Patel, a Muslim, went on to earn
a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University. During his Oxford years, he ran interfaith youth projects in India, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. 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 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 mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan.
In Patel’s 2007 book, Saving Each Other, Saving Ourselves, 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 2007 interview with National Public Radio to promote his next newly published book, Acts of Faith, Patel was asked about the “affinity” he felt for the radicalism of Bill Ayers, as he described in the book. Noting that “I actually grew up in the same hometown that Bill Ayers did,” Patel replied: “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 he had felt upon realizing that “everything you were taught was wrong—about fairness, about equality, about Christopher Columbus, about Thomas Jefferson.” He elaborated that the 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 February 2009, Patel was appointed to President Barack Obama‘s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.
In an October 2009 article in Newtopia magazine, a liberal cultural publication, 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 late July 2011, Patel spoke at the main event of a three-day convention held by the Muslim Students Association. Specifically, he participated in a panel alongside Tariq Ramadan (grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna) and Siraj Wahhaj (who was named as a possible co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing).
In 2011 Patel depicted Van Jones, the 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.”
Patel is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and CNN. He has blogged for the Huffington Post, USA Today, and Sojourners, among other outlets. Moreover, he has served on the Council on Foreign Relations’ religious advisory committee, the Aga Khan Foundation’s national committee, and the Duke University Islamic Studies Center’s advisory board. He is a fellow of the Ashoka Foundation, and has spoken in such major venues as the Clinton Global Initiative and the Nobel Peace Prize Forum.