American Dervish

by Ayad Akhtar

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Chapters 9–11 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on March 8, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1021

Chapter 9

After the Independence Day picnic, Hayat finds a bottle of whiskey hidden in his father’s car. He takes the bottle and buries it in the garden, thinking about all the centuries his father will spend consumed by hellfire for his drinking and his other sins. Suddenly, he realizes what he has to do to prevent this: he must memorize the entire Quran and become a hafiz. The hafiz saves not only himself, but also his parents from hell.

As he forms this intention, Hayat becomes increasingly impatient with the impiety and hypocrisy of his family and even Mina. Mina asks him how he would feel if she were to marry Nathan, and he replies that Nathan is not a Muslim. When Mina tells him Nathan intends to convert to Islam, Hayat questions his motives. It worries him that neither Mina nor his mother sees that these motives are impure, that Nathan is only converting so that he can marry Mina, not because he really believes in Islam.

One day, Hayat’s mother comes into his room and starts to cry. She asks him to promise that he will be a good man and treat women with respect. It becomes clear that she feels ill-treated by Hayat’s father, who continues to have affairs with white women. Hayat comforts his mother, and she falls asleep in his arms, crying. However, that evening, his parents seem to have reconciled completely. His mother cooks his father’s favorite food, and they go out together for a walk. Mina tells Hayat the story of Muhammad’s ascension to heaven on a magical horse called the Burak. However, this fails to placate Hayat, who wishes he could escape from his home and the hypocrisy that surrounds him.

Chapter 10

Hayat finds himself troubled by lustful thoughts about Mina and ejaculates while thinking about her, a physical process he does not understand and of which he is deeply ashamed. Nathan returns home to see his parents and tell them about his conversion to Islam. His father, a Holocaust survivor, does not mind him converting but warns Nathan that no one will ever see him as anything other than a Jew.

When Nathan returns, Hayat accompanies his father and Nathan to the Islamic Center, run by Imam Souhef, whom Hayat’s father dislikes and distrusts, though both Hayat and Nathan are impressed by him. Nathan is warmly received by everyone at the Islamic Center and is initially impressed by the beauty of the ceremony.

When Imam Souhef begins preaching the sermon, known as the khutbah, he chooses a text concerning God’s love for the Jews. However, he then says that the Jews have selfishly rejected the love of God. As he talks about Palestine, his preaching becomes more and more incendiary and hostile to Judaism. Hayat’s father leaves the room, dragging his son behind him. Nathan, who has been sitting at the back of the room, stands up and shouts that the imam’s words are disgusting and hateful. The three of them leave in confusion as other worshippers shout abuse at Nathan.

Chapter 11

As Hayat’s father drives home from the mosque with Nathan and Hayat, Nathan is furious. He demands to know how Hayat’s father would have reacted to the imam’s sermon if he had not been present. Naveed points out that he would not have gone to the mosque in the first place if Nathan had not wanted to go. He despises the imam and has never heard him speak a work of sense. Last time he went to the mosque, long ago, Imam Souhef was...

(This entire section contains 1021 words.)

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talking nonsense about how long one had to spend in hell for various transgressions. Hayat, in his turn, is angry to hear his father talking so dismissively about hell.

That evening, Hayat is angered even further when he hears Imran call his father “Dad” for the first time. He tells Imran that Naveed is his dad, not Imran’s, and that Nathan will probably be Imran’s new dad, even though he is a white man and a Jew. When Imran asks what a Jew is, Hayat replies that Allah hates the Jews more than anyone else and will send them all to hell.

The next morning, Mina rushes at Hayat, calling him evil and beating him so hard that his arm is fractured. Hayat’s mother, Muneer, drives Mina away from him and says that she will kill her if she ever touches Hayat again. Mina replies that Hayat has been saying “horrible things” to Imran. The chapter ends with Hayat blacking out.


Whereas the discussion of Islam in the previous section of the book was uncomfortable and controversial, in these three chapters it escalates into violence. Hayat begins with good intentions, deciding that he must become a hafiz to save his father from hell. Even at this point, the reader can see him becoming more rigid and intolerant. He reprimands Mina, who taught him about Islam in the first place, for pushing the Quran across the table to him rather than kissing it and handling it respectfully. Mina responds by telling him not just to memorize the verses, but to think about them and understand them.

Naveed and Nathan are both horrified by Imam Souhef’s comments about the Jews, but Hayat remains noncommittal. When he speaks to Imran, it becomes clear that he has internalized the imam’s hatred and that his personal jealousy of Nathan has turned into a more general bigotry against the Jewish people. The last time Hayat was separated from Mina, when he saw her naked body, she was cold and distant in her manner toward him, and it was Islam that reunited them, as Hayat redoubled his efforts to be a pious Muslim. This time, it is Hayat’s interpretation of Islam, fueled by the words of Imam Souhef, that has driven them apart, and Mina reacts not by remaining aloof, but with furious violence, her anger only increased by her own part in creating this zealot who has poisoned the mind of her son.


Chapters 6–8 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 12–14 Summary and Analysis