Hofstra University has awarded a $50,000 interfaith prize to a Chicago activist who has organized a national network of college students devoted to religious cooperation.

Eboo Patel, 35, a Muslim born in India and raised in Chicago, is the third winner of the Guru Nanak Interfaith Award. The prize was created in 2006 by a Long Island Sikh family to build interreligious ties.

"Dr. Patel is a dynamic young leader who is fiercely committed to the principles the Guru Nanak award was created to honor -- cooperation, understanding, service and peaceful dialogue," Bernard Firestone, dean of Hofstra's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said in a statement. "That he has focused his efforts on engaging young people, and promoted these values on college and university campuses, only serves to highlight the role such institutions can and should play in fostering a better understanding among people of different faiths and beliefs."

Patel called the award an "overwhelming honor" and said he was "proud to be part of an organization, the Interfaith Youth Core, and a broader interfaith movement dedicated to the idea that faith is a bridge of cooperation, not a barrier of division."

Patel, who served on President Barack Obama's inaugural Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, founded the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core in 1998.

The organization is active at more than 200 colleges in the United States and other countries, uniting young people of different religions as they perform community service together and explore their common values.

Patel says his interest in peaceful advocacy for tolerance and change was sparked by prejudice he experienced as a child, and his later studies of leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.

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The Guru Nanak Interfaith Award, given every two years and established by Ishar Bindra of Brookville and his family, is named after the founder of the Sikh religion.

It is awarded to an individual or organization that "has demonstrated leadership and courage in the promotion of religious tolerance and understanding," according to Hofstra.

Previous winners include the Dalai Lama, and 2009 co-winners Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Park East Synagogue in Manhattan and Religions for Peace, an interfaith group.