Eboo Patel was born to Muslim parents in Mumbai, India on November 9, 1975, and was subsequently raised in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Illinois, where his most important ideological and philosophical influences included bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Paulo Freire, and Noam Chomsky. Patel subsequently taught at an alternative-education program for high-school dropouts in Chicago. Inspired by Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker Movement, he also established a cooperative living community for activists and artists in Chicago’s Uptown area.
Patel went on to earn a doctorate in the sociology of religion at Oxford University. During his Oxford years, he ran a number of interfaith youth projects in India, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. In 2002 Patel and a Jewish friend co-founded, with the help of a $35,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, the Chicago-based InterFaith Youth Corps (IFYC) as a forum where “service” could be used as a “bridge” to unite “young people from different faiths.” Patel remains IFYC’s executive director to this day.
In 2005 Patel and several young radicals co-authored the book Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out. Among Patel’s co-authors were Chesa Boudin (the adopted son of former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers) and Ismail Khalidi (the son of Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi). The book’s Preface was written by Ayers’ wife, Weather Underground co-founder Bernardine Dohrn. The back cover featured an endorsement from the committed Marxist, convicted cop-killer, and former Black Panther Party member Mumia Abu-Jamal. And on the Acknowledgments page, Patel and his fellow authors thanked Ayers personally for the “guidance” and “encouragement” he had provided.
In 2006 Patel published Building the Interfaith Youth Movement: Beyond Dialogue to Action. The book’s Afterword was written by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, famous for having led an effort to construct a large Islamic Center near the site of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan.
In Patel’s 2007 book, Acts of Faith, the author recounts discussions that he had with Imam Rauf regarding the future of Islam in the United States. “Islam is a religion that has always been revitalized by its migration,” writes Patel. “America is a nation that has been constantly rejuvenated by immigrants. There is now a critical mass of Muslims in America.” The website of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, an organization co-founded by Rauf, once listed Patel as one of the top “Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow.”
In a July 2007 interview with National Public Radio to promote Acts of Faith, Patel was asked about the “affinity” which he had professed (in the book) to feel for the radicalism of Bill Ayers. He replied: “I actually grew up in the same hometown that Bill Ayers did and I was kind of taught the same myths about America, a land of freedom and equality and justice, etc., etc. And then, when I got to college, I saw people eating out of garbage cans for dinner, and I saw Vietnam vets drinking mouthwash for the alcohol, and I thought to myself, this is not the myth that I grew up with.” This harsh reality, Patel said, caused him to feel enormous “rage,” and he credited the “faith-based movement” for having helped him “direc[t] that rage in a direction far more compassionate and far more merciful—with the Catholic Worker Movement.” “Had [I] been one of the people involved in the Weather Underground who were sitting at my kitchen table when I was 18 years old and raging,” said Patel, “my life could have been very different.”
In a June 2008 interview with the leftist evangelical ministry Sojourners, Patel reiterated the sense of rage which he had felt upon realizing that “everything [I was] taught was wrong—about fairness, about equality, about Christopher Columbus, about Thomas Jefferson.” He elaborated that the left-wing faith movement had given him a “way to have a radical view of the world—radical equality, radical peace, radical possibility—that is love-based, not anger-based.”
In January 2009, Patel drew a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians, describing how both parties tended to use similar tactics — or “rules of rhetorical engagement” — to advance their own respective narratives:
Rule Number One: Use the current crisis to advance your narrative. If you’re Jewish, that story involves words like “security,” “terrorism,” and “right to exist.” If you’re Muslim, it includes terms like “humanitarian crisis,” “occupation,” and “disproportionate violence.”
Rule Number Two: Talk about how bad it is where your people live. If you’re Jewish, that means highlighting the number of Hamas rockets fired into Israel and the number of lives lost and disrupted in cities like Sderot. If you’re Muslim, it involves talking about the prison that is Gaza and the disaster that is the West Bank.
Rule Number Three: Blame it on the other side. If you’re Jewish, that means pointing at the violent and belligerent defiance of Hamas. If you’re Muslim, it means talking about the suffocation of the blockade in Gaza and the occupation in the West Bank.
Following these rules makes perfect sense for the parties involved because just about every one of their talking points is true. Hamas is violent and belligerent. The blockade and occupation is suffocating. Life in Sderot is rife with fear. Life in Gaza does feel like a prison.
In February 2009, Patel was appointed to President Barack Obama‘s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.
In an October 2009 article in Newtopia, a liberal cultural magazine, Patel asserted that “Muslim totalitarians” were not all that different from “the Christian totalitarians in America,” “the Jewish totalitarians in Israel,” or “the Hindu totalitarians in India.”
In 2011 as well, Patel depicted Van Jones, the longtime revolutionary communist who had served several months as President Obama’s “green jobs” czar, as an “American patriot,” a “faith hero,” and one of “the true giants of history.”
In November 2011, Patel wrote that Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who had murdered 77 people four months earlier, “took inspiration from none other than America’s own anti-Muslim rightists” who “claim to fear for the future of their country” because of “an increasingly large Muslim population” and the growing presence of “’multiculturalist’ liberals.” Among the “anti-Islam” figures whom Patel named were Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, both of whom have warned about the dangers of jihad and Sharia law.
In August 2012 Patel released a new book, Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America.
In January 2016 Patel mocked Americans who felt concern regarding the danger posed by Islamic radicalism:
“There was [Republican presidential candidate] Ben Carson’s statement that he would not want a Muslim to be president. There was The Donald’s promise that a Trump administration would look into the supposed network of Muslim terrorist training camps in the United States. And there was young Ahmed Mohamed in Texas, who got suspended from school and shackled in handcuffs when his science project was mistaken for a bomb. Maybe the police were concerned that he’d designed it in one of those fictitious terrorist camps. It appears that many Americans are in a panic about the prospect of a Muslim takeover.”
In February 2017 Patel wrote that “in the weeks since Donald Trump was elected president,” he (Patel) had been “scared out of my mind about the violent attacks on ethnic and religious minorities in America.”
In a June 2017 article in Sojourners magazine, Patel lamented that between November 2001 and October 2010, the percentage of Americans who viewed Islam positively had fallen from 59% to 39%. To explain this decline, he quoted author Nathan Lean’s assertion that the “spasm of Islamophobia that rattled through the American public is the product of a tight-knit and interconnected confederation of right-wing fear merchants … the Islamophobia industry.” Citing also a New York Times headline that read “Fringe, Sinister View of Islam Now Steers the [Trump] White House,” Patel wrote that “[President] Trump himself appears to embrace this worldview.”
In a November 2017 article titled “The Poison of Prejudice,” Patel wrote that while “the contributions of Muslims to American civilization are impressive and wide-ranging,” “the atmosphere of Islamophobia in the Trump era, has created special hardships for Muslims, a dynamic that hurts both the Muslim community and the nation to which they seek to contribute.”
In the September/October 2018 issue of Sojourners, Patel discussed how, during his college years, he had been transformed into a leftist who viewed America as a nation thoroughly infested with white racism:
“The  Rodney King beating [by Los Angeles police officers] happened when I was in high school, and there was almost nothing said about it in the largely white, professional, middle-class suburb where I grew up. In fact, the remarks that I do remember were sympathetic to the police. The crew I ran with in college changed all that. They raised questions such as: Do you think if the officers were black and the person being beaten was white that the national conversation would be the same? Do you think that the continuous portrayals of black people as criminals had nothing to do with the acquittal of the police officers? Those kinds of questions shifted my worldview—for the better, I believe. Given that, it should come as no surprise that the news stories I paid the most attention to in 2015 were about issues of race, the criminal justice system, and cultural representation. Basically, I was consumed with #BlackLivesMatter and #OscarsSoWhite.”
In December 2018, Patel asserted that the left’s rising militancy — as expressed by activists who participate in “Black Lives Matter protests” or “shou[t] down conservative speakers on [college] campuses” — was an understandable response to the many conservative “racists” who had “rejected [Obama] as a radical when really he was as moderate as any human being God ever created.” “We tried the Martin Luther King Jr. way with Barack Obama,” Patel explained. “… To paraphrase James Baldwin and the Bible—no more water, the fire this time.”
Over the years, Patel has been a regular contributor to such outlets as CNN, National Public Radio, the Washington Post, Sojourners, the Huffington Post, and USA Today. Moreover, he has served on the Council on Foreign Relations’ religious advisory committee, the Aga Khan Foundation’s national committee, and the advisory board of the Duke University Islamic Studies Center. He has been a fellow of the Ashoka Foundation, and has spoken in such prominent venues as the Clinton Global Initiative and the Nobel Peace Prize Forum.