From Where Comes “Moslem”?

June 7, 2006 at 11:55 am (Islam, Languages)

"Moslem" has been used in English to refer to "Muslim" for quite some time. Muslims get a little upset when people use "Moslem" as the proper word is "Muslim." But Muslims are jumping the gun a bit. "Moslem" is not an English corruption of "Muslim."

"Moslem" comes from the Persian pronunciation of the Arabic word "Muslim." Persian renders its short vowels a little differently than Arabic. Short "u" is pronounced "o" rather than "u" (as in the English word "buck"). Short "i" is pronounced "e" rather than "i" (as in the English word "bit").

It also from Persian that English-speakers and -writers got the word "Mohammad" or "Mohammed." Again, short "u" is rendered as "o."

Muslims should be grateful English-speakers did not borrow many Islamic words from Turkish. "Muhammad" in Turkish is "Mehmet." If Muslims are upset at the use of "o" instead of "u," imagine their outrage at English-speakers using "Mehmet." Some British writers in the past have used "Mossalman" or "Mussalman." They obtained this word from Urdu, which in turn comes from Persian. It means "Muslim." The Persian plural would be "mosalmaanaan"; the Urdu plural would be "mussalmaaneiN" (nominative) or "mussalmaanoN" (oblique); in English an "s" is added to the end to produce "Mossalmans."

When many English-speakers pronounce "Moslem," the "s" is voiced (becoming, essentially, "z"). The same occurs when some English-speakers say "Muslim" (pronouncing it as "Muzlim"). It is from the latter ("Muzlim" from "Muslim") that the nickname "Muzzie(s)" comes from. Muslims need to understand that this is not a deliberate corruption of the word but, rather, applying to the word the rules of English pronunciation and phonetics. It is somewhat outrageous to deny the speakers of a language their right to render any borrowed word according to the language's tendencies of pronunciation.

(This is inspired by hearing a Muslim daa'ee (proselytizer) ranting on how non-Muslims pronounce "Muslim." More about his point later.)

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.


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