Patel, 34, is a member of the White House’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Religious Advisory Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations. His interfaith organization, launched in 1998 and based in Chicago, is now active at about 75 college campuses.
“This is an idea award, but what makes him stand out is that he also has an organization and a whole structure to back it up,” said Louisville Seminary professor Susan Garrett, who oversees the $200,000 prize.
Out of nearly 70 international nominees, Patel won the prize for his 2007 autobiography Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.
In his book, Patel argues for exposure to pluralism to help keep young people influenced by religious radicals from committing devastating acts of terrorism.
“Religious extremists all over the world are harnessing adolescent angst for their own ends,” said Garrett. “Patel urges us to take advantage of the short window of time in a young person’s life to teach the universal values of cooperation, compassion, and mercy.”
Earlier this year, Patel won the Roosevelt Institute’s Freedom of Worship Medal, and was named one of America’s Best Leaders in 2009 by U.S. News & World Report magazine. Previously, Islamica magazine named him “one of 10 young Muslim visionaries shaping Islam in America.”
Harvard’s Kennedy School Review cited him as one of “five future policy leaders to watch.”
A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Rhodes Scholar received a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University.
— Nicole Neroulias