37 pages • 1 hour read
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Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim in the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation is a book by Eboo Patel. Part memoir, part treatise on the vulnerability of youth who are preyed upon and radicalized by religious zealots, the book examines Patel’s search for his identity, following him from childhood to his time as the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core group. Themes of faith, family, religious doubt, pluralism, and the risks of unchecked anger appear throughout the text.
In the book’s beginning, Patel recounts a 2005 bombing in London. He is disturbed to realize that the stories of the four bombers remind him of his own story. As an angry, disaffected young man, he was also in search of a way to make an impact and was without a concrete identity. Patel was able to emulate religious people who had never used their faith as a justification for violence, but this was obviously not the case with everyone. These are the central questions of Acts of Faith: Why do some people drift toward religious violence? How can nonviolent religious leaders reach young people before radicals do?
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Approximately the first half of the book deals with Patel’s search for an identity. He is raised in a Muslim family, but his parents are not devout adherents. Islam is a series of rituals and prayers in Patel’s childhood, rather than something that enriches his existence or causes him to reflect on the nature of faith. He dates several women of different faiths, and each one of them leaves him after realizing that they get something out of their belief systems that he does not get from his own. After traveling to India and speaking with the Dalai Lama about his idea for an interfaith youth group, Patel makes progress on the promotion of religious pluralism in Chicago. While studying under a professor of Islamic studies at Oxford—Patel attends as a Rhodes Scholar—Patel experiences a full conversion to Islam, and his search for an identity and community is over. He is a Muslim, first and foremost.
The remainder of the book examines the relative ease with which a skilled recruiter can radicalize young people who have not yet found purpose. Patel gives various examples of terrorists and organizations that have targeted the young with great success. Patel’s work with the IFYC is intended to reach young people before those who would use them for violent ends find them.
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In the final chapter, Patel marries a Muslim woman named Shehnaz and devotes the rest of his life to her. He also chooses to view his work as a calling rather than a career. As the book ends, he states that the only way to save ourselves is to save one another.
By Eboo Patel