The ‘z’ versus ‘d’ debate is alive again. In some circles at least.

The holy Islamic month is coming to a close next week. Eid is round the corner. Under the COVID cloud much of the usual enthusiasm this time is quite tempered.

Lately, the messages coming through my inbox carry ‘Ramadan’ greetings. They also bring Ramzan good wishes too. It somehow confuses me. So I consulted some who profess to be linguistic experts or are at least more knowledgeable than others.

Phonetics, lisp and diction

Ramadan is an Arabic word, they said, and is pronounced with a “d”, not a “z”. But in Persian or Urdu, the‘d’ is pronounced with a clear “z”. American and British English uses Rama’d’an, while reporting or talking about the observance. English-language dailies and a rising number of people in India use both spellings. Most people in India say Ramzan while talking in Urdu or Hindi. Lately the trend now is to use the ‘d’ at least when speaking in English.

This slight difference is rather curious and unexplained. The debate on this simple fact of pronunciation can get intense at times. It is unfortunate to get bogged down by such issues. Such nitpicking needlessly rides over the beauty and the special meaning it holds for the entire Muslim community.

Lately, people from all faiths have chipped in with their views on the correct way of pronouncing it. The rising gaggle of comments and opinions has the potential to go beyond mere phonetics.  

As in most fasting rituals, the idea and belief is that it brings the devout close to God and also brings them forgiveness for past sins.

The month long ritual involves waking up early, even before the sun rises, offering prayers and having a snack called ‘sehri’, which actually means, ‘of the early morning’. The next meal and even the glass of water, comes after sundown.

Strict observance of the rules of the month is a tough call yet many among the young readily take it up. They also take up the‘d’ and ‘z’ issue with equal vigor.

The difference in “Ramadan” and “Ramzan” comes from the 31st letter in the alphabet which is used while writing Ramzan. This letter is pronounced as “Zu’aad” in Persian but as “Du’aad” in Arabic. In other words, It is pronounced with “Z” sound in Persian but with a “D” sound in Arabic. This is the reason for different pronunciations of “Ramadan” and “Ramzan”.

God doesn’t mind grammer, or diction

Even Hindu purists frown when Hindu verses or shlokas are chanted in local languages. They would rather have Sanskritised versions of prayers. Why should anyone be bound to recite prayer verses in Sanskrit which most don’t understand anymore?  Many temples in India use prayers in the local language. And congregations are quite happy with it.

Similarly, the Ramzan and Ramadan debate on correct pronunciation has little meaning. Since it is lisped with a ‘d’ on CNN or BBC and Al Jazeera that version gets a stamp of authority in some eyes.  It is odd that those in South Asia who always used ‘z’ should switch to ‘d’.

Yet everyone is free to choose their way. It has nothing to do with Arabic versus Persian or Urdu competitiveness. As long as they get the message right, what’s in a word? Or a letter for that matter?

Ramzan Mubarak! (Now that’s my personal preference!)

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