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How Ramzan Paved The Way For Ramadan In Subcontinental Islam

By Sumit Paul, New Age Islam

5 April 2022

Arabs Don’t Say Allah Hafiz. They Say “Ma’ Assalamh, Fi Salamatillah, Fi Amanillah” Etc.

Main Points:

1.    New millennium has witnessed the incorporation of hardened religion-linguistic terms in subcontinental Islam as well as Hinduism

2.    Chomsky and Said believed that the sub-continental Muslims (esp. Sunni Muslims) suffered from religious identity and persecution anxiety.

3.    Arabs say “Ma’ Assalamh, Fi Salamatillah, Fi Amanillah” etc.


Right word is Ramzan but Gulf Arabs are unable to pronounce Z. So, it becomes Ramadan. Why should we Indians follow wrong traditions just because they come from Arabs?

-Shahid Siddiqui

The Muqaddas (sacred) month of Ramzan is on the anvil and I'm actually apprehensive of greeting my Muslim (particularly, belonging to Sunni Islam) friends with Ramzan Mubarak, lest I get to hear the botched-up Ramadan Karim as a new-fangled religious reply from them. Before delving into this issue, it's advisable to understand the linguistic facet of it. The name of the month contains the letter ض (Zuad), which is pronounced similar to ‘d’ in Arabic. In both Persian and Urdu, into which the word was borrowed centuries ago, the original pronunciation didn’t survive. Instead, it was replaced with the sound ‘z’. Consequently, it was written as Ramzan.

It's interesting to observe that the new millennium has witnessed the incorporation of hardened religion-linguistic terms in subcontinental Islam as well as Hinduism. But first, let me focus on the glaring changes in Islam of the 21st century. The ubiquitous Allah Hafiz obscured the age-old Khuda-Hafiz and Ramadan toppled Ramzan. Noam Chomsky's ' The Politics of Language' and Professor Edward W Said's ' Sub-continental Islam's linguistic Arabification' (first published in The Dawn, Pakistan following 9/11) will help understand this phenomenon in a dispassionate manner.

 Both Chomsky and Said believed that the sub-continental Muslims (esp. Sunni Muslims) suffered from religious identity and persecution anxiety. The great sympathizer of Islam, Professor Said, himself a Palestinian Christian who turned an atheist before his death, went a step further and attributed these lingual changes in benedictions (Ramadan and Allah Hafiz) to the subcontinental Muslims' identity crisis vis-a-vis Arabs, believed to be the 'original' Muslims as Mecca and Medina both are in Arab Peninsula and Islam originated from there. Arabs always have a streak of condescension for the subcontinental Muslims, calling them Hindvis. In order to create a parity between the Arab Muslims and subcontinental Muslims, whatever was thought to be of Arab origin, was lapped up by the Muslims of the subcontinent. That's why, Khuda was replaced with Allah in Allah Hafiz. Khuda being a Persian word and used mostly and mainly by Shia Muslims, it was dropped like a hot potato and Allah sneaked into the lingual as well as linguistic consciousness of the Muslims of this part of the world.

The emergence of ' Ramadan' in lieu of more conventional ' Ramzan' can also be understood by the growing Arabification of the sub-continental Islam. The socio-religious dependency of the Muslims of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal on the Arab way of life and also rigid Arabic interpretations of Islamic tenets became too obvious, particularly following 9/11 which somehow cornered Muslims across the globe.

The Muslims of India and Pakistan began to look towards the Arab world for all their issues and ills. This caused social and religious vulnerability among them. A vulnerable mind is susceptible to all types of influences whether good or bad. Since Arab version of Islam is considered to be the pristine and most authentic, its concomitant Wahhabism and Salafist movements were also tacitly endorsed by the helpless and rootless Muslims of the sub-continent. Arab-sponsored tele-evangelists like Dr Zakir Naik worsened the scenario by drubbing subcontinental Muslims as Kafirs or infidels if they didn't follow the strict and stern norms of Saudi-Islam.

These preachers made it their lifetime mission to 'purge' Islam of all its Persian and subcontinental 'ills'. Khuda Hafiz was called un-Islamic and Ramzan as flagrantly anti-Islamic! It's interesting to learn that even Arabs don’t say Allah Hafiz. They say “Ma’ Assalamh, Fi Salamatillah, Fi Amanillah” etc. Allah Hafiz was coined, nay concocted,  on the tarz (metre) of Khuda Hafiz by non-Arabic speaking sub-continental Muslims, esp. from Bangladesh and Pakistan in the mid eighties.

Late Professor and scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis of Princeton University called it (fashion of saying Allah Hafiz) the Religio-Lingual Longing of the sub-continental Muslims. This needs a tad elaboration. The subcontinental Muslims are not very good at understanding Arabic, let alone conversing in it. But they associate Arabic with the language of Quran and Islam. So, using Allah is a reference point for these Muslims who feel a sense of satisfaction that the fundamental word of Islam, esp. the theological Islam, is somewhat intelligible to them! And that word is Allah. So, the overwhelming longing or desire to employ Allah's name in all benedictions is obvious. It's like Hindus saying Aham Brahmasmi or Muslims saying An-al-Haq. Both terms have the same connotations (I'm the Truth) but both the communities actually don't know the inner philosophy of these two terms gleaned from their respective Tasawwuf (spirituality). The undue stress on using the ubiquitous name of Allah spilled over Allah-Hafiz just like Bhagwan, used by Hindus. The same logic can be applied to Ramadan in lieu of Ramzan. Not being able to comprehend the peculiar Arab enunciation of the letter Zuad, the subcontinental Muslims heard it Ramadan and put an unnecessary accent on 'd', which's wrong. Will they also say RiDwan instead of RiZwan ( Arabic for the doorkeeper at the gate of heaven/pleased, devoted to God) because Rizwan also has the hard-sounding Zuad letter? In short, it's a linguistic chaos, created by the Muslims of this part of the world who're all at sea when it comes to Arabic.      

The all-pervasive Emulation or Aping Syndrome in Psychology helps understand the proliferation of Ramadan and not Ramzan. Since the sub-continental Muslims blindly and often fallaciously feel that Arabs are superior to them and they're the masters, the slavish mentality to ape everything that a master does is obvious in the collective behaviour of the Muslims of the sub-continent. Haven't we all observed how some 'convent'-educated people speak English with an artificial twang and when NRIs visit India from the US and the UK, they speak English with a drool to sound like their erstwhile white masters? This is because we're still mentally enslaved by the Brits and the white-skin. We suffer from an acute Inferiority Complex.

The same logic applies to the weird and most jarring use of Ramadan by Muslims of this country. What the Arabs do must be followed by the Indian and Pakistani Muslims to seem and sound Religiously and Scripturally Correct. This is the simple basic rule to toe the line and genuflect before the perceived higher authority. And in the case and context of a higher authority, Arab Islam is a model or a quintessential religion for the 'Hindvi' Muslims of the sub-continent. Lastly, to avoid this confusion, nay irritation, I resort to saying Mahe-Siyaam Mubarak to my Muslim friends. En passant, Mahe-Siyaam is the Month of fast, Ramzan and has a common Persio-Arabic etymological root. So, there's no sparring over a mere benediction! After all, we're living in religiously asphyxiating times and one needs to be politically, sorry, religiously, correct all the time. Am I wrong?


An occasional columnist for New Age Islam, Sumit Paul is a researcher in comparative religions, with special reference to Islam. He has contributed articles to world's premier publications in several languages including Persian.


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