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Points and Counterpoints

Reader comment on item: Did Michael Jackson Convert to Islam?
in response to reader comment: For mahfooz and Arabian imperialism part quatre!

Submitted by Mahfooz-ur Rahman (Bangladesh), Nov 3, 2006 at 09:42

1. To start with, you were communicating in English and not in Arabic. I know the spelling of my native language in Arabic as well in 3 different languages. But it is bizarre to try to transliterate a word for which a recognised and standardised English spelling exists. Thus when one writes in English, one spells proper nouns such as Rome and not Roma, Milan and not Milano, Delhi and not Dilli, and if you like, Egypt and not Mis'r. The later spellings will be misspellings when writing in English.

Of course you will not agree with me. In that event, ask your English teacher, he will correct it for you, as well, help you learn English spelling.

One word of advice: do not use such misspellings as your fancy takes while writing in English, dear Arabic Scholar, or else, you will be the laughing stock of people who know English but lacks your 'deep knowldge' about the Arabic letter 'ghain'.

2. When I referred to Aramaic as a dead language, I meant Ancient/Old Aramaic as spoken by Joshua of Nazareth. No language is truly dead. Sanskrit for example had ceased to be a spoken (a living) language of the masses since 500 BC. Yet it is as living as can be among the educated in India. It is taught in schools and universities, and magazines and books are publishes in it to this day. Learned Brahmins from Kashmir and Tamil Naidu, for example, with completely different mother tongues, converse in it. But for all practical purposes it is dead for over 3000 years. Modern Aramaic, and not Syro-Aramaic, "in its various dialects, is spoken in modern-day Iraq, Iran, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and the various Western countries to which the native speakers have emigrated, including Russia, Europe, Australia and the United States."

And further,

"Aramaic is the ancient language of the Semitic family group, which includes the Assyrians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, Arameans, Hebrews, and Arabs. In fact, a large part of the Hebrew and Arabic languages is borrowed from Aramaic, including the Alphabet. The modern Hebrew (square) script is called "Ashuri". "Ashuri" is the Hebrew name for Assyrian, the name being used to signify the ancestor of the Assyrians, Ashur the son of Shem, the son of Noah (Genesis 10:22). Aramaic is quoted in the very first book of the Bible, Berisheth (Genesis) in Chapter 31:47. In fact, many portions of the Old Testament are penned originally in Aramaic, including Daniel chapter 2:4 through chapter 7. The first known inscriptions of Aramaic date to the late tenth or early ninth century B.C. In a phenomenal wave of expansion, Aramaic spread over Palestine and Syria and large tracts of Asia and Egypt, replacing many languages, including Akkadian and Hebrew. For about one thousand years it served as the official and written language of the Near East, officially beginning with the conquests of the Assyrian Empire, which had adopted Aramaic as its official language, replacing Akkadian.During the later Chaldean (Neo-Babylonian) and Persian conquests, Aramaic had become the international medium of exchange. Despite Hellenistic influences, especially in the cities, that followed the conquests of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, Aramaic remained the vernacular of the conquered peoples in the Holy Land, Syria, Mesopotemia and the adjacent countries. It ceded only to Arabic in the ninth century A.D., two full centuries after the Islamic conquests of Damascus in 633, and Jerusalem in 635. Aramaic has never been totally supplanted by Arabic. Aramaic had been adopted by the deported Israelites of Transjordan, exiled from Bashan and Gilead in 732 B.C. by Tiglath-Pileser III, the tribes of the Northern Kingdom by Sargon II who took Samaria in 721, and the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom of Judah who were taken into captivity to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 587. Hence, the Jews who returned from the Babylonian Captivity brought Aramaic back with them to the Holy Land, and this continued to be their native tongue throughout the lifetime of Eshoo Mshikha.During the Hellenistic period of the Seleucids, Aramaic ceased to be a uniform language, when various dialects began to form, due to regional influences of pronunciation and vocabulary. Some of these dialects became literary languages after the differences had increased. The language, henceforth, divided into an Eastern branch, with a number of dialects, and a Western branch with its dialects, but all of which retained a great similarity.(6th c.AD) and was the subject of centuries of debate in the Indian linguistic tradition. Related notions in the West, such as the axiom that language has controlling effects upon thought, can be traced to Wilhelm von Humbolt's essay Über das vergleichende Sprachstudium ("On the comparative study of languages"), and the notion has been largely assimilated into Western thought, but only recently."wannabe // n. slang, an avid fan who tries to emulate a particular celebrity or type, esp. in appearance.

Aramaic can be dated to five periods, dating from inscriptions that go back to the first millennium B.C.:

  • Old Aramaic, 925-700
  • Official or Imperial (Assyrian) Aramaic, 700-200 (when the language was still uniform)
  • Middle Aramaic, 200 B.C. - 200 A.D.
  • Late Aramaic, 200-700
  • Modern Aramaic, 700 to our time "

Should I continue? I suppose, there is no further need to. But if you so desire, I may add some more on this very topic.

3. My references to various linguists were not to your liking. You call it a ‘name dropping game' or some such words.

But you referred to Sapir-Whorf Hyposthesis (SWH) to remind me of my linguistic heritage impacting my cultural perceptions. But this hypothesis has more to do with one's thought process and not of one's societal or cultural locus standi, therefore, of no contextual significance in the manner you attempted. Also, my dear scholar, do I have to remind you that it is only a hypothesis. And, should I explain the differences between a hypothesis, a theory and a law? But that exercise will need many references starting with Aristotle, thus will constitute a name dropping game in your convoluted perception. So, I shall desist.


"The position that language anchors thought (thinking is shabdanA* or 'languaging') was argued cogently by Barthrihari

*In Sanskrit, of which I have a working knowledge. (M.R)

Recent experimental studies indicate results that suggest only partially validity of SWH. In modern linguistics, there are a number of contrary theories to SWH and some modified forms of the same. I refrain from referring to those as you care little for a calm scholarly dissertation of an issue. Instead, you will no doubt prefer your favourite sport of hurling invectives from a hidden position.

I am sure, in clinical psychology, there must be a long, almost unpronounceable Latin name for such a mental aberration. But without the patient being examined, it will only be a ‘game' to conjecture this malady, and thus I shall refrain from investigating this matter any further.

Again you assume erroneously that since I am a Muslim, I know nothing of the Indian tradition of linguistics, which date back to more than two thousand years. You assert that my references are games of name-dropping and your references, which were without any contextual relevancy, are real beacons of knowledge! In this respect, I have no further comments to make other than pointing out these assumptions are simply figments of imagination of a troubled mind.

3. You assume that I wish to be an Arab, a fictional desire that you signify time and again by the slang, ‘wannabe', that is much in vogue amongst the uneducated in the USA. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines this word as:

Oh, I forgot, you may have transliterated the word from Arabic, being the great Arabic scholar that you are! But knowing neither English spelling nor meanings of English words, even slang words, you tried to say something that the expression used did not mean/signify! What a pity! But be that what it may, let me assure you categorically that I have no wish or desire to change my nationality or ethnicity, which of course, can not simply be changed. And I have no desire whatsoever to emulate an Arab celebrity or type.

How on earth you assumed, even in a slang expression, that I wish to emulate an Arab. or Arab type, especially in appearance, who is again assumed to be a ‘celebrity', defies a sound mind.

4. As to the expression ‘Rasul-e-Akram', literally it means nobler prophet, but signifies to the fact that the Prophet of Islam was the noblest among all the prophets before him. Since you are not a Muslim, you will not understand its significance. You can only fruitlessly attempt to literalize a living expression used by hundreds of millions of devout souls into a pedantic nonsense. Learn about it, if you like, from any Muslim, depending of course, if he/she wishes to teach you.

5.I am truly assured by the fact that you are not a Muslim. Now of course many riddles about you become clear. So, it is pointless to discuss my religion with you. But you ‘thank God' for not being a Muslim. I wonder what and whose God is that you thank? Is it the Christian or the Judaic, or just a figure of speech of an atheist, an anarchist, or of a nihilist?

6. I mentioned my degree only to point to the fact that learning a language has nothing to do with ones mother tongue or ones ethnicity. In the same token, any non-Arab may master the Arabic language as good, or even better than a native speaker, as also this axiom remains valid for any language irrespective of ones origin or of the language he/she wishes to master.

It seems that you have no mind to absorb facts and even less inclination to investigate a premise by calm and deliberate research, but prefer instead to make preposterous general statements without any authoritative foundation. Such an attitude, my dear Arabic Scholar with a pseudo name, points to extreme bigotry and ignorance of the lowest kind.

If you do not believe me, ask your English teacher.

If you wish, however, to debate on the general principles of theology, regardless of religion, you are welcome to do so– but such discussions and discourses must be bound within the norms of civilised expressions and language and without personal attacks or slurs of any kind. I do hope, though probably against hopeless hope, that you are able to, or can restrain yourself, even if you have no respect for other individuals or of a faith that is the living light of more than a billion human beings.


Mahfooz-ur Rahman


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