A Life of thinking globally, acting locally, and seeking peace internally.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An act of faith - reviewing Acts of Faith...

I finally had to publish this review of Eboo Patel's Acts of Faith, since he's making headlines again. Not that it's a bad thing, just read my review and you'll understand what rankles...

I was quite excited that Obama's inaugural address referenced Hindus, but the makeup of the Faith Based Neighborhood Partnerships office - not Community Initiatives - leaves me perplexed. I rather liked Waldman's article on this:

But back to Patel and my review - although as my ever-realistic husband said, "who cares what you think about it?" - here it is.

Eboo Patel's book, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, speaks of a journey that I have been seeing people go through everyday, for years – a journey of interfaith dialogue and discovery. As Patel writes in this autobiographical work, we Americans can find hope by following our respective faiths while finding common ground in our values of community and service. "The arc of his life" is to build interfaith understanding, he says. He lays out the way that the common ground of service and compassion which he found within the religious diversity that is America, laid the foundation for the non-profit youth organization he founded in 1998, Interfaith Youth Core.

While reading this book, I was fascinated by the common thread I see in our shared background – Indian immigrants usually so absorbed in the pursuit of the American dream and dollars that "they were never home" for their kids. Patel's father is absorbed with international news when there is activity that affects him ("Muslims are dying by the thousands, and these people don't give a shit," says Patel’s father about George H.W. Bush's Iraq war), while being knowledgeable about, but not absorbed by, world affairs. His mother faced the "challenges of balancing professional and family life," while Patel had "a vague sense of being Muslim from [his] mother without any real grounding in how that was relevant or useful to [his] life." One could so easily change the word "Muslim" to "Hindu" or "Sikh" or "Jain" – the other major faith traditions of the South Asian/Indian diaspora. I also found "flashes of ingredients" that were similar in our lives – and that of so many other immigrants': the difficulty in balancing the culture we live in and the one that shapes how we are raised, the issue of being marginalized for our brown skin or whatever else marks us as "the other." We are all "Third Culture Kids," a term coined by the Michigan academician Ruth Hill Useem over 40 years ago, and so many of our stories are laced with this common angst. I also discovered similar core values on a very personal level – we are both American pluralists, seekers who love ideas, and interfaith activists who wish to pursue peace through service and action in this millennium.

But I don't see his journey as prophetic, since I remember reading words of caution and a call to action in Tariq Ali's 2002 publication, Clash of Fundamentalisms. I also see his vision of pluralism as part of a larger entity, since there are many grass roots movements for interfaith understanding around the country – for example, those which can be found in the Pluralism Project's work and the efforts of many organizations in my metropolitan region of Detroit, Michigan. His chapter "An American in India" lacks the compassion and concern so eloquent in other pages. With all his scholarly understanding, he fails to explain the Hindu-Muslim antagonism in a just way. And his deep discomforts as a young adult, with India and the servants in his grandmother's home struck me as somewhat hollow, not too far from the sneer he says he had as a young teenager towards the Muslims in jamatkhana that his parents dragged him to on occasion. I lived in India as a teenager and college student from 1981 to 1988, and feel that his words lack appreciation for the nuances of the stratified socio-politico-economic conditions in India. In fact, Michigan Roundtable's Interfaith Partners can tell you about so many interfaith heroes from the Indian subcontinent who worked tirelessly for interfaith harmony in that region and around the world (IFP helped create Interfaith Heroes vol. 1 and 2).

I was concerned that Patel focuses on interfaith trialogue between the Abrahamic faiths. He lacked sufficient data or information on the world's third largest and most pluralistic faith ("Truth is One, the paths to It are many" - Rig Veda): Hindus in America number two million, based on several reliable sources (his number is much lower), and many think that this is underestimated. And also, India is mentioned first among the most religiously volatile nations in the world (at odds with Thomas Friedman's understanding of India) and "Hindu nationalists" are mentioned first when Patel states that "religious extremism is a movement of young people taking action." Patel’s words could inflame Hindus who have a deeply rooted concern about the violence inflicted in the name of Islam on the subcontinent – with all my willingness to identify with him as an Indian American, even I felt put-off by this lopsided portrayal. Why? I have always had a pluralistic world view – I am an American Hindu.

- Padma Kuppa, 2008

1 comment:

Sravan Kumar DVN said...

Padma garu ,
thanks a lot for your comment and the efforts you are putting in USA for the device works of Annamacharya.
I am trying to collect meanings of kirtanas. Please let me know if there is any reliable source of kirtana meanings. I do not want to write my own iterpreations in this blog.

Thanks for correction, Please let me know if there are more typos.