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June 2006
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History & Heritage

Origins of the Word- “Mosque”
By Sameen Ahmed Khan


How would the Egyptians say masjid? While the spelling remains the same, the word will be pronounced as “masgid”.


Of late, there have been numerous e-Mails in circulation, linking the English word Mosque for Masjid with the insect Mosquitoes! The striking phonetic resemblance between the two words is very likely the source of hasty conclusions. English etymology makes it very clear that the word mosque came into English before 1400 from the Italian moschea and the French mosquée. The Spanish Portu-guese civilization that confronted the Arab conquest twisted the Arab words around quite a lot. Spain saw some of the most beautiful mosques being built on its soil. The place was called Masjid by the conquerors and was taken as mesquita by the locals, which is mezquita in modern Spanish. The resemblance with mosquito is accidental. Mosquito is a totally different word, a Spanish diminutive of mosca (Latin musca meaning fly, the Latin for the housefly is musca domestica).


It is interesting to note that Arabs themselves have two distinct pronunciations for the sound of Ì (j which occurs in the word Masjid). For instance, Jamal Abdul Nasser becomes Gamal Abdul Nasser in Egypt! How would the Egyptians say masjid? While the spelling remains the same, the word will be pronounced as masgid.


Here are the words by which Masjid is known in some languages

English (mosque}; Italian (moschea); Spanish (mezquita); French (mosquée); German (moschee); Afrikaans (moskee); Albanian (xhami); Asturian (mezquita); Basque (meskita, moskea); Brazilian Portuguese (mesquite); Bresciano (moschea); Breton (moskeenn); Catalan (mesquite); Chechen (mäzhdig); Croatian (džamija); Czech (mešita); Danish (moské); Dutch (moskee); Esperanto (moskeo); Estonian (mošee); Finnish (moskeija); Flemish (moskee); Frisian (moskee); Galician (mezquita); Guarani (tupão); Hebrew; Indonesian (masjid, mesjid); Irish (mosc).


(The writer can be reached at rohelakhan@yahoo.com)