WORD FOR WORD: ‘Marhoom’ only for Muslims —Khaled Ahmed
“Mercy” in English comes from a very interesting sense of “exchange” or “barter”. The Greek god who presided over commerce was called “Mercury” from the same root. He was unfortunately also the god of thieves and is shown as wearing winged shoes. He was quick, therefore, quicksilver was called “mercury”!
We know that a non-Muslim cannot be Shaheed. It is another matter that among Muslims the title is very loosely applied, so loosely that it hardly matters if we use it for non-Muslims too. But there is another term that is reserved only for Muslims.
When a dead Muslim is referred to, he is called marhoom. This is our word for late or deceased. No non-Muslim may be called marhoom. To me this is a most unjust rule. Marhoom means he whom God has forgiven in his reham (mercy).
Why can’t a non-Muslim be deserving of the title marhoom? The word used to describe a dead non-Muslim is anjahani, a Persian coinage and it means he who belongs to the other world. If you describe a dead Muslim as anjahani you can be rebuked!
Marhoom is Arabic and anjahani is Persian, but in the case of many bad Muslims I am sure anjahani would do! And there are many good non-Muslims who should deserve marhoom. What can one say but that the usage betrays religious bias?
Marhoom is from the Arabic root “rhm” meaning uterus or womb. Feminist writers say that the most important attribute of Allah comes from a bodily organ that men simply don’t have. The argument is that Allah has no sex, He is neither man nor woman.
Marhoom literally means one on whom forgiveness and mercy has been shown. Allah shows mercy through an attribution to the womb because women have a quality of mercy that men usually don’t have.
Mercy is a central concept in Islam and Christianity. The word we often use in Urdu is rehmat. Allah has two attributes derived from this root: Rehman and Raheem. To emphasise this foremost attribute of Allah — that of being merciful — the phrase the Quran uses at the beginning of some chapters contains both these mutually reinforcing terms.
When Hindus and Muslims lived together in amity they put Ram and Raheem together in a kind of expression of mutual absorption. Ram in Hindi and Persian means comfort and is used in Urdu word aram. It is close to the softness of Raheem.
Mercy in English comes from a very interesting sense of exchange or barter. Someone does you a favour and you return it. In French therefore merci means thank you. Latin merx means reward. In early Christianity it was changed around a bit to mean God’s reward despite one’s sins.
The most common word derived from the root “mrc” is commerce which really means barter. The Greek god who presided over commerce was called Mercury from the same root. He was unfortunately also the god of thieves and is shown as wearing winged shoes. He was quick, therefore, quicksilver was called mercury!
We have other words like mercantile, merchandise, merchant, mercenary, market, mart, mercer, etc, that have the same origin as mercy. It tends to water down the grand seriousness of the word mercy, the finest attribute of God.
The French have the word misericorde for mercy. Corde here means heart which is the same that we use in English cardiac: pitying heart. But misery from Latin means wretched. By implication, a state of wretchedness will excite pity.
Perhaps because of this reason the Spanish will use grace, another word meaning praise but used as mercy. The Spanish don’t say merci for thanks but gracias. Grace is praise or singing because the “gr” root points to throat.
In English the word pity has been developed into a special term of the Christian virtue of forgiveness. It comes from Latin and has implications of softness and piety. In fact pity and piety have come from the same root. *