Ramadan kareem / mubarak to anybody reading! (whichever you prefer, more on that later). The first few days of fasting have been hard at times, the days are long, the summer hot, but the relief of eating come sunset and the effects I can feel on my own willpower and disposition make it worth any difficulty.
Ramadan is not only a time of hunger and constructive self-denial, it is also a time of contemplation, which makes it a great time to read about other’s experiences and thoughts, especially given the flurry of seasonal posts from Muslim bloggers. In that spirit I am going to try to post regularly, either commenting on things others have written or other more original unprovoked rants. I said in my last post I would be focusing more on gender, and that religion was hard to write about, but it seems the spirit of the month has hit me harder than I anticipated.
I have written a bit previously about the changing use of Islamic vocabulary and how it relates to representations of Islam and Muslims from outside. Similar linguistic tricks are pulled within the Ummah too, and something as simple and innocent as wishing another Muslim a good month can become insanely politicised.
This (old) article from Dawn.com, an English language Pakistani newspaper goes into the use of “Ramazan Mubarak” vs “Ramadan Kareem”, the first considered more traditionally Pakistani, while the latter is part of a newer trend of viewing the more “authentically” Arabic words and phrases as more Islamic, and therefore correct. Even as a white Brit I see this a lot first hand in the UK, my other half and her side of the family being Arab, but my social circle being largely culturally Pakistani, terminology can be critically important.
Things as simple as calling the morning meal “suhoor” with my desi friends can lead to them feeling the need to apologise for using the more common “sehri”, as if it is in any way the wrong thing for them to call it. People may claim that Islam is for all cultures and doesn’t elevate any one people over another, but there is no mistaking that with the rise of neo-traditionalism, some people (of any cultures or ethnicity) will equate non-Arab culture with being inferior. It serves as means of equating Islam with perceived Arab cultural norms and essentially weaponising the concept of the Sunnah to erase utterly innocuous features of other cultures not deemed appropriately Islamic.
Recently I have been told by people that the only language spoken in Jannah will be Arabic. I have read people sincerely arguing that Arabic is a divinely created language, completely unlike all languages of purely human origin. I have heard that the most sincere Du’a will not be accepted if it is not in Arabic. I can only really roll my eyes at these kinds of assertations.
This isn’t to say I think Arabic isn’t a beautiful language. I chose the ridiculous hippy-muslim name for my ridiculous hippy-muslim blog based on a love for the language and my Arabic-speaking other half, and I love hearing the Qur’an recited in the old classical Arabic, my mind just boggles at those who think being a good Muslim, or even a good person hinges around correct pronunciation.
What I like most about the article is that it is written by someone who prefers the more traditional Arabic greetings and expressions (as do I to a certain extent) but recognises that it is her choice of how to practise her religion, and accepts both the validity of other ways and the need to find common ground.
Regardless of one’s religiosity or belief as to the origins of a religion’s tenets, it is crucial to remember that religions largely operate as socially constructed complexes of ideas, concepts narratives and ideologies. They do not exist in a vacuum, and distinguishing what aspects are “cultural” and which are “religious” is insanely difficult. Some would say impossible.
Personally I don’t care if you say “Allah” or “khuda” hafez. I don’t care if you say “as-salaamu aleikum” or use the english “peace”. I don’t really care what frameworks or traditions you use to relate to your concept of the divine, even if you don’t couch it in terms of “divinity”. It’s not for me to judge another person based on the words they use to talk about something so complex and unknowable as to be impossible to properly put into words.
So “I hope you have a good month, whether you are fasting or not” is the meaning. Hear it how you want.