As Ramadan began (yes, that’s what I call the Muslim holy month for fasting, guilty as charged), I was driving down a crowded road on Karachi. Besides the many attractive billboards with the Katrinas and the Deepikas selling Pakistani consumer items, a billboard caught my fancy. It had dates, a tasbeeh, a woman’s hands outstretched in earnest prayer, and gigantic letters in both English and Arabic saying “Ramadan Kareem”.
The Ramadan Kareem trend has caught on, yes. It is the “in” thing, the somewhat cooler way of greeting each other on the start of this most amazing of months for a Muslim. Facebook status updates are full of it. And it’s not just Ramadan Kareem. Let Eid come and you will be hearing a lot more of “Eid Saeed” than you have ever before. The hard-core pro-Arabic group will not like it when you say Ramazan Mubarak; they will insist on using the more Arabic counterpart, and quizzically look at you as if asking, “Are you stuck in the ‘60s or what? Ramazan Mubarak? Who says that anymore?”
But then there are those refuse to give up on what they fiercely guard as “our culture”. And so they hold on religiously to Ramazan Mubarak, and Eid Mubarak. If you dare say “Ramadan Kareem” in front of them, that’s a dead give away to them that you have frequented Saudi Arabia a bit too much or you are on way to becoming a “fundo”. They are offended by the “Al” and the “Bin” prefixes that we see on names of roadside Dhaabas, behind mini-busses and in the names of little boys studying in hoity-toity elitist schools.
The discourse doesn’t really stop here. There is this volatile debate about whether we should use “Allah Hafiz” or “Khuda Hafiz”. While I personally prefer saying Allah Hafiz, I recall one incident in which I hurt someone’s sensibilities so much when I said “Khuda Hafiz” that she got up and left the room, announcing that she cannot bear testimony by being present where the word “Khuda” is uttered.
Hisham AlHadi, a young daa’ee (caller towards Islam) has had a multicultural experience having lived between Pakistan and Canada, “to me, it’s important to know the meaning of the words we use. It’s not about Khuda Hafiz or Allah Hafiz. It’s about not using a better option which is also the Sunnah. To say Assalamualaikum, which is a prayer of peace, even when you say good bye. But yes, certain words offend my sensibilities. Why use words like ‘Allah Miyaan’ for Allah? It’s not about Arabic, Urdu or Persian. Do we ever really think about what we are saying?” asks Hisham.
“I think we as a society have become increasingly focused on rituals and outward acts. Anything Arabic, which is an outward expression, gives us a sense of inner religiosity. An Arabic greeting does not make us a better Muslim,” says Aurangzeb Haneef, who is himself trained in Classical Arabic from Harvard, and teaches Islamic Studies at LUMS.“ Also, the politics of language and identity in the context of the Arab-Persian divide cannot be ignored. I believe there is more than a self-evolution of religious language here at play,” he says.
Haneef’s words echo what a lot of people believe that the Back-to-Arabic phenomenon is not a random sign of reconnection with Islam and the Quran, that this may be reflective of Arab cultural imperialism. That Arabs in this last century have tried to reduce Persian influences on the Muslim world which included Persian being booted out. And it is done through financial help for religious studies and official patronage of these during political regimes.
But even if we were to believe this theory, the common person does not know all this. “It is important to be aware that expressions of faith in a particular language maybe the result of concerted efforts to influence collective sub-consciousness of a society. Being mindful of these processes lets informed choices be made about, say, using Allah or Khuda without being co-opted,” says Haneef.
However, for so many of us, Back-to-Arabic is actually an offshoot of having gone back to Islam.
As the writer of this blog, I have to say that I simply don’t mind either. I rather enjoy both the words “Kareem” (generous) and “Mubarak” (blessed). I call Ramazan “Ramadan”, not “Ramzan” for the simple reason that I enjoy pronouncing the word the way it is pronounced when recited as part of the Quran. Using words like “Alhamdulillah”, “Jazakallahu Khairan” and definitely more of “Assalamualaikum” in my everyday language is a natural evolution I have gone through as I have come closer to understanding the Quran in its original text in Arabic.
Hence, I have developed an affinity for the language. To me, it is simply the language in which the Quran was revealed and which the Prophet (pbuh) spoke. I am attached to it. I enjoy using it.
But I have no issues with someone saying Khuda Hafiz to me. In a country with much bigger issues to worry about, this issue can further widen the gulf and create yet another sub-division in the ideological groups we are getting divided into. When our energies are spent into non-issues, the importance of the real issues is diluted. It is time we start looking for common grounds. With that I say, “Ramadan Kareem and Khuda Hafiz”.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.