Alienating Jargon

Arabic Terminology

In Islam For English Speakers, Blackhirst suggests that Islam should improve its public face by de-jargonizing Islam because “language is a barrier that prevents …Westerners from appreciating the riches of Islam.”

One has to ask, however, whether English words translating the Islamic Arabic jargon most often adopted by Muslim English (ME) users differ in meaning from the normal Standard English dictionary definitions attached to them.

Despite his desire to de-jargonize the English it uses, the first word on the index page after the title Towards an Islam for the West is “assalamualaykum,” the greeting Allah orders Muslims to make in the Quran. In Redefining the Abode of Peace, updated on “Eid al-Fitr 1428 AH,” adopted Arabic words are used several times: “Hijra,” “the Shahadah,” “the Salah,”  “the Zakat,”  “Ramadan,” “the Ummah,” “Eid,” “salah” (without a definite article) , “Muslims” and “Allah”. In addition, the words (five) “Pillars” and (six) “Articles” are used, perfectly acceptable English words referring to specific Arabic notions (“Arkan al Islam” – the five foundational acts of worship, and “Arkan al-Iman” – the six foundational aspects of belief) yet denoting very specific Islamic meanings. Of the Arabic borrowings above, “salah” (with or without the article) is not in The Oxford New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Brown,1993), while “umma” (not “ummah”) and “shahada” (not “shahadah”), both in bold italics without “the,”  and “zakat” (without “the”), “hijra” (or “hijira” and “hegira” with or without the initial “h” capitalized), the abbreviation “AH”,  and “eid” (or “id”) are. This indicates that a lot of the ME words and phrases are already within the corpus used by Clarendon Press even though “regarded as essentially foreign” when “printed in bold italics.” (Brown, 1993; xii). This limited use of what Blackhirst refers to as “jargon” goes on even in the article on Islam for English Speakers, in which he heavily pillories Islamized English and gives their alternative rendering in less alienating language:

1)      Sayyidina Rasulullah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, in a hadith made attending the khutbah at Jumu’ah in a masjid wajib.

2)      The Prophet – peace be upon him – in a reported tradition made attending the sermon at Friday Prayer in a mosque compulsory.

Read on: Islamic Terminology for English Speakers


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