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Word of the Day: Masjid or Mosque?

Monday, 8 November 2010

In the name of God, Compassionate, Merciful بسم الله الرحمن الرحيمِ | Peace be with you السلام عليكم


Around the manly camp-fires of halaqat (spiritual gatherings), an older brother with greying hairs will lurch out of the conversation topic and rant feverishly: "Brothers, brothers, we must stop using the crusader's language! Mosque is a corrupted anti-Islamic word. Call the masjid, the masjid! Khalas."

I've heard this definitive attitude from Muslims defending many Islamic heritages. We can get caught up and extremely comfortable in our "belonging to Islam" that we begin to think that "this dress style, this halal Muslim food and this Arabic language is exclusive to us, it's better".


Islam does present itself as a set of rules and regulations to implement in every compartment of life, but it does not cut itself off from understanding the way we as people transform. Thus, a spade is not just a spade, it's a tool constructed from God's blessings in order to earn a lawful living. A glass of water is not just a glass of water, it's a scientific sign of God, a life-giving source that is as mysterious as its clear colour. And a masjid is not just a building of Muslimness, it's an open-doored home for reconnecting, evolving and inviting people to God.

There has been in recent times much confusion regarding the origin of the English word Mosque. The word mosque is a translation of the Arabic word masjid (مَسجِد). The word masjid in Arabic comes from the verb sajada (سَجَدَ) which means ‘to prostrate’, and a masjid is the place in which people prostrate. It can loosely be translated more generally as ‘a place of worship’. [1]

Our aim as Muslims is not to assimilate or apologise for who we are, how we live and what we believe in. It is to bring others closer to this greater truth. There is One God, He is not bilingual, He chose prophets from among us who frequently spoke in various styles and He sent scriptures in over five languages. If as Muslims we hold Arabic as 'the' sacred language, we must revisit the notion that all other languages and scripture translations also came from God.

On that note, many interchangeable words in the Muslim dictionary have had some negative feedback from Muslims. In particular, the word mosque, believed to have been constructed by King Ferdinand of the Crusades before the 18th c. AD, is used often in exchange for masjid, and many Muslims don't like that.

With regard to the word mosque. Here is what the dictionary says:
• noun • a Muslim temple or place of public worship.
• Origin: 1600–10; earlier mosquée. [2]

Other historical tales state mosque could originate from the French mosquée, Spanish mezquita and Italian moschea, all of which were used for ≪ masjid, a deriv. of sajada to worship, lit., to prostrate oneself. [3] Whichever way we research the word's development, it does not lead to an anti-Islamic campaign to 'swat' out Muslims. The nonsense that is spread about the word mosque meaning mosquito as a derogatory label therefore has no foundation.

In our attempts to 'purify' our language and thinking, we are actually losing and limiting understanding of our own communication skills with ourselves and with others.

Now see how silly we look when you read up on Masjid. Here is what you get in modern dictionaries:
• noun, Arabic. A mosque.

For new Muslims and when addressing an English speaking audience it is usually better to use the equivalent of Arabic terms. Allah, Muslim, Qur'an and Islam are widely understood and rarely need explaining. That being said, I still think there are still a few words which we might need to introduce into English like Salat and I'm happy to see we've done that as when you say prayer in English it means supplication or du'a. Check out the definition under salat: • prayers, said five times a day: the second of the Pillars of Islam. It would be nice if it could say that plus "made of certain movements, remembrances and supplications". [5]

Use the language of your people, without getting caught up in what your people speak.

Edited; original concept by br. Abu Majeed.

[1] http://muslimspeak.wordpress.com/
[2] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mosque
[3] http://www.renaissance.com.pk/febq52y3.html
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosque
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salat

Image {Faisal Mosque, Islamabad}

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MuslimFirst said...

Ma'sha'allah, excellent, beautiful and relevant post. I love Br. Abu Mujeed's contributions to Imam Webb's blog as well.

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