A few months following the September 11 attacks in New York City, Eboo Patel—like countless other Americans—visited ground zero and prayed in memory of those who were murdered. Nearly a decade later Patel—a Muslim-American who is the founder of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) —now sees that prayerful moment through a different lens. “It’s a little bit shocking” he says “for me to think that my prayers, because they happen to be in Arabic, would have been unwelcome by some people.” His reconsideration of that memory was catalyzed by the current controversy surrounding the proposed construction of the Cordoba House Islamic cultural center near ground zero.
Patel’s interest in interfaith relations has its roots in his experience working and living at several Catholic Worker houses during his college years. He went on to obtain a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship. Since then he founded IFYC, a Chicago-based institution dedicated to building the global interfaith youth movement. Named by US News & World Report as one of America’s Best Leaders of 2009, Patel is also a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships as well as the author of the award-winning book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation and a Washington Post blog “The Faith Divide.”