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“Scorching hot like the heat of the sun on stone!” The etymological origins of the word ‘Ramadan’

19 Jul

scorching hot by Micheal FarruggiaIn previous posts I have written about the importance of Ramadan in relation to the Arabic language (because the Quran was revealed in Ramadan and of course in Arabic). But I’ve been thinking recently, “what does the actual word ‘Ramadan’ mean?” So yesterday morning I took out my Lisaan al Arab (by Ibn Mandhuur) and looked it up, and my goodness what a treasure I found! The intricacy of the word, how it relates to other words and more importantly how it relates to fasting left me amazed.

The word Ramadan, like many other Arabic words based on a three-letter-root template, is derived from ‘Ra-Ma-Da’ which means ” to be scorching hot” (notice that I have made all root letters bold, so we can see the root even in different derivations). How hot? Well Ibn Mandhuur was specific and made sure to describe it, as hot “as the scorching heat on stone under the hot sun” The earth can also be described as scorching hot (Ra-Ma-Du), and he goes on to give examples and similar derived nouns and adjectives to describe the “unbearable heat of the sun on stones and sand”. When inflected (to suit, gender, number and tense which is typical of Arabic) the word Ra-Ma-Du can be used to describe “unbearable heat on a people” (I think we can describe Londoners like that these days!) or to describe “scorched or sunburnt hands or feet as a result of being exposed to the very hot sun”. Then when derived as iR-Maa-Du it means “pain all over” both physical and that “which unmercifully eats the mind away with worry”. When inflected it can refer to an “upset stomach” and as a noun aRa-Ma-Diyyu it refers to the clouds and rain. Why? aha why indeed? Because rain is produced “as a result of heat from the sun” which causes evaporation and so on (the water cycle), who would have known? That’s why I said above that words almost always make sense to be ‘those’ words and those words only! Alternatively, it can also refer specifically to “rain just before Autumn at the end of summer that falls to hit the scorching hot ground” it’s that water that is produced that brings relief.

And finally, the next entry is the month of Ramadan, and Ibn Mandhuur mentions it as a name of a month (obviously), he quotes an account from a source named Ibn Durayd who says, “when the names of the months were being decided upon from the language of old, they named them based on the seasons in which they fell, it so happened that Ramadan fell during the season when it was scorching hot with unbearable heat”. It seems that at the time of naming the months Ramadan fell in the summer, but because the Arabic/Islamic calendar is based on the lunar system, the months move each year by a week or two, so the months are not fixed like the solar ones (January, February etc…). So in a period of about twenty years Ramadan will fall in the summer only 3 times (as it doing right now), and it will take another decade or so for it to fall in the spring/summer again.  Another source named Al-Fara’ says that “Ramadan is derived from ‘Ra-Mi-Da’ which refers to a fasting person’s feelings of heat and dryness inside the mouth due to thirst”. Finally (because I could go on), the word ‘Ra-Ma-Da’ means to “wait for something”, it also refers to the “blunt blade of a knife that needs sharpening”. Interestingly though, none of the meanings contradict one another, it shows the versatility of the root and the many similar meanings it can carry.

dates

In summary, the word Ramadan refers to, the month, the heat, the thirst, the waiting and the eventual ease (like that of rain after a hot day) of whatever may be the problem. An almost metaphorical way of describing the fast and the month in which it occurs is that, it’s not easy, not especially if it falls in the summer months, and people observing the fast wait until they can eat and drink, at which time they experience ease. Their beings are blunt and so need sharpening through the hardship of the fast (sounds a bit Yoga/meditation like!) and ultimately they experience relief (like the rain on the scorching hot ground) that will come with great benefits (Ibn Al ‘Arabee and others). Who would have thought that one word, would have so many associations and meanings, and yet all be suitable? I know this is not my usual post style, I wanted to share with you all another dimension of the Arabic language. It would be a shame if such a language were to be lost or unstudied, the treasures we’d lose would be irreplaceable. Your thoughts and ideas are most welcome as usual.

 

 

Sources:

Ibn Mandhuur (2000) Lisaan al Arab volume 6 pages 224-225. Beirut: Dar al Sader  (note: in the 1975 version the pages are slightly different 225-226).

Muhammad Al Bartajee (2002) Al Yaqoot wal Marjaan fee I’iraab al-Quran (Syntax of the Quran) Amman: Dar al-I’ilaam

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8 responses to ““Scorching hot like the heat of the sun on stone!” The etymological origins of the word ‘Ramadan’

  1. Anonymous

    July 26, 2013 at 9:37 am

    I would like to first congratulate you on alovely blog, and to tell you how much I enjoyed the latest post. It was so original and so eye opening, mind boggling to learn these facts about Arabic. I know before you mentioned that Hebrew has a similar system, and as a Hebrew speaker I have to agree, and I would say both languages are so similar. I think one of these days I will have to take a course on both Arabic and Hebrew and see the real similarities….always a pleasure to open my email and see one of your posts well done and thanks.

     
    • FatmaS

      August 2, 2013 at 5:47 pm

      Thank you for the kind words, yes, it is very similar to Hebrew in more ways than we know. I like your study idea, and I’d like to know what you learn……..keep us posted best of luck.

       
  2. Elena ChuveyS

    July 26, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    Wow! I am mesmerized by the Arabic language, and as a Russian speaker you can imagine how much the difference is. I am taking Arabic classes this summer just out of interest and what you said about words fitting and being exactly where they should be is so true. I can think of a dozen of words in Arabic that have a root, a reason, a meaning, I love this language and thanks you miss for the blog entry. with the best of wishes Elena

     
    • FatmaS

      August 2, 2013 at 5:48 pm

      Hi Elena thank you for stopping by and thanks for the kind words, I am glad the post has complimented what you are learning, wishing you all the best.

       
  3. JoshuaGu

    July 27, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Hi, Just had to write in and say how much I love the blog, this particular post is so much more to my liking. Who would have thought you were good at etymology too, I showed it to my Arabic professor and he loved it! Please whatever happens, however much work you have, do not stop enlightening us on Arabizi….super stuff shukran (p.s. I am a new student to Arabic and in the fall I will take my first class in etymology :))

     
    • FatmaS

      August 2, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      You are too generous, I can only write when I have something useful to put out :), good luck with your Arabic thanks

       
  4. Abdelghani Azzi (@abdazzi)

    July 7, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Assalaamu aleykum,
    The problem is that some occurences of this month happen in cold winter…

     
    • FatmaS

      July 18, 2014 at 11:52 am

      Wa alaykum salaam, I agree, but the original first ever month of Ramadan took place in the heat of summer, so that has something to do with it. Thanks for stopping by….

       

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