Our old friend Howard is back to his usual… stuff today:
Did you know that the word islam is a cognate of the Hebrew word shalom, meaning “peace”? Don’t berate yourself if you didn’t, because it isn’t true. This is just the latest fiction perpetrated by would-be Ground Zero imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in an at times touchy-feely op-ed in today’s New York Times.
I’d heard the good Imam’s etymological observation before. Some might even fault it for being trite, but that’s a point of style, not of personal credibility, and a man seeking to speak to the broadest possible, not necessarily sympathetic audience can be excused for seeking the simplest, least controversial ways to share an idea. Even if the shalom/Islam cognate relationship were only a “just so” story – a “fiction,” to use Howard’s word – I’d hardly be inclined to see re-telling it as a crime against decency.
Since none of us can travel back in time and observe the development of the Semitic tongues Hebrew and Arabic, we cannot prove or disprove the etymological supposition in the same way a scientist could prove or disprove a physical law, but the consonant pattern S-L-M in shalom, salaam, and Islam/Muslim seems rather obvious, and, as a rule, close homophonic relationships between words with similar meanings in related languages do not occur by chance: Even in those cases where origins are traceably separate and distinct, it’s in the nature of language for such usages and meanings to converge anyway, but shalom/salaam/Islam does not appear to be one of those exceptional cases.
For those playing along at home and, like Howard apparently, too busy to do any research of their own, here’s the etymological discussion from the Wikipedia entry on “Shalom”:
This sense of completeness, central to the term shalom could also be confirmed in homophonic terms found in other Semitic languages. The term shelam, of Chaldean origin, seems to mean both peace and restoration. Aramaic derivations of the terms shalom and shalam are said to mean peace, safety, completeness and welfare. The Assyrian term salamu means to be complete, unharmed, paid/atoned. Sulmu, another Assyrian term, means welfare. A closer relation to the idea of shalom as concept and action is seen in the Arabic root salaam. Meaning to be safe, secure, and forgiven, among other things. It also proposes a personal commitment to the concept, action, and transcendence of peace – Salaam is also the root for the terms Muslim and Islam, literally translated, he/she who submits to God and submission to God, respectively.
Howard’s evidence or counterargument against the Imam, Wikipedia, and pretty much anyone: Howard Portnoy says not so.
Of course, it’s not as though many or most in the anti-9/11 Victory Mega-Mosque Mosque Mosque movement work this way. In my observation it’s more like 100%.