WORD FOR WORD: Appropriate name Mansura —Khaled Ahmed
Nazareth as a place name seems to mean ‘a place made safe’, somewhat like Mansura. ‘Nsr’ as a root means ‘rain over parched land’. When dry land is brought to life again by rain, the place is called ‘mansurah’. Very appropriately, the headquarters of Jamaat-e-Islami in Lahore is called Mansura
When we refer to Christians in a more literary way we call then nasaarah which is a plural of nasrani. This has been derived from the place where Jesus was born, the village of Nazareth. In Hebrew, the spelling is Nazerat or Natsrat.
Jesus is called Nazarene in English from his hometown. In Hebrew a Christian is also called Natsri. When we convert Jesus the Nazarene into Urdu we say Yasu Nasiri, obviously taking the earlier name given him by the Jews.
Christians in Pakistan want to be called Masihi, which is quite all right because the Quran too refers to Christ as Isa and Masih. But what about nasaarah when we collectively refer to the Christian world? We usually twin it with Yahud (Jews) when we are angry: Yahud-o-Nasaarah.
It is true that we don’t use the word Nasrani to describe a single Christian. Most publications in Pakistan have adopted the word Masihi in deference to the feelings of the Christian community in Pakistan. Isai for Christians has almost become derogatory.
We have two Arabic roots possibly involved here. The first is a very fertile one and has given us a whole lot of useful Urdu words. Many popular names for persons have come from it. The root however has a very interesting meaning.
Nsr as a root means the falling of rain over parched land. When a desolate and dry land is brought to life again by rain, the place is called mansurah. Very appropriately, the headquarters of Jamaat-e-Islami in Lahore is called Mansura. Nazareth also means the same thing.
By extension all the rivulets that help in the greening of a land are called nasirah. By extension it also means provision of food because a valley made green by rain will produce food. By another extension nsr means help.
When the Muslims migrated out of Makka and came to Madina they were called Muhajir. The people of Madina who came to their help and became their hosts were called Ansar. Anyone who comes to help is called nasir, which is a popular name. Those helped are Mansur and Mansura.
There is a whole string of names from the root nsr simply because the status of the Ansar of Madina was high in the eyes of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Muslims learnt to attribute their victories to help from Allah. Thus, victory is nusrat. You can name your daughter Nusrah or Nusrat.
You can even have very complicated names like Mustansir from the same root, one who has been helped by Allah. But Naseer and Mansur are more popular. Mustansir is a tongue twister.
You must have noted that Nasaarah is linked to nasrani and not to nusrah. The two formations may have come from two different roots. Early Hebrew pronunciation may have made the spelling similar. But a kind of confusion of meanings persists.
Nazareth as a place name seems to carry the sense of a spot made safe, somewhat like Mansurah. But etymology takes us also to nazr in Arabic meaning something that has been pledged in a pious resolve. This leads us to conclude that the root nzr may be more relevant than nsr.
In Jewish religion a nazirite is a man of special piety, literally meaning consecrated. In Arabic the root nzr is also quite fertile in producing words. In Islam, bashir is the one who brings news about good things; nazir is the one who warns against bad things. English proper name Warner is an appropriate synonym.
The root nzr is consecration, pledging something in case things turn out well. The nazar we present at holy places is just that.
It appears that the Hebrew way of converting the ‘z’ sound to ‘ts’ is responsible for our word nasaarah. Yet the language has both the ‘ts’ and the ‘z’ sounds. Languages are born out of human usage and that is what has happened. *