Sometimes, a book touches you on a level that you didn’t see coming. When I read the opening of American Dervish, it hit me at a fundamental place: a place of knowing I was not alone. When Hayat takes a bite of his hot dog and looks around, expecting the building to collapse or the earth to shake for his violation of faith… there were echoes of my own struggles with faith. The first time I did not go to mass. The first time I realized my parents faith did not define me: I remember waiting for the earth to shake.
As someone who has wrestled with her faith, who has vacillated between devout attendance at mass and damn near walking away from her childhood faith yet again, American Dervish touched me deeply. It’s not an easy book to read unless you’re like me and you really enjoy books that touch on the deeply fundamental questions in life.
I could at once relate to Hayat’s mother, trying to raise her son as a man of faith while wrestling and sometimes even hating what that that faith had done to her best friend. I could relate deeply with Hayat’s father, a man who looked at the people around him, a people who shared his faith and his heritage, with distain and anger and more than a little distrust. His rage at his son’s devout displays was especially powerful but not because he feared what his son would become but because Hayat, in his religious zeal, hurt a dear friend. Naveed’s anger over that was a greater betrayal than Hayat’s religiosity and that, ultimately, is where I can relate most strongly with Naveed. The faith he grew up with has hurt someone he cared deeply about. It’s a struggle I can honestly say I’m dealing with right now as the faith I am a part of is hurting people I care about.
But mostly, I could relate with Hayat. With being a young person, trying to make sense of the faith of our parents. Trying to be a good Muslim or in my case, Catholic, only to fall away as you learn a truth about the world: the faith of our parents is not going to hold up to our ideals as we grow up. Maybe it’s the worlds way of shaping us into something new. Maybe it’s our way of breaking away from the traditions that shaped us.
But taking Hayat’s journey through faith and ultimately away from it, I could relate.
American Dervish is not only about being a Muslim in America. It’s a journey about growing up. About taking the faith we had as a child and looking at it as an adult. Ayad Akhtar wrote an incredibly powerful book and I’m so so grateful I had the chance to read it. It’s especially potent for me right now, as I continue to wrestle with the traditions I’ve been raised with and trying to find the right path to steer my daughters toward.
If you’ve ever wrestled with your faith, if you’ve ever looked at your parent’s religion through eyes filled with disappointment, or, if you’ve never experienced either of these things, Ayad Akhtar’s book American Dervish will take you on that journey.
I highly, highly recommend it.