On Thursday, Twitter’s India head for news, politics and government Raheel Khursheed tweeted “#TwitterRamzaanSpecial New #Ramadan and #Eid icons. Hashtag the words Ramadan and Eid and see the magic.” I found it odd for two reasons.
First, why should the hashtag for a ‘Ramzan’ (that’s the correct spelling, not Ramzaan) special treat be #Ramadan? Second, why should a social media platform be offering magical mystery tours for the faithful, irrespective of their faith? Twitter wishing its users on festivals is one thing; Twitter marketing religion is quite another.
A third question that comes to mind: Has this social media platform in the past offered its users a #TwitterLentSpecial or a #TwitterYomKippurSpecial? I don’t recall a #TwitterHoliSpecial or a #TwitterDeepavaliSpecial but that could be because NGOs may have petitioned Twitter, using change.org, against pagan festivals that threaten the environment. I am, however, open to correction.
But we digress from the issue of substituting ‘Ramzan’, as the Muslim month of fasting is known in Urdu, with ‘Ramadan’, an Arabic word. Truth be told I felt offended that Twitter should be slyly pushing for this substitution because its social, political and cultural implications cannot be underestimated. This isn’t just about phonetics as the naïve would believe.
So I sought a clarification from Khursheed and he explained that the Ramadan hashtag was meant for the Middle East market. He added that Twitter was working on including Ramzan as a hashtag for whatever magic it has on offer.
The point, really, is not about Twitter and its marketing tactics. It is about transplanting an alien culture and identity on an unsuspecting people who often confuse symbols with religion and symbolism with religiosity. This is where Ramadan for Ramzan comes in.
For some years now it has been fashionable to refer to what we in India have always called Ramzan as Ramadan, which is what the month of fasting is known as in Arab countries, more specifically the Persian Gulf countries.
There is no call for this substitution, unless the purpose is to don borrowed robes. That would be as ridiculous as an Indian preening about in a thoub, a sight which sadly is neither unseen nor unheard of in this country. This is like the ‘Arab roomal’ which is now considered an obligatory marker of faith though the origin and use of the keffiyeh had nothing to do with today’s popular misconception.
Till the stunningly beautiful Leila Khaled popularised the keffiyeh and the Kalashnikov as the twin symbols of Palestinian terror and a rakish Yasser Arafat later adopted the chequered scarf to set his guerrilla costume apart from that of Fidel Castro, it was no more than a headdress worn by the Bedouin. Chinese factories now mass-produce the keffiyeh that Indians and Arabs sport, a ‘bond’ that the former cravenly hanker for and the latter scornfully repudiate.
There are other seeping changes too that are disconcerting. In the mistaken belief that Arabisation is the path to salvation some Indian Muslims have begun referring to Eid-ul-Zuha as Eid-ul-Adha. In Kerala, billboards advertise the ‘Arab Purdah’ the burqa now has a religious as well as cultural tag, both equally specious if not bogus. Then there are those among us, educated and upwardly mobile, who listen attentively to Zakir Naik as he explains, in lurid detail, the Arab art of whipping your wife so that she doesn’t go astray.
Some years ago the Los Angeles Times had published an excellent essay, ‘Bringing home a new Islam’, documenting the influences on Indians working in the Persian Gulf countries and how they were transplanted on Indian shores. That list has grown by leaps and bounds since then. ‘Khuda hafiz’ has become ‘Allah hafiz’ and the gracious ‘adab’ is now an alien ‘Salam aleikum’.
We really don’t need to tread the path taken by foolish bigots who have taken to calling their country ‘Al Bakistan’ and have banned samosas from iftar repasts as they are of ‘Hindu origin’. If only the fools knew that the samosa is of Turkish origin some say it came from central Arabia they would have made it the national dish of ‘Al Bakistan’ or at least the provincial dish of ‘Bunjab’. Meanwhile, here’s wishing Ramzan Mubarak to Indians who will be fasting.
The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta