Ramadan to us Maldivians is a festival! It is at least in my humble observation. Every year, an estimated few weeks before the beginning of the Holy month, businesses begin their 'Ramadan Sales and Promotions'. Living rooms and dining rooms are lavishly redecorated. Obligatory is the kitchen renovation. Television sets, refrigerators and a variety of furniture go on Sale! Sale! Sale! This has been the jubilant preparation to a Maldivian Ramadan since as far back as I can remember.
This year was no different. The proliferating promotions were uncontrollable! The silhouette of the word 'sale', in all colors and fonts, became a constant eye-floater in both my eyes.
But, like any craze in Malé, the ‘season-of-sales’ died down as soon as Ramadan began, giving way for another trend to spread like wildfire and for another word to become an eye-floater.
The word 'IFTAR'.
'Iftar', according to the Oxford Dictionary', is originally an Ottoman-Turkish word that is widely used in many other languages of the Middle East as well. Its meaning is stamped as 'the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan'. Etymologically, it means 'break a fast'. Naturally, seeing the word 'Iftar' should be a mundane sight given that we are experiencing Ramadan right now.
Now I admit that I might not have been paying close attention to the happenings of Malé the last few Ramadans. Or it could also be owed to the fact that I haven't gotten to experience a truly Maldivian Ramadan in a while. However the word 'iftar' is really, truly popular in the Maldives this year.
Where am I making this observation?
Be it in a hashtag on Facebook and Twitter, or be it in a name of a Whatsapp group, the word 'iftar' is compulsively making the rounds among us Maldivians. Personally, I have been tagged in multiple 'special iftar food' recipes and have even been invited to 'annual iftars' hosted by my colleagues and friends.
Special menus and opening hour announcements by local restaurants with the word 'iftar' in them are innumerable. 'Special Iftar Menu', 'Iftar for Two', 'Continental Iftar', these are just some of the bold headings I have come across, written committedly across café window panes. And even on their promotional flyers.
At this node you maybe wondering why I am, so tenaciously, compiling the incessant times I had come across this word.
Allow me to tell you why.
It is because Dhivehi language does have a codified and an institutionalized word that is the equivalent for 'breaking fast' during Ramadan, the term 'roadhaveehlun'.
I have been dumbfounded as to when or why we switched entirely to using the word 'iftar' instead. As far back as my meek mind can recall, 'roadhaveehlun' was the word used in social contexts and even within businesses during Ramadan, in reference to 'breakfast'.
According to 'A Concise Etymological Vocabulary of Dhivehi Language', a linguistic marvel of a book by Hassan Ahmed Maniku, 'Roadha' is a word derived from the Persian/Urdu word 'Roza', which means 'Day'. It refers to a daily practice of anything (a day's journey, daily allowance, a fasting-day). As our Dhivehi dictionary suggests, the word 'veehlun' refers to letting go of something that was previously held back. The two words together creates the local term that for all purposes, seems equivalent to that of 'breakfast'.
I have curiously and determinedly brought up this subject whenever, in my presence, anyone had used the word 'iftar' instead of 'roadhaveehlun'. Surprisingly, many of those hailing from 'Team Iftar' come geared with conviction and logical arguments for this switch.
The discussion extends to a linguistic exchange in which we meticulously dissect the different meanings of both words.
Team Iftar argues that while Maldivians may have the word 'roadhaveehlun' in our Dhivehi language, it only refers to the act of breaking one’s fast. As such one may break fast, not only with food, but also with a smoke, a drink or even by taking a light snack.
'Iftar', on the other hand, refers specifically to the MEAL we Muslims have at sundown. This suggests a full course of food consumed to satisfaction.
Another faction of Team Iftar capitalizes on the difference between a term and a word. They argue that the Dhivehi equivalent to the word 'breakfast' is not one word, but a term comprising of two words; '1)roadha and 2)veehlun'. And that due to this, they do not recognize Dhivehi as having a proper word for 'breakfast'. To this set of people, the word 'Iftar' is crisp, short, and easy-to-use in conversation.
Lastly, there are the people whose defense to the usage of the word 'iftar' directly ties to the fact of most Maldivians being bilingual. They view it as an eventuality if the employed language at hand is English. They are correct in believing that the word 'roadhaveehlun' cannot properly be used while speaking English.
These are compelling arguments indeed. It suggests that the switching of these two words has come about with a 'when we know better, we do better' notion.
'Iftar' was not a commonly used word in our Dhivehi language, however the global exposure we are attuned to in recent times, has promoted the word to be woven into our vocabulary alongside the vernacular word 'roadhaveehlun'.
Nevertheless, one must ponder upon the important role that language plays in the continuation of a culture. Culturally, the Dhivehi word for 'breakfast' is 'roadhaveehlun'. Some dialects employ the variation 'roadhakeńdun' as well. This has been the practice of our forefathers. Might we wish to forgo tradition?
Additionally, I find it imperative to state that 'roadhaveehlun' is not a term of two words. Neither is it hyphenated. It is, according to our Dhivehi dictionary, recognized as one whole word. It is a Dhivehi word semantically tied with food and drinks for breakfast during Ramadan.
And finally, I would like to point out that it is not an inevitability to use the word 'iftar' when speaking English. The sole reason being that the term for the meal-at-sundown in the English language is 'breakfast'. With the availability of words in respective languages, the need for replacement of any word is inessential.
Tedious it may seem, but the preservation of a language does require a little insight, studying and deliberation. Unwarranted switching of words, I fear, could lead to the demise of unique languages. Certainly, this one example would not be the only instance of 'word replacement' in the Dhivehi language. But this one word is a start. Let us be weary of our language and strive to thrive our mother tongue!
In this window, I would also like to express my sincerest admiration towards Dhivehi, and emphasize the importance of its preservation.