the commencement of the holy month, it has now become almost a ritual to get
drawn into the simmering debates, mainly over social media, on how to rightly
articulate its name. In my childhood, it was almost always called Ramazan.
Having studied in an Islamic school up until matric, I can say with certainty
that our learning of Arabic was in the Kashmiri accent and nobody ever thought
it was any less ‘Islamic’ or inferior.
we’d left the school, about two decades back, the elocution underwent a gradual
but definite change, when emphasis was placed on reverting to ‘original’ Arabic
delivery. Therefore, Ramazan became Ramadan and Namaz was increasingly
described as Salah. It was only during my stay in the United Kingdom when the
original Arabic terminology became the standard; more because amid various
cultural and linguistic communities of the faithful, Arabic words became the
authentic and acceptable way for a majority. Besides, the new generation of Muslims
– those born and brought up outside of their parents’ socio-cultural
geographies – preferred to use the terminology that asserted their faith as
their salient and new cultural marker rather than their ethnic background.
embraced the change. I would start my fast with 'Suhoor' instead of
traditional Sehri. This brought the attendant feeling as if the decades-old
practice of praying on a jai Namaz was perhaps a little inferior. Therefore,
from then on, I had to negotiate my prayers on a Musalla. There was some
exception though. Working in East London, the holy month was overwhelmingly
called Romjan – under the irresistible influence of a large immigrant
population of first-generation Bengalis who refused to comply with the new
format of piety.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also displayed his partisanship, albeit a
subtle one, on the debate. In 2015, on June 16, he talked about ‘Ramadan’.
Extending his warm wishes he tweeted: “Spoke to President @ashrafghani, PM
Sheik Hasina & PM Nawaz Sharif to extend my best wishes at the start of
holy Ramadan on June 18”.
Some of his
followers pilloried him for what they blamed was a glaring example of
Arabisation. Obviously, Modi Ji has since moved on – and by miles. In this
election season, where he has been accused of fanning Hindu extremism to suit
his electoral victory plan, he has quietly moved back to the Indian vernacular
describing the holy month as Ramazan as depicted by his tweet earlier in the
week. “Greetings on the start of the holy month of Ramazan. May this auspicious
month further the spirit of harmony, happiness, and brotherhood in our
war on Ramadan vs Ramazan debate is often laden with tensions and what is
disconcerting is that it is being unnecessarily escalated as some sort of a
clash between progression and regression. The change in the delivery of the
terminology is being obdurately contested by a dedicated bunch of people who
would like to designate themselves as liberals but won’t tolerate any attempt
by their lesser educated countrymen to recast their religio-cultural
identities. Such attempts are made to contain a so-called Islamisation or
Arabisation movement. I have heard some gleeful narrations from people who are
ready to display pride at their children speaking foreign languages like
natives or even mimicking their practices but any attempts to interchange
Arabic words for local jargon is loathed. On balance, the other side also seems
to be dedicated in their efforts to nullify the vernacular expressions of faith
or its identity.
exciting aspect of Ramadan is the sighting of the moon or, if one is more
technical-minded, the appearance of the crescent. Of late, this has become such
a deeply contested practice that one can divide Muslims on the basis of their
opinion on the issue. As Kashmiris from the Indian side, we have traditionally
been accustomed to deciding our Ramadan and Eid on the basis of the
moon-sighting by Pakistan’s Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, as communicated by official
Pakistani radio or television. Much to the chagrin of the Indian establishment,
the practice has continued despite the government’s efforts to prop-up local
‘muftis’ or ‘mirwaizs’. Bashir-ud-Din, a self-designated ‘Mufti-e-Azam’ of
Kashmir who passed away sometime back was often blamed for deciding the advent
of Ramadan or Eid after listening to news reports on Radio Pakistan. Bashir
Ahmad Bashir, Kashmir’s first news cartoonist with mass appeal, had once in the
mid-1980s made a highly controversial cartoon depicting the Mufti-e-Azam
delivering his verdict on moon-sighting while receiving updates from a tiny
radio transistor fitted hidden inside his ear, tuned to Radio Pakistan.
It was only
in the past few years that we learned that Pakistan does not have a consensus
on the issue, despite an official body dedicated to harvesting the sighting
from the vast skies. Armed with an array of long telescopes that almost prod
the sky on the designated occasions, the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee headed
by Mufti Muneebur Rehman makes little impact on his lesser known but more
powerful Mufti from Peshawar.
fail to pay profuse tributes to the most powerful vision of Mufti Popalzai for
winning where technology often fails. He has created an indelible record of
creating moon-sightings even on occasions when it is virtually impossible to do
so by the most advanced equipment. To be fair to him, this lunar division is
not confined to Pakistan. Muslim communities in Europe, and in particular in
the UK, have often been divided on the issue. This has caused widespread
confusion as Muslim communities in a locality have ‘celebrated’ the arrival of
Ramadan or of Eid on varying days. This has diluted their demands for a holiday
on Eid as they could never arrive at any consensus on its date. This sounds
quite regressive at a time when employing a little bit of time-tested
scientific know-how could solve this issue, once and for all.
backdrop the recent announcement by Federal Minister for Science and Technology
Fawwad Chaudhry to form a scientific committee to decide on the lunar calendar
is a welcome step that could save a lot of agonizing and disagreements.