The Devotion of a Hafiz: Background information when reading American Dervish

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American Dervish

A Novel

by Ayad Akhtar

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2012, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2012, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Megan Shaffer

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The Devotion of a Hafiz

Print Review

In American Dervish, Hayat is distraught over the behavior of his parents as they break with many of the teachings and traditions held in the Quran*. Fearing for their afterlife, Hayat sets out to become a hafiz, or one who memorizes the Quran by heart.

a Quran circa 1400 Originally, memorization of the teachings of the Quran were preferable to the written word. Not only could beautiful recitations be shared with the then largely illiterate population, but the oral tradition also served to protect the sacred verses from enemy capture or ruin.

Today, however, committing the entire text of the Quran to memory is seen as an incredible act of devotion, as the Quran holds some 6,200 verses (approximately 80,000 words). Such a feat takes years of tutelage, repetition, and diligent study to complete.

The hafiz are highly respected within the Islamic community. In addition to presiding over important religious holidays, they are guaranteed entry into a heavenly Paradise called Jannat that awaits after death. It is also believed that the devoted hafiz are allowed to choose ten people to join them in the hereafter.

children learning the Quran

*"Quran" is the modern Arabic spelling of the word, which appears in American Dervish

Top image: a page from a Quran, circa 1400
Bottom image: Children learning the Quran in Mauritania, by Ferdinand Reus

Article by Megan Shaffer

This article was originally published in January 2012, and has been updated for the September 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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