Original Research

Critical literacy: The encounter between Western secularism and Islamic spirituality in selected young adult novels – An approach

Salome Romylos
Literator | Vol 37, No 1 | a1260 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v37i1.1260 | © 2016 Salome Romylos | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 November 2015 | Published: 30 November 2016

About the author(s)

Salome Romylos, School of Social and Human Sciences for Education, North-West University, South Africa


This article aims to show how selected young adult novels may be potentially powerful locations for creating an awareness and better understanding of Muslims, Islam, and veiling practices in particular. Critical literacy as a methodology will be employed to demonstrate how learners may be guided towards critically engaging with texts. This is essential as mere surface knowledge is not enough when learners are confronted with complex issues, such as race, spirituality and culture. Western TV, newspapers, and magazines are responsible for painting a very monolithic image of Muslims as a seamless homogeneous group. Many young adults are actively engaging in conversations on digital media, such as Twitter and Facebook, where issues of culture and diversity are commented on regularly. Westerners may form very negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims when inundated with a deluge of images of atrocities performed by extremist groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The consequence is that all Muslims are stereotyped as being fundamentalists, terrorists and oppressing their women. Thus knowledge construction is manipulated by Western media. An understanding of the reasons for donning a piece of cloth – the headscarf – may serve as a starting point in changing perceptions about Muslims and their diverse practices. Educators should be wary of only advocating tolerance among different cultural groups, as tolerance implies a mere managing of one’s feelings of aversion for that which is to be tolerated. Critical literacy questions on texts, such as The breadwinner trilogy by Deborah Ellis and The girl in the tangerine scarf by Mohja Kahf, are discussed as examples for use in classrooms. These texts are very different in their portrayals of Muslim girls/women and may be read comparatively. The complexity of the encounter between Western secularism and Islamic spirituality emerges either subtly or explicitly in the novels discussed.


Islam; Muslims; monolithic; tolerance; critical literacy; social media


Total abstract views: 2925
Total article views: 5633

Crossref Citations

No related citations found.