Thursday, Dec 18, 2014

You say Ramadan, I say Ramzan

Written by Irena Akbar | Posted: July 18, 2014 12:29 am

But the call to scrub all traces of Saudi Islam in the name of ‘Indianness’ is another kind of intolerance.

On June 30, the first day of Ramadan, my Facebook wall turned into a collage of pictures, graphics and status messages announcing the beginning of the Muslim holy month. The message “Ramadan Mubarak”, written calligraphically against a backdrop of a minaret or a crescent or a pack of dates, was shared by several of my friends belonging to varied faiths and living in different parts of the world, including India.

Hold on, how can someone living in India, and being Indian, ever say “Ramadan”? That was a point raised by one Facebook friend (not real-life friend), when she posted, “Aap sabhi ko Ramadhan, Ramadan nahi — sirf saada, sachcha, hindustani ‘Ramzan Mubarak’ !” In English, she meant, “Wish you all not Ramadan, but only simple, true Indian Ramzan Mubarak’. She later even suggested that those who prefer “d” over “z” are followers of “Saudi Islam”, and that choosing “Ramadan” over “Ramzan” is not just a spelling preference but a “political decision” of favouring Arabs over Persians!
Despite making her repulsion to “Ramadan” clear in her wall post, many people still wished her “Ramadan Mubarak” in their comments.

Ramadan is an Arabic word, and is pronounced with a “d”, not a “z”. But in Persian or Urdu, the “z” replaces the “d”. American and British English use Ramadan, while English-language dailies in India use both spellings. In India, most people say Ramzan when they speak Urdu/ Hindi, but many now prefer to use Ramadan at least when speaking in English. It’s a trend that has worried several “left-liberal” Muslims who “fear” the “Saudisation” or “Arabisation” or “Wahabisation” of Indian Muslims. It’s not uncommon to see such Muslims declaring their allegiance to “INDIAN ISLAM” (yes, written in all caps) on their Twitter bios. It’s also not uncommon to see followers of “Indian Islam” rebuking fellow Indian Muslims for saying “Allah hafiz” instead of “Khuda Hafiz”, and for breaking their fast in “Ramadan”, not “Ramzan”.

When “Indian Islam” followers rebuke Indian Muslims for “digressing” from their so-called version of the faith, they are no different from Hindu fundamentalists who demand that “Indian culture” be followed in our arts, and from the moral police who manhandle lovers for public displays of affection on Valentine’s Day. These examples may seem unrelated but have a singular theme: intolerance of everything perceived to be not “Indian”.

Who decides what is Indian? And could someone please define “Indian Islam”? Surely, Indian Muslims are as diverse as India itself, so shouldn’t there be a “Tamil Islam”, a “Bihari Islam”, a “Kashmiri Islam”, etc? Perhaps there are as many versions of Islam as there are varieties of biriyani cooked across India? Some followers of “Indian Islam” suggest that the Sufi branch of the religion, which emerged in faraway Turkey but found many takers in
the subcontinent, is the only “peaceful” form of Islam. Those who don’t follow Sufi/ Barelvi branches are dubbed “Arabised”, “puritanical”, “Wahabi” and certainly continued…

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