Ramzan or Ramadan: That is the Question

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Syed Mohammed

It is an “existential crisis” which many Muslims face. One akin to that which Hamlet was going through. Perhaps Shakespeare’s protagonist would have asked himself the same question, had he been, by a strange quirk of fate, a Muslim: “Ramzan or Ramadan: that is the question”. And then, the Danish prince would brood. Perhaps, even argue with himself and later with others. Ramzan after Ramzan, Ramadan after Ramadan, much like these many Muslims.

With the holy month barely a day or two away, depending on the lunar Islamic calendar or as decided by bungling Rooiyat-e-Hilal (moon sighting) committees, the curious question gains traction. The ensuing discussion permeates both living and religious spaces. Strong cases are made for and against both pronunciations. Rules of the Arabic language, linguistics and grammar are invoked and some even go to the extent of justifying their arguments by asserting that Islam is essentially an Arabian faith and, therefore, the pronunciation too should be thus. “It isn’t Ramzan, its Ramadaaaan,” so goes the taunt – the emphasis on the third syllable.

Others argue that Islam in its present form was only born in Arabia and has manifested itself in various parts of the world, gradually accepting elements of native cultures. That it has always been inclusive. While some choose to look at this phenomenon as an academic debate, for others it is entertainment.

A similar fate has befallen ‘khudahafiz’, meaning God be with you, an expression used at the time of taking one’s leave. It is an apt example of the healthy, inclusive amalgam, that Urdu is.

Year after year, more and more number of people have started replacing the word Allah with khuda, the Persian equivalent of God. At a recent event held at a national university in the city, a gentleman, a member of the audience, argued with panelists. Out with khudahafiz, he said. Despite efforts to placate him, the man persisted. The irony: he was speaking in chaste Urdu – an amalgam or Farsi, Arabic and other Indian languages. While some may choose to see this as a one off inconsequential instance, the ground reality is quite the opposite.

And the reason for this change is the gradual Arabisation of Indian Muslims. It is the march towards what is popularly described as the “puritanical” form of Islam as practiced by the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia.

It all began when Indians began working in Arab countries as expatriates and started accepting the Wahabi school of thought. The pronunciation came as a part of the package. The insistence of some to use these two expressions – Ramadan and Allahafiz – is also an assertion of not just religious identity, but also that of the school of thought to which they subscribe. In fact, no Arab would say Allahafiz. The expression used is either “Allah Ma’ak” or “ma’assalaam”.

But interestingly, for those who seek religious sanction on their choice of words, the Islamic seminary Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband, which is often described as a “fatwa factory” and an institution greatly influenced by Wahabism, issued a progressive religious ruling in 2010 permitting the use khudahafiz. It also said that words such as “Ezad” and “Yazdan”, both substitutes of Allah, were perfectly useable.

But the fact remains that India was a Persianate society. The faith of Indian Muslims may well be rooted in Arabia, but their culture was influenced by the then Persia and now Iran. And while Arabic continues to be the liturgical language of Islam, it was Persian and later Urdu, not Arabic, which became the lingua franca.

A huge collection of Mirza Ghalib’s poetry is in Farsi. More so, around three quarters of Muhammad Iqbal’s poetry too, are in Farsi. And at a time when Indian Muslims are in no control of the fate of either Urdu, Arabic or the Persian language, insisting that one use Ramadan seems quite silly.

Syed Mohammed, “Ramzan or Ramadan: That is the Question,” in Times of India, June 18, 2015. Accessed on June 18, 2015, at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Ramzan-or-Ramadan-That-is-the-Question/articleshow/47712519.cms

The item above written by Syed Mohammed and published in Times of India on June 18, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on June 18, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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