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Why I Choose To Call It ‘Ramzan’ And Not ‘Ramadaan’

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By Zehra Kazmi

If we turn the pages of history, we can see how language has led to wars. It remains one of the most potent tools of influence in the world that shapes our society in myriad ways. Urdu was born in the region I hail from –Awadh, and it has held a special place in my heart. I am far from a fluent speaker of the language, but I make an effort to work on it and reach a level of proficiency that I can be confident of someday. It has been established that Urdu’s popularity is on the decline, a slow death that has been lamented by many including the Vice President of India.

Most Indians of the subcontinent have started preferring the Arabic Ramadaan over the usual Urdu/Farsi Ramzan. Mubarak has become Mabrouk or Kareem. A huge criticism of this debate has been that it is unnecessary, but I think that is a very shallow view of the entire issue. The words we choose to describe ourselves or our situation are of utmost importance. They reflect in which context we choose to place ourselves. Trust a Literature student to know that. To develop perspective, we must first understand what Arab cultural hegemony is in Islamic culture.

After World War I, the Sauds, followers of an extremist interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism, captured much of the Arabian Peninsula including the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The great Arab empires had never ruled from Mecca or Medina, the power centre was always Syria or Iraq. As soon as huge fountains of oil were found sprouting in this patch of desert, fortunes changed and the tables turned. The relevance of the cultural practices of Arab Muslims suddenly increased manifold because now Arabia was the playground of the West-seat of money and power. The Arabian Peninsula, despite its many great cultural achievements, is presently associated with a certain kind of interpretation of Islam called Salafism. Organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda derive their inspiration from Salafism. Of course, I don’t mean to insinuate that all Arabs are Salafists, but the changes in Arab geopolitics and the recent obsession of non-Arabs trying to seem closer to Allah by being more Arabic are linked. In my opinion, every time Urdu speaking Muslims decide to exchange Urdu words for Arabic, we buy into the Salafi/Wahabi discourse.

Historically, Indian Islam derives a huge amount of cultural influence from Iran and Central Asia (with the notable exception of Kerala).

When writers like Irena Akbar say, “Who is anyone to decide what Indian Islam is?“, I agree with her to a certain extent. Of course, no one can or should control how a person chooses to develop their spiritual understanding of Islam, as long as it brings about no third-party harm. Yet in the more nuanced sphere of cultural expression, this sort of invasion of the ethos of the Indian Muslim is dangerous. Our history bears witness to what makes Indian Islam so specific and distinctive.

Of course, a person will not automatically pledge allegiance to Salafism just because they use the word Ramadaan instead of Ramzan, but it’s also important to note that language is one of the most primary tools of indoctrination. For example, it makes a difference if you call a Cherokee man a Red Indian or a Native American. Closer home, there is a certain politics behind why the word ‘Dalit’ holds so much significance to the community. Slowly but certainly, this Salafi discourse will spread itself in our society through these seemingly innocuous methods. Look at televangelists like Dr. Zakir Naik, so keen on representing themselves as more religious by being more Arab-ised. Moreover, why barter our allegiance to Urdu, the language that was born in India, in exchange for sounding more “sophisticated”?

Urdu is an amalgamation of Khari Boli and Persian, with regional influences coming into play depending upon which state we refer to. There are slight differences in the dialects of the language spoken in Hyderabad, Lucknow or Patna. It would be wrong to say that Urdu is the language of the Muslims. It is one of the most important languages of the subcontinent, and Urdu would be much poorer without the contribution made to it by people like Gulzar, Rajinder Bedi, Raghupati Sahay or Gopi Chand Narang. In fact for many North Indian Hindus and Sikhs, Urdu was the lingua franca till two generations ago. We are accelerating the death of a language that has a distinctly composite history, rooted in our past, and are allowing it to be swallowed up by another. Countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan have lost out on their culture because they chose to associate themselves with a whole different brand of Islamic socio-religious expression, i.e., the Salafi one. The cultural heritage of the Pashtun and Sindhi Muslims is being systematically destroyed as a result of this move.

I understand that this is not about Islam specifically, but the larger socio-religious structure our culture is enmeshed within. I have emphasized in my previous articles that the implications of being an Indian Muslim are very different from being, say, an Algerian one. There are very specific cultural and social impulses that drive us and there are myriad sub-cultures that exist within us-Bengali, Assamese, Tamil. I am concerned about the preservation of a culture that has been an intrinsic part of us for centuries.

Now you know that there is a very political reason behind why I choose to call this column Ramzan with Zehra and not Ramadaan with Zehra. These ‘small matters’ are not small at all.

You must be to comment.
  1. zohaib ahmed

    It seems Zehra dat all countries r obessed wid wahabism like arabs n pakistan as u mentioned forcefully.Religious feelings just do not go by following money or oil of arabs otherwise we all wud hav got converted to christianity.Furthermore if u see so-said Arab-ised Zakir Nair incorrect somewhere1 why dont go in his speeches n argue wid him according to Quran n hadith n prove him wrong.

    1. MajorBS

      Zakir Naik has been wrong in more than one instances about both scientific facts, quotes and also interpretations of Quran. Many muslim scholars themselves have acknowledged this. If you have any doubt watch this video. However I think main reason behind people following the arabized islam is because Quran as such must be read and understood only in Arabic, it stipulated in Quran itself that arab is the language one must use to understand Quran and it should be interpreted only by a person who is equivalent to a scholar in arab. People fail to understand the political and communal implications of following an arabized version of Islam.

    2. B

      They are minor scientific errors, not religious ones. Countless people have accepted Islam at the hands of Dr. Zakir Naik due to his simple and clear ways of explaining things, and because Islam is a religion of love, but hatemongers like you live with the purpose of spreading hate and maligning the image of Islam, and your failure is evident in your frustration.

    3. MajorBS

      The feeling you get that you have to defend your faith every time someone raises their voice against it or have an opinion against its teachings, is because you know you have to get defensive. That proves my point. You are just a push away from being a terrorist. Besides Islam is not Zakir Naik. I said he has been wrong in many instances ( and I mean it, there are many other videos, but your eyes wont see it) and whatever I said about the ways to interpret Qur’an is also true. The fact that you disagree with me tells me you know nothing about your faith. Not even as much as a “hater” like me knows about it.

    4. B

      The fact that you feel the need to attack Islam at every possible opportunity with distorted viewpoints, lies, and half-truths proves my point, and calling other people ‘a push away from being a terrorist’ shows your pathetic mentality. Dr. Zakir Naik has condemned terrorism on many instances, in fact in the above posted video he does it again.

    5. MajorBS

      Also you can check anywhere in the internet or all his public address. He has never attempted to interpret verse of the sword Chapter 9 verse 29. And conveniently no one asks him to interpret it as well

    6. Juzer Husain

      Zakir is a good arguer and has a copy book memory, that doesn’t necessarily make him correct and right.
      The deepest insights and thoughts that Zakir possesses are no less evil than satan himself. This is though a wrong place to discuss him. As far as zehra is concerned, she has a point and has put herself clearly.

    7. B

      Looking at your holier-than-thou attitude, please let us all know what led you to point fingers at a revered personality and degrade him so viciously.

  2. C M Naim

    More power to you.
    My response to this Ramzan/Ramdan nonsense is simple. We, Urdu speakers, pronounce Gemal Abdul Nasir as Jamal Abdul Nasir, Mardhi as Marzi, Mithal as Misaal, and Ramadan as Ramzan. In Urdu. When it comes to reciting the Quran properly, we do what many of the Arabs don’t do, i.e. pronounce some letters they may have been pronounced before the various dialects of Arabic became linked with nation-states. So go, do your ‘purification’ act some place else. Ask an Egyptian to pronounce Gemal as Jamal.

  3. Nazia

    Zehra has an opinion and she expressed it. But I have to correct her where she says “Urdu is an amalgamation of Khari Boli and Persian” and stops.
    Urdu is an amalgamation of Khari Boli, Persian, and Arabic. She must have done a little search to learn the extent of the influence of Arabic on both Persian and Urdu. Besides, it is people’s preference how to speak their language. There are thousands of English words in Urdu that people used pronounce differently, but with the advent of technology they now know how to pronounce them the correct way. We hardly hear any one saying بوتل instead of bottle, for example. That’s how things are, languages keep developing and words keep changing.

  4. ItsJustMe

    2nd masjid (The one after Medina) in the world was not built in Arab land. It was build across the Arabian Sea in Kochi, Kerala. It is the Cheraman Juma Masjid. No one to this date talks about this place or goes to this Juma masjid as a pilgrim. People who chase after arab version of Islam, just remember we have almost the same heritage in the Islamic history as Medina, may be a step ahead of Mecca itself. Learn to appreciate the heritage of our great ancestors who were tolerant enough to give land for this new religion completely unheard of till date, when they were being chased out of Mecca.

  5. Faisal

    The article is just baseless…. A storm in a cup. It is not that wahabis or any other call it “Ramadaan”, it is pronounced as “Ramadaan” in the Qur’an. So you can take your logic else

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