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Dr Klaus Bung
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Why only Muslims can have "breakfast" at night
It is useful to look closely at words you are trying to learn and check whether they consist of components which you already know or which are used as parts of other words, which are then easier to learn. In this article, we look at English "breakfast" (which literally is the meal with which you BREAK your FAST. French, Spanish, Romanian and Latin words also mean "breaking of fast", whereas the Chinese and German words simply mean "early meal". We also look at the Arabic, Farsi and Urdu words for breakfast and at the customs of Muslims during Ramadan.And last, but not least, there is a fantastic story about my Egyptian dentist, something that will have you rolling on the floor laughing - ROFL.Read more below.
2010-09-04 Why only Muslims can have "breakfast" at night
Being a God-fearing person gives you opportunities which secularists and atheists do not have. This is something that Richard Dawkins (may Satan have mercy upon his body), the idol of British atheists, will be able to ponder in eternity in a place where heating comes free of charge and where he does not need the winter fuel allowance.
One of these opportunities is having breakfast in the evening. This is something an "unbeliever" cannot possibly do. If it's in the evening, it will be dinner or supper or even iftari, but it can't possibly be breakfast.
Breakfast in the evening is a contradiction in terms. Evening is at the end of the day. Breakfast, by definition, is early, at the beginning of the day.
The actual word "breakfast", however, does not state that this is an early meal. Breakfast has acquired this meaning merely through force of habit, by tradition.
By contrast, the German word for breakfast, Frühstück (from früh = early and stück = piece (of bread) ) states explicitly that this meal has to be taken early in the day.
Looking at the components of words
When I was discussing the word "breakfast" with some of my foreign Internet friends, all keen students of English, I found that for some of them the word "breakfast" was simply a single unit, a string of nine arbitrary letters glued together to mean whatever the whole word means, namely "morning meal". They did not realise that "breakfast" has two components, break + fast, like "afternoon" has two components, after + noon.
That is a weakness inherent in the way they were taught English.
By contrast, it is a fundamental principle of DYLL and IDYLL, that we always, even with beginners, look into the origins and components of words. When I am learning a new language, I force my "teachers", however unwilling they may be, to give me the components (if any) of all new words.
In learning Urdu, for example, I then find that "paXana" (toilet) is composed of "pa" (purity) and "Xana" (place). This knowledge helps me to learn many other words containing "Xana" (where the /X/ represents the final sound in Scottish "loch" or in German "ach" or the initial sound in Urdu "Xargosh" (= rabbit), but not the sound /ks/ in English "mix").
For example: bavarci-Xana (kitchen, cook's place), gusal-Xana (bathroom, bath place). Or: mombatti = candle (from mom = wax and batti = lamp). Or I find that "charpai" (bed) is composed of "char" (four) and "pai" (feet), which makes this word unforgettable.
All this goes to show that it is useful to know the components and origins of words. If the teacher does not give this information voluntarily, the student should force it out of him.
If you have isolated the components break + fast, you realise that this early meal is in fact described as the meal with which you "break your fast" (= interrupt your fast, end your fast). In the case of English, this is, of course, not a religious fast, like Muslim, Hindu and Jewish fasts, but simply the period of the night during which people have not eaten anything, simply because they were asleep.
However, even nightshift workers, who may have been eating during the night, will call this early morning meal before they go to sleep (in the morning) "breakfast". To that extent the word has firmly acquired the meaning "early" rather than "breaking of a fast".
The Muslim fast
The Muslim fast during Ramadan is more serious. It is a real fast. It applies during the day, from sunrise to sunset, strictly regulated by the clock and strictly observed to the minute.
At the exact minute, when the sun sets (changing by about four minutes each day) and the call comes from the mosque, Muslims break their fast by respectfully (ceremoniously) eating a single date. That breaks the fast (it IS, so to speak, the breakfast), and after that they can eat again as normal and continue to do so, if they wish, until the sun rises the following morning, and their fast resumes.
The food and the delicacies which they eat will be more delicious than at ordinary times of the year, for this is not a time of sadness and mourning, but a time of religious contemplation and joy, somewhat similar in character to what may be found in a practising Christian family, on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Epiphany in various Christian countries.
Muslims from India and Pakistan, of whom there are many in England, call that meal with which they end their fast "iftar" or "iftari". They WOULD NOT call it "breakfast" because "breakfast" does not have any Islamic connotations, and they CANNOT call it "breakfast" because breakfast (in the English sense of the word) must be taken in the morning.
Well before sunrise the following morning (say at 3.45h), Muslims get up and perform their morning rituals, including Fajr, the first prayer of the day. They will then also, before the sun rises, start and finish their last meal of the night, which English people would call, for themselves, "breakfast" because it is early in the morning.
Muslims call it neither "breakfast" nor "iftari" because no fast is being broken, and it is not preceded by any sustained period of not eating and not drinking.
Indian and Pakistani Muslims call this early morning meal during Ramadan "sehri". This word specifically signifies the END of the freedom to eat, or, the last chance to fill up with fuel and energy to see you through the day till the evening. People eat "sehri" only during Ramadan. Their early morning breakfast at other times of the year is denoted by a different word.
But let us stick to the early morning meal (pre-fasting meal) during Ramadan.
The word sehri has been imported into Urdu from Arabic (via Persian), and we will look more closely at the Arabic word now.
Arabic words for morning meals
In Arabic, the "root" or constant of a group of related words tends to be the consonants. One varies the vowels in order to derive different but related meanings.
We take the root s-h-r.
In Arabic the time before sunrise is called "sahar". The meal that is taken at that time is called "sohor". The food that is eaten at that meal is called "sahor" (rarely used); in brief:
- sahar - a time
- sohor - a meal, i.e.an event
- sahor - a kind of food, i.e. an object
The word sohor is NOT the general word for breakfast (early morning meal), i.e. the meal one takes AFTER having slept. Sohor is specifically the meal one takes BEFORE the fast begins (directly opposed to BREAK-fast, sohor is the START-fast). As such one can have sohor only during Ramadan (and on any other fasting days).
At other times of the year, in Arab countries, the word "eftar" is used to denote the early morning meal, the breakfast, the meal one takes after having fasted or not eaten for 12 hours or so.
So "eftar" simply means "breaking the fast", and during Ramadan this meal is shifted from the morning to the evening. Only believers can do that (switch the morning meal, eftar, to the evening). Non-believers, like the English, can not sensibly do that, they must have their breakfast in the morning or not at all - quod erat demonstrandum.
Looking at it in a formalistic way, during Ramadan "breakfast" is shifted from morning to evening, and liberty to eat is shifted from the day into the night.
Arabic "sohor" and "eftar" travelled to Persian (Farsi) and became "sahari" and "eftari", and these words in turn travelled to India and became "sehri" and "iftari" respectively.
Breakfast in some European languages
First two boring examples:
- In German, breakfast is "Frühstück", which is explicitly an "early" meal. Nothing to do with fasting.
- In Italian it is "colazione", which literally means a "collection" of things, bits and pieces, assorted foods, snacks.
But French, Spanish and Romanian (like Italian, languages derived from Latin) refer to the concept of FASTING, even though I am not sure how many Frenchmen and Spaniards are aware of this fact.
Latin: jejunare = to fast.
From this we have French "le jeûne" = "the fast".
From this we have "dé-jeuner" = to discontinue the fast, "le déjeuner" = lunch (rather a late breakfast) and "le petit déjeuner" (the little lunch, the breakfast).
From the same Latin je-junare, we have Spanish des-a-yuno (breakfast) and Romanian de-jun
That's as much as I have been able to establish so far. I will now look at other languages as well and see if any other interesting concepts turn up in their words for "breakfast". I will add to this article whatever I can find. So come back from time to time to look for updates.
My Egyptian dentist
My readers may be surprised and wonder how I could be so clever and knowledgeable about Arabic. Let me confess that I owe all my information on Arabic to my dentist. Click here to read more about my extraordinary relationship with this amazing woman from a great country.
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