March 1st, 2010
12:00 PM ET

The Olympics and interfaith work

Eboo Patel
On Faith

I've been watching the Olympics with great interest the past couple of weeks. I love seeing athletes from all over the world wrapped in the flags of their countries and the songs of their nations – proud of the particularly of where they come from.

And as I watched last night, I got to thinking that these people are engaging in something profoundly common – excellence at athletics.
At the bottom of the ski run, they high five. On the podium, they hug even while their different flags are raised.

It reminds me that the Qur'an teaches us to vie with one another in doing good works.


Filed under: Eboo Patel • Olympics • Religion
August 14th, 2009
11:37 AM ET

Young Muslims: The Battle for Hearts and Minds

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Eboo Patel
For the Washington Post

Are young Muslims going to be bombs of destruction or bridges of cooperation? That's the central question asked in Christiane Amanpour's documentary Generation Islam, which aired on CNN Thursday night, and for which I was interviewed.

There are 780 million Muslims in the world under the age of 25 – over 11 percent of the world's population. The median age in Afghanistan is under 18; the median age in Iraq under 20. Too many of these young people grow up in poverty. And while poverty doesn't cause extremism, it does create conditions that extremist groups like the Taliban exploit.

The Taliban's strategy is simple: build schools in villages too poor (and too poorly served by their governments) to afford their own.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Eboo Patel • Islam
August 5th, 2009
09:00 AM ET

A Dishonest review about Islam

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/06/04/obama.mideast.reactions/art.thu.speech.afp.gi.jpg caption="President Obama, speaking in Cairo, Egypt, urges a new chapter in ties between the U.S. and the Muslim world."]

Eboo Patel
For On Faith

Whoever selects and assigns the books on Islam for the Sunday New York Times Book Review needs to widen his reading and add some new names to his rolodex.

Last week there was a rave review of Bruce Bawer's alarmist book Surrender (the subtitle says it all: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom).

This week, the cover of the Book Review has a picture of a group of fully covered Muslim women set against a crowd of 'normal-looking' mostly-white Europeans with the headline "Strangers in the Land".

The review betrays more about the opinions of the reviewer – the noted and controversial academic Fouad Ajami – than the book under consideration, Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe.


Filed under: Eboo Patel • Islam • Religion
July 6th, 2009
11:15 AM ET

Muslim Americans answer the call

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/06/us.muslim.poll/art.obama.poll.gi.jpg caption="President Obama has initiated the United We Serve campaign,a call for all Americans to serve in their communities"]

Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core
The Washington Post

The annual ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) Convention took place this past weekend in Washington DC. Some 30, 000 Muslims gathered to celebrate the spiritual uplifting and intellectual enlightenment that their faith provides them. Those two themes stood alongside a third crucial dimension of the conference: civic engagement in America.

The typical pattern among immigrant Muslim communities (as is the case for many immigrant groups) was to send their charity back to the countries where their grandfathers were born - Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia. But in the past decade or so, immigrant Muslims have been following the lead of their African American counterparts and becoming increasingly involved here in America. As the American Muslim leader Maher Hathout is fond of saying: "Home is not where your grandfather was born but where your grandchildren will be buried."

Several million Muslims are proud to call America home (a fact illustrated by the theme of this year's convention – "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness") and are actively seeking to make it better through their civic engagement. There were several workshops on civic engagement in America at the convention, each dealing with a different dimension of how Muslims can work with others to improve the society in which we all live.

One of the most powerful visions I heard was from my fellow member of the President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Initiatives, Dalia Mogahed.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Eboo Patel
June 24th, 2009
11:18 AM ET

Two Forces Shaping Iran

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/23/iran.protest.faces/art.modern.gi.jpg caption="The modern face of Iran - seen in this June 15 photo - is also represented at anti-Ahmadinejad protests. "]

Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core
The Washington Post

My guess (and let's be honest – when it comes to Iran, we're all guessing) is that two grand narratives are playing a shaping role in Iran right now - call them Grant Park and Karbala, otherwise known as the current Era of Obama and the ancient heritage of Shia Islam.

The celebration of Obama's election victory in Grant Park on November 5, 2008, matters for two reasons. The first is because that's the day Iran stopped being part of the Axis of Evil. For decades, The regime in Iran had successfully built support by creating an Us vs. Them framework with America playing the role of 'Them'. By making Iran part of the Axis of Evil, the Bush Administration embraced the role of 'Them'. However much young and progressive Iranians hated their regime, they hated being labeled Evil by a foreign power even more. If they had to choose between being punched in the face by the Iranian regime or being punched in the face by the Bush Administration, they chose the Persian fist. Obama's victory, and his subsequent reaching out to the Iranian people, changed the Us vs. Them framework.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Eboo Patel • Iran • President Barack Obama
June 8th, 2009
01:39 PM ET

Obama, Cairo and interfaith service

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Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core
AC360° Contributor

In Cairo, President Obama stated in no uncertain terms the importance he places on interfaith cooperation. He also stressed that interfaith work should take the form of concrete service projects:

"Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews...Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster."

For a long time, interfaith cooperation meant a group of senior theologians or religious leaders presenting a document about peace at a conference in a fancy hotel. That's all good stuff, but I remember going to some of those conferences in the late 1990s and having two questions – where are the young people, and where is the social action?


Filed under: Barack Obama • Eboo Patel • Faith • Middle East
June 4th, 2009
11:00 AM ET

Obama draws from King in Cairo

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/06/04/egypt.obama.speech/art.thu.speech.afp.gi.jpg caption="President Obama, speaking in Cairo, Egypt, urges a new chapter in ties between the U.S. and the Muslim world."]

Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core
The Washington Post

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sought to bridge the great divides of his age by challenging the dominant paradigm and lifting up a new framework. King was clear: this isn't a black vs. white world, but a "live together as brothers or perish together as fools" world.

Today in Cairo, President Obama made his most King-like speech.
Obama came to Cairo to bridge one of the great divides of our age – between the United States and the Muslim world. And he drew from the same vision, grace and courage that King did.

He spoke of his admiration for Muslim civilization and its role across the ages in nurturing learning and progress, peace and pluralism. These are the same values that America has sought to advance. The stereotypes that Islam is only violent, or that America only seeks empire, are inaccurate and counterproductive. So is the focus only on the history of conflict. We have to begin our relationship on a different paradigm – the history of cooperation, and the power of our common principles.

Read more...stt

Filed under: 360° Radar • Eboo Patel • President Barack Obama
May 18th, 2009
09:42 AM ET

Obama a Champion at Notre Dame

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/05/16/obama.notre.dame/art.pray.cnn.jpg caption="People pray at the University of Notre Dame to protest Obama's commencement address."]

Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core
AC360° Contributor

One concrete result of the controversy at Notre Dame this weekend was a much larger audience for President Obama's Commencement Address. What we witnessed was a near perfect demonstration of public leadership in an environment of polarization. Obama is at his best when others are squabbling and he plays the role of saying, "We can do better than this."

I confess to a special interest. I owe my American citizenship to Notre Dame. The University accepted my father's application to its MBA program thirty years ago (at the time, he was one of only a handful of international students on campus, and doubly in the minority as a Muslim). He loves the University with all his heart – it was his gateway to America. I grew up watching Notre Dame football players touch the yellow "Play Like a Champion Today" sign as they ran out of the locker room onto the field. The President must have touched that sign before his speech, because it was worthy of all those great Notre Dame legends, from Knute Rockne to Joe Montana to Touchdown Jesus.

Harvard scholar Howard Gardener says that the most important thing that leaders do is tell a new story about the possibility of the world, and then embody it themselves. Obama accomplished that masterfully in three basic steps in his speech.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Eboo Patel • President Barack Obama • Religion
March 16th, 2009
01:11 PM ET

In Belfast, picture an end to religious civil war

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Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core
AC360° Contributor

Picture religious violence. What images come to mind? A plane crashing into the World Trade Center on 9/11? A videotape confession by a suicide bomber?

The perpetrators of religious violence are masters of marketing. They want you to see them commit acts of violence, and they want you to associate it with their religion. In fact, the violence is in many cases simply an excuse for the image. The goal is not the murder of a few, it is the poisoning of many with the pictures of violence, with the ultimate hope being the incitement of a religious civil war in cities like Baghdad.

Now picture interfaith cooperation. Did your brain-screen go fuzzy? I wish interfaith images came just as readily and were just as clear as images of religious violence. In fact, I believe one of the reasons we lack a strong, cohesive interfaith movement is because of the absence of such clear visual reference points.


Filed under: 360º Follow • Eboo Patel • Ethics • Faith
March 6th, 2009
02:42 PM ET

Mumbai revival

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Eboo Patel
On Faith

Night is falling and I can see the Gateway of India from my Sea View room at the Taj in Mumbai, my favorite hotel in the world. There are boats coming and going, people eating and arguing, vendors buying and selling. A few minutes ago there was a band playing Sufi Muslim love songs, and now there is some sort of parade approaching - maybe a wedding, maybe a political rally. Drummers dressed in red uniforms, horn players in orange, dignitaries (the groom and his family?) in carriages drawn by oxen, a group of uniformed schoolchildren walking by, clapping along, utterly delighted.

The carnival of India.

It is chilling to think if I was sitting in this same room on November 26, 2008, I would have been witness to the nightmare of India, when a group of ten terrorists hijacked a boat and came ashore on the spot that I am staring at now, and attacked the building I am sitting in with guns and grenades - six explosions in total in this hotel.

They killed nearly 200 people and injured over 300 more, but they failed in their most important pursuit - to create a religious civil war in a city that had fallen prey to the ugliest version of the clash of civilizations in the recent past.

So why was this time different? Why did Mumbaikers overwhelmingly view November 26 as a case of pluralism vs. extremism, rather than Hindu vs. Muslim?

I've been asking journalists and religious leaders in the city this question, and here's what they've had to say:

1) The Muslim community came out against the terror attacks immediately and clearly and strongly. They organized press conferences and marches. They refused to bury the terrorists in Muslim cemeteries. "Since the ... terrorists were neither Indian nor true Muslims, they had no right to an Islamic burial in an Indian Muslim cemetery," the Indian Muslim journalist MJ Akbar told Tom Friedman in a widely read column.

2) The media paid attention. Zeenat Shaukat Ali, a Professor of Islamic Studies at St. Xavier's College and founder of an interfaith project in Mumbai, told me that Indian Muslims have long spoken out against terrorism, but their voices had rarely been carried by the media. This time, the media were not looking for messages of division, but instead messages of unity - and the Muslims of Mumbai were there with that message front and center.



Filed under: Eboo Patel • India Attacked • The Buzz
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