How Islamic are young Muslim people’s poems?

Joke Dewilde

Faith literacy, Young Muslims, Islamic poetry, Islamic art, Self-exploration


In this article, I investigate poetry written by two young Muslim people during their spare time. Adopting Shahab Ahmed’s (2016) understanding of Islamic in its plenitude and complexity, I ask how Islamic their texts are. The participants, Neda and Mohammed (both pseudonyms), grew up in Islamic countries where they were socialised in faith literacy practices, including practices around sacred and devotional texts, before moving to Norway in their teens. The data used for this article were collected during two linguistic ethnographies and include poems written in and outside of school, fieldnotes from classroom observations and transcripts from multiple semi-structured interviews. The interview questions concerned their poems and writing in general as well as their observations about living as Muslims in Norway. Although their poems include few or no explicit Islamic references, the findings support an argument that an Islamic lens gives meaning to the poems in terms of Islam as they engage with rather different Islamic norms and discourses. Whereas Mohammed’s texts are characterised by more prescriptive discourses leaving little room for alternative interpretations, Neda’s texts contain more wonder and perplexity and are thus in line with non-prescriptive discourses. I conclude by arguing that 1) the meanings of the poems are enriched in terms of Islam by viewing them through an Islamic lens and that 2) schools should provide safe spaces for young Muslims to develop their meaning-making and writing.

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