Random language lesson: “Christian” in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu

September 16, 2006 at 5:51 pm (Arabic, Christianity, Islam, Languages, Persian)

There are a number of ways to say the word “Christian” in Muslims languages (Arabic, Persian, Urdu as examples – all of which borrow their respective terms from Arabic). There are three prominent words, two of which are considered Muslim and one which Muslims and Christians use. There is another which is rarely used by either Muslims or Christians.

Before I go on, I should note one thing about adjectives and nouns. In Arabic, adjectives must agree in gender, number, and tense with the noun. Furthermore, some adjectives can be used as nouns. So, for the following terms, in Arabic each form can stand as an adjective as well as a noun. However, adjectives and nouns in this manner are different in Persian and Urdu. Persian and Urdu have plural forms of adjectives, or so it seems, but in reality it has one adjective form, which can be used as a singular noun, and plural noun forms. Thus “Christian” can also mean or be used as “a Christian” whereas “Christians” can be used only as a noun. In Urdu, although there are singular and plural adjectives, adjectives ending in (ی, ), as they do here, share the same form for singular and plural nouns they modify. Persian has no plural adjectives.

1. The first is (عيسوي, ‛īsawī). This is from the Muslim equivalent of “Jesus”: (عيسى, ‛īsā, also known as عيسى بن مريم, ‛īsā bin maryam, “Īsā son of Maryam” or “Jesus son of Mary”, and عيسى المسيح, ‛īsā al-masīH, “Īsā the Messiah” or “Jesus the Messiah”). I won’t give the forms in Arabic, as they are not so commonly used, but the forms in Persian are (عیسوی, īsavī, “Christian”; and عیسویان, īsaveyān, “Christians”). The forms in Urdu take two forms. One is faithful to the Arabic word: (عیسوی, īsavī, “Christian”; عیسویاں, īsaviyāN, “Christians” (nominative); and عیسویوں, īsaviyoN, “Christians” (oblique)). Another form Urdu-izes the Arabic word: (عیسائ, īsā’ī, “Christian”; عیسائیاں, īsā’iyān, “Christians” (nominative); and عیسائیوں, īsā’iyoN, “Christians” (oblique)). The latter form renders the actual name in Arabic into an adjective/label according to Urdu’s grammar’s rules.

2. The above is the Muslim equivalent because Arabic-speaking Christians tend to use another name that is closer to Jesus’ name in Aramaic/Hebrew: (يسوع, yasū‛; also يسوع المسيح, yasū‛ al-masīH, “Jesus the Messiah”). The adjective form from this is (يسوعي, yasū‛ī), although it is rarely used. Used to describe a person, it means Jesuit. (يسوعي, yasū‛ī, “(a) Jesuit”; يسوعيون, yasū‛iyyūn, “Jesuits” (nominative); يسوعيين, yasū‛iyyīn, “Jesuits” (oblique).)

3. The second common form comes from a term used in the Qur’an: (نصراني, naSrānī, meaning roughly “Nazarene,” referring to Jesus of Nazareth). This is very commonly used, although mainly by Muslims. Its inflected forms in Arabic are:
نصراني, naSrānī, “male Christian”
نصرانية, naSrāniyyah, “female Christian”
نصرانيون, naSrāniyyūn, “male Christians” (nominative)
نصرانيين, naSrāniyyīn, “male Christians” (oblique)
نصرانيات, naSrāniyyāt, “female Christians”

Its forms in Persian are:
نصرانی, nasrānī, “Christian”
نصرانیان, nasrāneyān, “Christians”

Its forms in Urdu are:
نصرانی, nasrānī, “Christian”
نصرانیاں, nasrāniyāN, “Christians” (nominative)
نصرانیوں, nasrānīyoN, “Christians” (oblique)

4. Another common form used comes from (ألمسيح, al-masīH, “the Messiah”). The adjective is (مسيحي, masīHī, “Christian”). Christians use this term the most. Its inflected forms in Arabic are:
مسيحي, masīHī, “male Christian”
مسيحية, masīHiyyah, “female Christian”
مسيحيون, masīHiyyūn, “male Christians” (nominative)
مسيحيين, masīHiyyīn, “male Christians” (oblique)
مسيحيات, masīHiyyāt, “female Christians”

Its forms in Persian are:
مسیحی, masīhī, “Christian”
مسیحیان, masīheyān, “Christians”

Its forms in Urdu are:
مسیحی, masīhī, “Christian”
مسیحیاں, masīhiyāN, “Christians” (nominative)
مسیحیوں, masīhiyoN, “Christians” (oblique)



  1. MikeT said,

    Very interesting post. I was sort of expecting a long list of pejoratives that they use to describe us…

  2. Jonny said,

    Very helpful. Thank you.

  3. Johnson Wilson said,

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