Moslem and Muslim, Koran and Qur’an: The Things a Word Carried

Murray Titus was apparently " a missionary to the Moslem peoples of North India."

From the Egypt Independent, by way of a post that began here. Thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts. I’ll just add that university librarian Robin Dougherty notes, “ALA/LC romanization of the word is like this: “Qurʼān” –however if you want to find everything in the library catalog about it, you have to use the Anglicized spelling “Koran.” using the romanized spelling as a keyword search, i found 2622 items in our catalog; using the Anglicized one (which is the “authorized” heading, in cataloging lingo) gets you 3352 items.”

As for the rest:

“Muslim” and “Moslem” are nothing more than “two different spellings of the same word,” according to the US-based Center for Nonproliferation Studies. This statement was made neither by Arabs nor linguists, but by a pair of US military specialists. Nonetheless, it has multiplied itself across hundreds of internet articles.

The two different spellings, the CNS specialists wrote, “have no political significance.”

Ostensibly, it’s true: Both words point toward the same community of believers. And while there’s an argument to be made that “Muslim” helps evoke a more accurate pronunciation, both “Muslim” and “Moslem” can be spoken in widely variant ways — from Moozlem to Mahslim — depending on the speaker’s English-language dialect and accent.

But this hardly makes them “the same word.” Words are the sum total of their associations, and the older term, Moslem, has been burdened with dozens upon dozens of ugly connotations. Changing the transliteration to “Muslim” was not necessarily more accurate. But it was a way of shaking off some of the old meanings. It offered a chance to start afresh.

Usually, it is scholars who argue over transcription: Arabists differ in their methods of transmuting Arabic words into Latin letters. Should the word for liberation be rendered as taHrir or taḥrir, with a small dot beneath the h? But Arab bloggers and texters have recently knocked scholars out of the driver’s seat by inventing their own linguistic conventions. Tahrir becomes Ta7rir and the Qur’an becomes Qur2an.

Recently, these new spellings have begun to find their way into serious literature. Go on; keep reading.



Categories: translation

2 replies

  1. Thanks for posting to the article. Since you mentioned it in your talk I’ve been looking forward to reading it. It’s such an interesting topic and definitely gives a lot to think about. I would have to agree that I don’t see Qur’an or Koran or Qur2an as the same word either, they all do bring up completely different images in my head!

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