An Indian question: Why Ramzan is becoming Ramadan?

  • Rezaul H Laskar, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 25, 2015 02:11 IST

Growing up in a deeply religious family, I never once heard the word Ramadan used to refer to the holy Islamic month of fasting and penance.

These were God-fearing people well versed in the ways of Islam and the Quran. But for them it was always Ramzan, or Romjan among many of the Bengali and Assamese-speaking members of our family. (Both languages don’t have a letter that approximates the sound of the English ‘z’.)

In travels to different parts of India, till a few years ago, I found very few people who referred to the month of fasting as Ramadan.

Which is why I find this sudden shift from the very familiar Ramzan to Ramadan all the more perplexing. Thus, it was heartening to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi referring to the month as Ramzan.

And I’m aware of all the folks who talk of the Arabic spelling of Ramzan, with the ‘d’ sound, but may I humbly submit that we don’t live in an Arab-speaking country.

And if you’re really keen on switching over to Arabic names, there’s a lot of stuff that you’ll have to change – beginning from ‘sawm’ (Arabic for ‘roza’ or the daily fast) and ‘suhoor’ (Arabic for ‘sehri’ or the pre-dawn meal) and going on to ‘salah’ (Arabic for the ‘namaaz’ or daily prayers), ‘adhan’ (Arabic for ‘azaan’ or the call to prayer) and ‘abaya’ (Arabic for burqa). Well, this list could be endless.

There are numerous instances of Islam adapting to the conditions in the countries to which it has spread. In India, Islam grew with healthy doses of Sufism and syncretism and with a strong linkage to the Persian language.

This resulted in terms such as “Khuda Hafiz”, a popular way of saying goodbye. But even here, those with a strong love for what they claim is a truer (read Arab-dominated) form of Islam, insist that it should be “Allah Hafiz”.

It’s difficult to say when the change from Ramzan to Ramadan and Khuda Hafiz to Allah Hafiz began creeping into India but the shift has been more pronounced in the past decade. I still get shocked when I hear some of my relatives using these terms but they sound alien to me.

In some ways, it is possibly a way to reinforce their Islamic identity in the face of a perceived growth of intolerance. Some of the blame must also go to televangelists from Pakistan and India who insist that the use of Arabic words is a mark of the true faithful.

But for me, it will always be Ramzan. And on that note, I bid you Khuda Hafiz so that I can focus on my roza.

(The views expressed by the writer are personal. He tweets as @rezhasan)

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