10 Questions for Eboo Patel on Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation (Beacon Press, 2008)
What inspired you to write Acts of Faith? What sparked your interest?
I wanted to write a book about how my struggle to forge an American Muslim identity inspired me to start the Interfaith Youth Core. One of my models was Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father, a book about how Obama’s identity struggles led him to become a community organizer, civil rights lawyer, and politician.
What’s the most important take-home message for readers?
No peace in the world without religious pluralism. No religious pluralism without the engagement and leadership of young people.
Anything you had to leave out?
I wanted to tell tons of stories about all the people who played a role in building the Interfaith Youth Core. They are all great stories, but my editor kept telling me that the book isn’t the history of an organization. Hopefully, that will be written some day!
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?
A lot of people see interfaith work as boring, kum-ba-ya stuff. It blows my mind when I hear that. I think it’s the most exciting work in the world. We have the opportunity to make real the deepest visions of our religious traditions – justice, mercy, pluralism – at a time when many people think religion is only about conflict.
Did you have a specific audience in mind when writing?
Young people, and people who care about young people.. People who have found inspiration in their faith to serve others, or are looking for it. People who are struggling with their faith or ethnic identity. People who have hope that religion can play a positive role in the world.
Are you hoping to just inform readers? give them pleasure? piss them off?
I think three things. 1) I’d like for this book to be one widely-read account of what it means to be American and Muslim at this historical moment; 2) I’d like people who read my faith journey to be able to understand their own faith journey better; 3) I’d love it if people were inspired to be part of the interfaith youth movement.
What alternate title would you give the book?
Bridges or Bombs: The Role of Religious Youth in the World
How do you feel about the cover?
It’s a bit somber, don’t you think? The Wilco poster in the back always makes me smile.
Is there a book out there you wish you had written? Which one? Why?
There are a hundred such books! I like Reza Aslan’s No god but God a lot, and I also like Ingrid Mattson’s The Story of the Qur’an. I think Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution is fantastic and I think Gustav Niebuhr’s Beyond Tolerance is a great window into the interfaith movement.
What’s your next book?
My next book is likely going to be on Interfaith Leadership