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The Misplaced Fear Of Arabised Islam

By Suraj Kumar Thube

17 June, 2016

As the holy month of fasting has returned , so have certain controversies regarding the same. To call it a controversy would itself be like legitimising the debate that has been going since quite a few years now. The idea that "RamaZan" has been taken over by a more puritanical sounding "RamaDan" is something that seems to be worrying some people of late.

The issue here is about a Persian word like Ramazan being on a decline in terms of daily usage and Ramadan, an Arabic word replacing it in the same. Similarly, the fear of a Wahabbist sounding phonology of "Allah" conveniently substituting the farsi "Khuda" is something that has exacerbated the larger political problems with this transformation. People seem increasingly wary about the takeover of a radicalised brand of Islam by capturing the gullible minds of South Asian Muslims. The question is that should we really be worried about this so called threatening change?

If one takes a cursory glance over the expansion of Islam in South Asia, most of it has come from Central Asia with a prominent Persian vocabulary. Barring the state of Kerala which has had historical trade relations with the Arab gulf, most of the other parts in India, especially north India has been under the influence of the Urdu\Farsi lexicon. That people are wanting to be more close to the Arab Islamic phonology is a development of the past couple of decades. One possible explanation can certainly be the effect of modernization on the Indian expatriates who are working in the Arab gulf. Working over there for years has brought them into some sort of attachment with the local cultures and a belief of becoming more direct and clear in their invocation of the God.

Asserting one's new found individual identity by shrugging away the enmeshed feudal shibboleths historically found in the Indian Subcontinent can be another reason for the change. However, this seems more complex as the change in language shows no uniformity over all the terms used in everyday parlance. Along with the usage of an Arabised "Ramadan" and "Allah", we still see on a large scale the use of distinctly Persian words like "Namaaz" instead of the Arabic "Salaah" and "Roza" instead of the Arabic "Sawm". Does this mean that the newfound admiration for Arabic is only concerned with God and Almighty and not for other words used in our daily discourse? If not, what can be the possible alternatives that can be thought about to discern the changing complex narrative.

The forces of globalization, modernization, cultural factors all need to be taken into account for understanding this prevalent dynamism. To see the issue in a hackneyed binary of the inclination toward Arabic as an austere, worrisome trend on one side and a more localised, peaceful rendering of Persian Islam on the other is something that should be jettisoned right at the outset. A more nuanced framing is required to navigate through the rigmarole of the changing Islamic cultural practises as a whole of which language is certainly a crucial component. Is the change an innocuous one or does it have a deeper cultural significance is something that needs to be worked upon. One thing seems clear though, the so called fear of the Arabised takeover of South Asian Islam needs more diverse perspectives on a range of social, political, economic and cultural issues. Otherwise, it wouldn't be wrong to term the transformation as a normal particular churning that any language goes through with the passage of time.

Suraj Kumar Thube is currently pursuing his MA in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He is interested in Indian politics and Indian political thought. He spends most of his time reading books, playing football and listening to Hindustani classical music.



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