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Crossroads of the Identity Crisis

posted May 17, 2012, 11:00 PM by Interfaith WS

This is the second installment in our look at “Acts of Faith,” a book written by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core.  The book is available online at .  You may also be able to find it at a local bookstore or the public library.  Simply register your email address, and you will be able to post your comments on this site.


Chapter 1 -- Acts of Faith:  The Crossroads of the Identity Crisis


On July 7, 2005, four young Muslim men loaded explosives into their backpacks and boarded a bus and trains in separate parts of the London.  Within an hour, 55 people, including the four men, had been killed by their explosives, and London was paralyzed with fear.  In Chapter 2 of “Acts of Faith,” Eboo Patel explores factors that influence young people when they reach the crossroads of their identity.  Excerpts follow.

“How does one ordinary young person’s commitment to a religion turn into a suicide mission and another ordinary young person’s commitment to that same faith become an organization devoted to pluralism?  The answer, I believe, lies in the influences young people have, the programs and the people who shape their religious identities.

“Religious totalitarians like Sheikh Omar (a Syrian-born father of seven) are exceptionally perceptive about the crisis facing second-generation immigrant Muslims in the West.  They know that our parents, whose identities were formed in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia half a century ago, have a dramatically different set of reference points than we do….

“We second- and third-generation Muslims cannot separate ourselves from the societies live in.  We watch MTV, go to public schools, cross borders that are invisible to our parents dozens of times a day, and quickly understand that the curves of our lives cannot adapt to the straight lines our parents live by.  Raised in pious Muslim homes, occasionally participating in the permissive aspects of Western culture, many of us come to believe that our two worlds, the two sides of ourselves, are necessarily antagonistic….

“As we grow older and seek a unified Muslim way of being, it is too often Muslim extremists who meet us at the crossroads of our identity crisis.  They say, ‘Look how Muslims are being oppressed all over the world.  You, who are living in the belly of the beast and indulging in its excesses, have only one way to purify yourself: to become death and kill.’

“I was lucky.  My free fall was stopped by the YMCA.  Since my mother had started working, I had been in afterschool care and summer camp at the B.R. Ryall YMCA in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, the suburb of Chicago where I was raised.  Kids who wouldn’t talk with me in school befriended me at the Y….As I grew older, my camp counselors encouraged me to join the Leaders Club, a YMCA program for teenagers that focused on volunteering as a key to leadership development.  The YMCA’s secret is simple; it stems from a genuine love of young people….

“At the (YMCA) Leaders School, we sang a song called ‘Pass It On.’  In one of the moments when my father was feeling especially righteous about his ‘Muslim-ness,’ I overheard him expressing concern to my mother that the YMCA, which was after all the Young Men’s Christian Association, was teaching us Christian songs. ‘Do you think they are trying to teach Christianity to our kids?’ he asked…

“’I hope so,’ my mother replied.  ‘I hope they teach the kids Jewish and Hindu songs, too.  That’s the kind of Muslims we want our kids to be.’  In that offhand reply, overheard when I was a teenager, my mother guessed the arc of my life.”


Comments.  What is your story?  What program, what mentor, what event altered the trajectory of your life and changed who you were to become?