In American Dervish, Hayat's parents are secular and teach him nothing about Islam, a religion in which his mother has little interest and which his father actively detests. When his mother's friend Mina comes from Pakistan to stay with the family, she teaches Hayat about the life of the Prophet and gives him a Quran for his eleventh birthday.
Mina embraces the mystical Sufi interpretation of Islam. She believes that good intention is the most important aspect of worship and that the outward forms and rituals are comparatively trivial. She teaches Hayat that Allah is synonymous with love and gives meaning and beauty to life.
When Hayat begins studying the Quran on his own, his interpretation of Islam becomes narrower and more literal. He also becomes more concerned with the formal, ritual aspects of religion. He reprimands Mina for pushing the Quran across the table towards him, rather than picking the book up and kissing it to show respect.
Crucially, Hayat takes everything in the Quran at face value, particularly its negative statements about Jews. Although he is also influenced by an incendiary khutbah he hears at the mosque, Hayat's idea that Allah hates Jews and will send them all to hell begins when he studies the Quran without Mina's guidance.