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Saudi Cultural Imperialism: Do You Say 'Ramzan' Or 'Ramadan'?


By Syed Tashfin Chowdhury and Altaf Ahmad

August 01, 2013

For most of July and the first days of August, Muslims around the globe are united in observing Islam's holiest month. Regardless of nationality, language or geography, the practice is the same: eat before dawn, then fast until dusk, when the nightly Iftar meal is taken.

A small difference of opinion exists in South Asia, however, as to how to refer to the holy month. In Arabic, it is called Ramadan – and this is the term most widely used in the West and in international media, as well as in the Middle East.

Many South Asians, however, are more familiar with a regional variation of the name: Ramzan.

Is one more correct than the other? The general consensus is that the difference is ultimately not significant.

"The difference between Ramzan in the subcontinent and Ramadan in the Middle East is simply the pronunciation of the Arabic letter 'ād' in Ramadan," explained Mohammad Akhteruzzaman, professor of Islamic History and Culture at Dhaka University. "In the subcontinent we pronounce this as 'z' and hence Ramzan is pronounced the way it is."

When Linguistics and Politics Collide

Nevertheless, a debate persists, sometimes with political overtones. In 2012 posting, Pakistani blogger Hafsa Khawaja said some in her country object to the introduction of Middle Eastern variants because they associate it with the late General Zia-ul-Haq's Islamicisation campaign, and with "Arab cultural imperialism".

Others, she wrote, favour "Ramadan" because they feel it is more proper, or a more emphatic indicator of Islamic religious heritage.

Religious authorities who spoke with Khabar South Asia voiced different opinions about which term is more correct.

"There is no issue in saying Ramzan instead of Ramadan, although the latter is the proper pronunciation," said Maulana Mohammad Fariduddin, imam of Azampur mosque in Uttara, a Dhaka suburb.

Maulana Wali Rahmani, head of the Rahmania Foundation and All India Muslim Personal Law Board secretary, criticised those who insist on "Ramadan" as the only correct pronunciation.

"The people who follow the Saudi school of thought project it as 'Ramadhan' or 'Ramadan' in order to keep their hegemony alive in every sphere of Islam. They have a habit of adulterating Islam" in order to suggest their superiority, he said. "But Islam is universal in nature and nobody is superior or inferior according to the Qur'an."

"We should be tolerant enough to accommodate other ideologies and should demonstrate wisdom to give recognition to all schools of thought who believe in Qur'an and Hadith. If any ideology or school of thought will project itself as the superior, it will result in conflict and mayhem. That is what we are experiencing currently in the Muslim world," he said.

Clerics: Focus On Meaning of the Holiday

The important thing, clerics say, is not to quibble about linguistics but rather to focus on the profound meaning of the occasion.

"Ramzan teaches us to share the pain of those who are poor and help the needy without any discrimination," Maulana Asad Khan Falahi, head imam of the India Gate mosque in New Delhi, told Khabar. "Ramzan urges us to serve people with love and kindness and refrain from committing any immoral act. [It] is also a sign of our unification and identifies our resolve to eradicate evil."

Tareq Anam, who works for a cell phone company in Dhaka, said that he is not bothered by either of the two spellings. "I do not think there is any difference. They carry the same meaning for me," he told Khabar.

Mahfuz Shagor, a resident of Mohammadpur in Dhaka, said, "There is no particular difference. I still prefer saying Ramzan as I grew up hearing that word since my childhood."