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You say Ramadan, I say Ramzan

Ramadan is an Arabic word, and is pronounced with a “d”, not a “z”.

Written by Irena Akbar | Published: 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 not followers of “Indian Islam”.

As unclear as “Indian Islam” followers are about what they believe in, they are absolutely certain about what they do not believe in. Anything that is Arab, and so their nit-picking of “Allah Hafiz” and “Ramadan”. They conveniently forget Islam first came to India through Arab traders who arrived on Kerala’s shores. Those were peaceful chaps, unlike the marauding armies that had come from Central Asia and spoke Persian, the preferred language of the “Indian Islam” followers.

But it’s not history the “Indian Islam” followers are worried about, it’s the current “Arab-Saudi-Wahabi” influence that has them worked up. Sure, the Arab world is in turmoil, with crises in Iraq, Syria and Palestine nearing no end. Sure, there is the ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Hamas, all Arab gun-toting militants who, by the way, kill hapless Arab civilians. But there is also the peaceful United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman — countries that host more foreigners than their own nationals, and have temples and churches along with mosques. Does not that speak of Arab tolerance? As for Saudi Arabia, it is intolerant of all faiths except Sunni Islam, but the kingdom hosts people of several nationalities. There are more Indian expatriates in that country than elsewhere, and many of them are not Muslim.

So, let’s not, in an attempt to prove our patriotism and secularism, run down the Arabs and Indian Muslims who prefer Arabic over Persian, or who don’t visit Sufi shrines. If “Indian Islam” followers think their anti-Arab, pro-Sufi stance makes them more secular and patriotic in the eyes of non-Muslim Indians, they are wrong. Almost all my Hindu friends have wished me “Ramadan Mubarak”, and are not bothered about my preference of “Ramadan” over “Ramzan”. In fact, since “Ramadan” is used by Westerners too, many young people think the term is “cooler” than “Ramzan”. Their preference has nothing to do with Arabic vs Persian/ Urdu.

In the end, it’s about the freedom of choosing to speak, to spell a word whatever way you want. And in democratic India, there can be no place for intolerance against exercising such freedoms. By the way, I say “Khuda Hafiz” and “Ramadan Mubarak”. So, am I a follower of “Indian Islam” or “Saudi Islam”? Let’s free the Indian Muslim of such unnecessary questions.


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More From Irena Akbar
  1. M
    Jun 15, 2017 at 8:00 am
    Ramzan is correct word
    1. K
      Jun 7, 2016 at 6:33 am
      Actually its about Arabic and speaking arabic correctly. In arabic the letters used to spell Ramadan arelt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Ra(R), lt;br/gt;Fathah(A vowel), lt;br/gt;Meem(M),lt;br/gt;Fathah(A vowel)lt;br/gt;Dhad(Not D but kind of D)lt;br/gt;Alif(A long vowel for elongation)lt;br/gt;Noon(N)lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;In India most muslims are wrongly taught by their most teachers (moulvis) to pronounce the letter Dhad as Zaad with a Z. It is incorrect as for Z there is a Zay in Arabic. In Ramadan there is Dhad and not Zay in the end.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Its like saying Psychology with a P and not with an Slt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;So saying Ramazan is not about Indian or other muslim but being wrong in pronounciation.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;: )
      1. Basa Swaminathan
        Jun 22, 2015 at 4:56 pm
        Ms. Irena Akbar (sw) .... And to rub the bottom of your arab masters to get a tip or two is another kind of slavery.
        1. S
          Jun 13, 2015 at 11:14 am
          Entire world use Ramadan..it translating from Quran..don't be stoopid..no matter where you come from..east..west..south or north..any angle in this duniya..do not easily changing something that u thinks is work for community..it might be works for yourself..do you thinks religious is own by your daddy.. Just because some people have a hard accent to pronounce some "word"..u ask police to jail them..
          1. M
            Moid Bin
            Jun 19, 2015 at 10:00 am
            she needs to study QURAN before making any statment feeling shame for her :(
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