I recently came across this Facebook post:
I’m a South Asian/Desi too, and although I love many parts of my culture, this opinion rubbed me the wrong way (and apparently many others as well, since the comments section is basically a big debate). This also isn’t the first time that I’ve come across this viewpoint.
My undergraduate degree is in Anthropology, so I have a deep appreciation for different cultures and I think it is an important part of the human experience. Some Muslims say that there should be no such thing as culture and that Islam is all that matters. I disagree. We cannot separate culture from human societies, and we don’t need to. Even if we try to remove an existing culture, a new one will be born.
That being said, I appreciate my culture as long as it isn’t un-Islamic. So I enjoy the food, the language and the clothing, but only within the limits that I believe have been set for me based on the Qur’an and Sunnah. I also don’t think that I need to eat Arab food or wear Arab clothes to prove my Muslim identity or level of religiosity. For example, I enjoy eating Desi food, but not to the point of gluttony (as is common in my culture, and many others). So when people try to push me to take out seconds and thirds out of true Desi hospitality, I politely decline (not an easy thing to do!). I also love Desi clothes; they are colorful, intricate and have beautiful designs. But I also don’t show my body shape or skin in a way that I feel will be displeasing to Allah, based on the best of my knowledge.
Similarly, while I think the Urdu language is a beautiful one (and many others in the Indian Subcontinent), I don’t think words that are related to the Islamic tradition and have a proper Arabic pronunciation should be mispronounced to “Indianize” them. Preserving my heritage is not more important to me than pronouncing the words from the Qur’an and Islamic tradition properly to the best of my ability. Arabic is the language of the Qur’an and Allah didn’t reveal it in this language without a reason. By trying to pronounce Arabic words properly, I’m not trying to become an Arab, or stating that my language is inferior to theirs. It’s a sign of respect for the language of my Holy Book. National pride should not get in the way of that.
Stubbornly holding onto the opinion that Desis should be able to pronounce Arabic words differently (usually in a Persian dialect) and insisting on doing so even after being exposed to the correct pronunciation is not helping us. Most Desis that I know don’t pronounce the Qur’an properly unless they learned it from a teacher who knows proper tajweed. Meaning, if they learn if from parents, grandparents or other family members, they usually end up pronouncing the words incorrectly. This is what happened to me, and I had to re-learn how to read the Qur’an as an adult, which was much harder to do. Most people don’t teach the children of their family the wrong pronunciations on purpose; it’s an innocent mistake due to a lack of knowledge. I am not directing this message to those who genuinely don’t know better. But those who do know that there is a more proper pronunciation, such as the people who hold the view in the status above, should try to embrace Arabic as a part of being Muslim.
Islam is not only for Arabs, and Arabic is not the only language that Allah understands – I completely agree. But speaking a different language, like Hindi, English, Spanish, etc. is different from purposely mispronouncing Arabic words from the Qur’an and Sunnah or words related to Islam. So I will continue to say “Ramadan,” even if others around me are saying “Ramzaan.” And instead of insisting on mispronouncing Arabic words due to the fact that Allah understands all languages, I pray that He will reward those who are putting in an honest effort into learning the language of His Book. Ameen.
“The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which the Qur’an was revealed – a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion.” (Qur’an 2:185)