Spiritual Journeys: Eboo Patel

Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), believes that the best path to a better world is through education about religious differences and fostering interfaith cooperation through service.

That’s why this author, who was born in Glen Ellyn and is a practicing Muslim and a Rhodes Scholar, founded IFYC ten years ago.

“The Core’s mission is to train college students to be interfaith leaders so that they can bring their fellow students of diverse faiths together to do good in cooperation with each other,” Patel explains while seated in his loft-like office in the West Loop. “People’s spiritual and religious identities are core to who they are. This can motivate people to do an awful lot of service and good in the world,” he says.

“Hopefully, 30 years from now, interfaith cooperation will be the social norm, just like environmentalism and doing Teach For America have become social norms.” Patel’s vision is a substantial improvement over the current reality. “Unfortunately, too many now see faith as bombs on the evening news.”

This decade-old movement already has grown to more than 350 colleges, and has been embraced by world leaders like President Barack Obama, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Jordan’s Queen Rania. But more imporantly, Patel’s IFYC has developed a new young generation of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other religious leaders, and completed thousands of service projects.

IFYC recruits college students of all faiths to attend one of four summits it holds each year. Participants then spend 20-25 hours per week during the following school year to lead a “Better Together” program for students of all faiths on their campus. This includes doing a major service project—like building a home or providing large-scale relief for an international disaster area.

Patel has written two books: “Acts of Faith,” and “Sacred Ground.” He blogs for media outlets including the Washington Post, Huffington Post and USAToday, and has spoken at a TED conference, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, and on college campuses across the country. Still, he prioritizes time for his wife and two young children.

Patel grins, “My family is a huge focus of not just my love, but also of my time and energy. I’m on the 5:21 train home every day that I’m not traveling.”

If Patel can bring his vision to life, his children will inherit a better, more tolerant world. This should indeed be worth all the effort.