difference. The introduction states the thesis and supports it with a few examples then the eight chapters follow Patel's story as he learned and acted the lessons of his life, one building onto another. In the first chapter he covers his high school years and activities with the YMCA Leaders School. The lesson he internalized then (page 16)

The YMCA's secret is simple; it stems from a genuine love of young people. The conventional wisdom is that young people are scrambling for their place in the world. The YMCA knows that, deep down, young people need more than just a place.[...] It's not a place young people need so much as a role, an opportunity to be powerful, a chance to shape the world.

In the second chapter he goes on discovering and building his identity, including his first relationship, with Lisa, a practicing Mormon girl. In the third chapter he encounters identity politics in college and how it segregates students based on ethnicity and/or race. He learns a lot from his college sweetheart, Sarah, a Jewish woman, not just about Judaism, but also what religion can mean for a person. Next, in the fourth chapter he starts doing some real world activism, inspired by friends, mentors and readings. (Side note: The latter included Wendy Kopp's (the founder of Teach for America) "One day all children...". I received a copy at an event where Ms. Kopp spoke several years ago. Now I am inspired to read it. If Patel recommend sit I am more interested in it than I was beforehand.)

The fifth chapter covers Patel's experienced in India, where he reconnected with the American part of his identity. It's also hear that she learns about the compassionate part of his Muslim and family heritage: his grandmother has been helping abused women for decades, of which he knew nothing of. Why does she do it: "That's what Muslims do." In the sixth chapter he discovers what Islam can mean for him. By the end he discovers his calling: starting an interfaith youth movement: the Interfaith Youth Core. In the last two chapters he builds them and finds the love of his life, with whom he can build a Muslim life as not just their values, but their religions are also aligned.

As I was reading the book, I felt that he is the kind of person I could be friends with.There are lots of similarities between his life learning life experience and mine. The relatively late discovery of religion, the learning through relationships with women of different faith, but ultimately ending with one of the same, the appreciation of multiculturalism and multi-religion, the inspiring effect of the change of scenery or country. There are significant differences between us, of course but they are easier to spot.

I recommend this book if you want to be inspired about youth, religion and understanding. It is written in an easy to follow style, while filled with deep self-reflection. I wish I would have the persistence to think and write the way Patel did.
2 vote break | Oct 22, 2010 |
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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)

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"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)

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Beacon Press

3 editions of this book were published by Beacon Press.

Editions: 0807077267, 0807077275, 080700622X

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