Why did moslem become muslim?

It seems like in English the word for followers of Islam was until recently consistently spelled “Moslem.” Why the change in spelling?

Well, either way it’s a transliteration of an Arabic word. The spelling has been changed to make it a bit closer to how it is actually pronounced.

Moslem could be pronounced “moz-lem” (ie like “Oz” and “Creme”) and this doesn’t reflect the Arabic pronunciation at all - such o and e sounds are alien to Modern Standard Arabic.

Muslim is harder to mispronounce - you could only really say “muhz-lim” (incorrect) or “mooz-lim” (the correct one, with the “oo” sound pronounced like the “oo” in “book” or “wood”)

Similarly, the word “Mahomet” became “Muhammad” or something similar. The word “Mohammettan” / “Mohammedan” has almost disappeared since it is not a transliteration at all and grievously misrepresents the nature of the religion.

And let’s not forget the nine million ways to spell Khadaffi.

The US government seems to use a different transliteration system than most of the media, preferring to spell the dickhead from Iraq as “Hussayn” instead of the more popular “Hussein.”

I figured that was it. I just hate it when I see things like this. Whatever the origins of the word, by the 20th century “Moslem” had become the English word for adherents of Islam. I see no reason to go trying to purposely adapt it to a foreign word. Maybe next we can try replacing “Christian” with the correct pronunciation of the Greek christianos. I don’t know by what word they refer to Christians in Moslem countries, but I bet they haven’t gone out of their way to transliterate christianos.
As for Mohammedans, in what sense does that “grievously” misrepresent the nature of their religion? Everybody knows it just means that it was founded by Mohammed, in the same way everyone knows the meaning of the term Lutheran.

lambchops, permit me to correct your error. The s in Muslim is not pronounced z. It’s pronounced unvoiced, like s. In Arabic, if a word has the sound of z, they would use a z to write it. Anytime Arabic has an s, it’s always pronounced s. Apart from that, what you wrote is quite correct.

I agree with you. I think this kind of stuff is crap. Bombay is now Mumbai, and God help you if you refer to someone from eastern Asia as an Oriental. It’s just a way for socio-intellectual elites to put distance between “nice”, “cultured” people like themselves, and the great unwashed who are so depraved that they call Mexicans Mexicans instead of “Chicanos” or whatever the nom du jour is.


I thought we cleared up the Mumbai issue last week


Not necessarily. Some interpreted ‘Muhammedan’ as implying it meant that Muslims worship Muhammed, just as Christians worship Christ, which is a blasphemous notion in Islam. Hence it has fallen of use and is considered mildly improper ( as opposed to another old term ‘Mussulman’, which has no particular offensive connotation, but is just considered an archaic form ).

I was taught ‘Moslem’ in grade school as well ( and was marked down 1/2 credit for writing ‘Muslim’ :smiley: ). But as ‘Muslim’ is a bit closer to the Arabic pronunciation it has become the standard transliteration. Not that it is set in stone or anything. If somebody wrote ‘Moslem’ I probably wouldn’t get all anal and correct them - it’s close enough for government work. But I would ( and have ) for the other two.

  • Tamerlane

Ta, Jomo mojo. I do speak a little Arabic and know the difference b/w sin and za but was trying to simplify it a little. Otherwise, my attempt at a phonetic transliteration might be rendered as “moss-lem”, which is another potential mispronunciation of the word.

“Moslem” wasn’t so well grounded in the English language as all that - I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in that spelling in a modern Australian text, and since I study Middle Eastern history, the term comes up a lot.

If there’s an alternative that is more acceptable to the group the term describes, you might as well use it. Words like “negro” or “coloured” have fallen out of use over time and now sound offensive. Many years ago, they were so well-accepted that “coloured” became the C in NAACP.

Well, since it’s an American group, the C is actually Colored, no “u”. :stuck_out_tongue:

In fact it is considered to be highly improper in the sense that it is automatically linked with the good old days in which Western “Orientalists” were highly influenced by Christianity and in fact had as main issue to criticize/dismiss Islam. Since we have for some time now passed this unprofessional subjective approach, everyone who uses that word when talking about Islam or its adherents is perceived as a left-over of the age of the Neanderthal :slight_smile:

In the French language the word “musulman” (f.musulmane) is the correct French word for Muslim and still in use everywhere by people who speak French.
(In French the word for Muhammed = Mahomet).

Salaam. A

Could be worse, we could still be using “Musselman”.

“Mussulman” comes from the Persian word for Muslim, musalman. Musselman’s is a brand of applesauce.

TG: Whatever the origins of the word, by the 20th century “Moslem” had become the English word for adherents of Islam. I see no reason to go trying to purposely adapt it to a foreign word.

This is not just some whim of political correctness, this is part of a larger effort to institute a widely accepted standard for transliteration from Arabic to roman characters. Annoying as it may seem to you to have to learn to spell “Muslim” instead of “Moslem”, in the long run it will be easier for everybody to use the same consistent mapping from Arabic words to their English transliterations than for people (and search engines) to have to figure out if “Muhammad Qadafi” is the same as “Mohammed Khadaffy”, etc. etc. etc. (Recall how much confusion and delay was generated in the search to identify the 9/11 terrorists by their use of what were called “aliases” but were really just different transliterations of their Arabic names.)

The major transliteration standards in current use are the ALA-LC romanization scheme and the ISO 233 standard. There is a good discussion of the whole transliteration problem and the various competing standards here.

I don’t know by what word they refer to Christians in Moslem countries, but I bet they haven’t gone out of their way to transliterate christianos.

What Arabic speakers apparently transliterated was the Greek name of a Jewish/Christian sect, the Nazaraioi, meaning “followers of the Nazarene”, as Jesus of Nazareth was known to some of his contemporaries. That Arabic transliteration is “nun-saad-alif-raa”, generally retransliterated in English as “Nasara”, and it’s the standard Arabic word for “Christians”, not just among Arabic-speaking Muslims but among Arab Christians themselves.

Nobody AFAIK “goes out of their way” to transliterate names from other scripts. When they need to refer to those names in their own script they perforce come up with some transliteration or other, in a rather ad hoc and idiosyncratic way. Eventually, as interlinguistic cross-fertilization and the need for orthographic standards advance, they overhaul the old transliterations and replace them with revised ones. (A few people complained about having to learn to spell “Beijing” instead of “Peking” too, but we’re pretty much over that by now.)

does that mean muslim cloth now becomes moslem cloth? :confused:

or is thet the other way round?

No, because there’s no such thing as ‘muslim’ cloth. It’s ‘muslin’.

BTW, as far as back as I can remember, the spelling has been ‘Muslim’ in the UK. Could it be that the US media has been influenced by li’l ol’ us?


of course you are right

muslim cloth indeed

There’s more than one competing standard, though, isn’t there? Are you talking about Gulf Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, or something else?

The reason I bring this up is because [url=“http://www.cedarseed.com/lebanese/leb1.html”]Lebanese Arabic** does contain the vowels English speakers would recognize as “o” and “e”. I’m fairly certain some other versions of Arabic do, as well.

Perhaps “Moslem” derived from a different standard than Modern Standard Arabic. I am aware that historically, Classical Arabic contained only three separate vowels, and that some modern standards still maintain the classical vowels.