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Monday, February 19, 2007

Use of Arabic Terms in English

Working as a copy editor for Muslim publications, one of the most challenging tasks has been creating and maintaining standards for Arabic terminology in English. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Always assume you are writing for a mixed audience of Muslims and non-Muslims. People who are unfamiliar with Islam should be able to read your articles and understand them without consulting a dictionary or going on-line to find the meanings of Arabic words and phrases.

2. This means that you must either define your words or use their English equivalents. For example, if you say something is haram, define it in parentheses:

Drinking wine is haram (prohibited).

Before defining the word, however, ask yourself if it would not be easier simply to write in English:

Drinking wine is prohibited in Islam.

3. When you must use an Arabic word or phrase, use the same spelling for it throughout your article. Ideally, the publication you are writing for should have guidelines for this, but not all publications do. So, if you start with the spelling Muhammed, don't suddenly change it to Mohammed, Muhammad or another spelling later in your article. It is important to be consistent.

4. Keep the spellings as simple and logical as possible. There has been a trend among some Muslims to lengthen certain vowels, writing Allaah or Islaam (for example) instead of the more common (accepted) forms: Allah and Islam.

Recently, I read an interesting article on this topic:

Can there be Muslim English?

I don't agree with every point in the article, but I can certainly agree with the following:

1. There is a need to standardize the way we write Arabic in English.

2. Using too much Arabic may confuse readers who are unfamiliar with the terminology.

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This blog is maintained by Amel Abdullah, a freelance writer, editor, and Arabic to English translator.