IL: AMERICAN MUSLIM MODELS INTERFAITH GROUP ON PEACE CORPS
As a Muslim American, Eboo Patel takes to heart the line in Sura 49 of the Koran, which says, “God made us different nations and tribes that we may come to know one another.” Through his Interfaith Youth Core, which is based in Chicago, he seeks to counter the violent religious strife that fills our daily newscasts with news instead of young people of different faiths working side-by-side, building houses for the homeless, or tutoring refugee children.
Patel was born in 1975 to Indian parents, and emigrated with them from Bombay to Chicago when he was an infant. He grew up with friends of different religious backgrounds, and at the age of 12 or 13 became more aware of those differences. “I found myself asking ‘What does it mean to be a Muslim when your friends are a Hindu, a Jew, a Nigerian evangelical, a Mormon, a Lutheran, a Catholic, what does that mean?’”
As he and his friends became older, Patel says they began to have more serious discussions regarding religion. But his idea for an Interfaith Youth Core, which was inspired by other service organizations like the Peace Corps, didn’t develop until he was a graduate student at Oxford University in England, where, as a Rhodes scholar, Patel received a doctorate in sociology of religion.
Patel says the first service projects of the Interfaith Youth Core, conducted while he was still a student, took place in South Africa, Kenya, Sri Lanka and India. They were, he says, all great learning experiences. “I studied the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka. I learned about Ubuntu from African traditionalists in South Africa. I helped run an interfaith service learning project with Habitat for Humanity in Hyderabad, India.”
In 2002, he returned to Chicago, and with a grant from the Ford Foundation, established a permanent home base for the Interfaith Youth Core.