Research article
Issue: № 3 (3), 2015


The article deals with the problem of arabic Islamic words usage in Russian and English news stories in the context of their actualisation and linguacultural aspects of their translation. Original research was previously published in the scientific journal “Bulletin of Peoples' Friendship University of Russia. Series: Linguistics”, No. 1, 2013.

Nowadays mass media more often than ever use in their news stories the confessional vocabulary of the Arabic origin. The actualisation of the words of the above mentioned semantic group is seen in Russian, as well as in other languages, which can be accounted for by extralinguistic factors, namely by the activization of the world Islamic movement. Despite the active usage of such Arabisms by both English and Russian speaking journalists, there are certain peculiarities of their introduction in the Russian and English news stories, namely the additional connotations of their meaning in the latest decade such Arabisms as mujahiddin, wahhabit, shakhid, juhad, talib and some others have taken root in the Russian language clue to mass media.

As compared with their Arab etymons the meaning of these borrowings has experienced transformation. Thus, the word Shakhid which in the Arabic language means «a martyr for the faith» - «شهيد» in Russian semantically has negatively evaluated component of «Islamic suicide-bomber, kamikaze». The word Mujahiddin, which in Arabic means مجاهد «a fighter for the right cause», in Russian has two meanings: 1) «a soldier of the armed forces supporting the opposition in the Afgan war (1979-1989)»; 2) «a terrorist». The Arabic word Wahhabi وهابي meaning in Arabic «self-denying» in Russian is used as the name of the religious political movement meaning» an Islamic adherent preaching religious purity, renouncing luxury, etc.»; Juhad in its first meaning in the Arabic language is «labour in the name of Allah (1), in Russian it means «holy war of Muslims against infidels, armed struggle», etc.

This discrepancy of meanings of the original word and borrowing is a vivid reflection of the opposite points of view concerning the same phenomena of life in different languages: thus, a martyr turns into a suicide-killer, a fighter for the right cause becomes a terrorist militant, service of God grows into armed struggle.

The above mentioned Arabic words-etymons are formed from the widely-used verbs with neutral stylistic and positive emotionally-expressive colouring: وهب , شهد , جهد.

In Russian Arabisms acquire negatively evaluated connotations supported by contexts.These borrowings are used in the texts, connected with war, extremism, terror, crime. The negative emotive meaning is manifested due to the compatibility of Arabisms with the words having the semantic component «violence»: target, executed, weapons, armed, terror, attack, explosions, etc., which the examples from Russian news stories:

  1. «инструкторы и военные инженеры остаются такой же желанной мишенью для моджахедов, как и французский спецназ на границе с Пакистаном» - instructors and army engineers are as desired a target for mujahiddins, as the French special task force on the boarder with Pakistan»;

  2. «на одном из экстремистских сайтов появилось сообщение: священник был «казнен» за оскорбления «Корана и нашего Пророка» в брошюрах и в ходе диспутов. Имя стрелявшего не упоминается, сообщается, что этот человек после «операции» перебрался на Кавказ, где до того не бывал, присоединился к моджахедам и стал шахидом» - «there was a message on one of the extremist sites: a church man was executed for insulting «Koran and our Prophet» in brochures and in the disputes. The name of the person who shot him was not mentioned. The killer was said to move to the Caucasus, where he had never been before, to join Modjuheeds and become a shakhid»;

  3. «ни один новый солдат больше не поедет на войну с талибами; талибы, облаченные в «пояса шахида», были вооружены стрелковым оружием и пытались прорваться внутрь зданий» - «not a single new soldier will go to the war against talibs. Talibs, wearing suiside-bomber's belt, were armed with cartridge ammunition and tried to get inside»;

  4. «из молодых дагестанских юношей и девушек делают шахидов и шахидок» - «young boys and girls from Dagestan are turned into shakhids»;

  5. «...имелись в виду в том числе и те, кто разжигает джихад на Северном Кавказе» - «... among others there were meant those who instigate jihad in North Caucasus»;

  6. «неоднократно заявлял, что «намерен совершить джихад» в Азербайджане и взрывы в местах массового скопления людей» - «[he] repeatedly said that «he intends to commit jihad» in Azerbaijan and explosions in densely populated areas»;

  7. «24-летний Двораковский, более известный как «русский ваххабит», обвиняется в подготовке теракта, посягательстве на жизнь милиционеров, незаконном обороте взрывчатки, а также в мошенничестве и экстремизме» - «Dvorakovsky, 24, more known as a «Russian vakhabit» is charged with planning a terror attack, infringement on the lives of the militiamen, illegal trade of explosives, as well as fraudulent activities and extremism» [8].

Double meaning of certain Arabisms and their usage in mass media are publicly discussed:

the famous politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, for example, opposed suicide bombers called shakhids, as some mass media practise. Zhirinovsky said that for the Muslims of North Caucasus the word shakhid is a synonym of a hero, and the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev agreed with him. People of the central TV channels get certain instructions from the President administration including the list of the unsuitable term and preferable euphemisms. The greatest part of it is Arabisms джемаат, шахид, моджахед, ваххабит, пояс шахида, джихад, амир, эмир, имам, шейх which should be changed for ideologemes devoid of the Islamic semantic components. These recommendations are politically charged, the actions of the Chechen militants should not be associated with Muslims as a whole. Despite the criticism of the political leaders, Islamic terms are still widely used in news stories, which can be explained, firstly, by their usual usage and recognition, and secondly, by the vividness of their expressively evaluated colouring, which is a bright means of publicistic style which is aimed to influence the Russian-speaking readers who are the target audience of our mass media.

In English news stories the similar Arabisms also function in similar contexts. The connotation is also emotively pejorative, for example, in the words: abduct, slavery, prisoners, arrest, terrorist attacks, suicide bombings, invade etc.:

...gain insights into the world of Roald Dahl, hear the striking story of Mende Nazer who was abducted by the Mujahidin in Sudan and sold into slavery, and hear why the future looks bright for scientists;

...the group also says it wants to unify the mujahidin, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and liberate Muslim prisoners from Israeli jails;

The two men were arrested in the eastern state of Bihar earlier this month and have been brought to Mumbai to be charged. The key suspect, the head of the Indian Mujahideen group, is still at large;

Described by a Spanish judge as "spiritual head of the mujahideen in Britain" the UK authorities have previously said he gave advice to those who aimed "to engage in terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings".

«Mullah Omar and the Taleban," they say, "would never abandon the jihad in the way the Iraqis did."The mujahidin must watch out," says another, "an important Gulf state is hatching a plan to transfer the Awakening project to Pakistan and Afghanistan;

To us the Ugandans, Ethiopians and Americans are all the same, they have invaded us and I am telling the Mujahidin [fighters], Ugandans must be one of our priorities," a tough talking Sheikh Ayro said in the audio on Dayniile website;

We should not underestimate the extent to which the Taliban were taking a risk" and acknowledging they were going into talks with the Americans [7].

Besides as the examples show, Arabisms are the linguocultural markers, referring to the reality of Muslim countries and directly indicating the place of the events: Sudan, Israel, Mumbai, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uganda.

As compared with English texts, Russian news stories use Arabisms when describing the development s both in the Middle East and the realities of the Russian life. The existence of pro-Islamic groups and more than often provocative activities of those people in Russia itself and in the boarder areas arouse the negative reaction of the population Muslim theologs (in particular, the council of Russia's Mufti) denounce the activities of such groups which, as they see it, go contrary to the teaching of Islam and are of aggressive and are inhuman nature. Thus, the substitution of ideas is in the transmission sphere (most often, polylingual). Being nontransparent, the semantic meaning of foreign Islamic terms wears away and they become tags which characterise only the organisations using these terms as self-designation - ваххабиты, моджахеды, талибы. For this reason English texts often give the names of such groups as proper ones: Mujahideen, Hamas, Taliban.

When speaking about English texts of foreign mass media, one should point out that they use the terms ваххабиты and шахид quite rarely. It is notable, that such terms may characterise of all other the events in Russia: In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate... Who is responsible for the attacks on Rusnya [derogatory word for Russia]? By the Grace of Allah, the Shakhid [martyr] battalion, Riyad us-Saliheen [Gardens of the Righteous] has carried out several successful operations on the territory of Rusnya. The regional Shakhid unit of Moscow was responsible for the blasts on Kashirskoye Road [main approach road to Domodedovo Airport] and the Rizhskaya metro station in Moscow [7].

The given text is very emotional it gives explanatory notes Shakhid (martyr) and describes nothing but the Russian realities: Rusnya [derogatory word for Russia]. It seems likely to be the translation of the Russian text. In this case the Russian language becomes a lingua franca in the process of borrowing and participates in the fixation of the additional meaning component in the English language (the explanation of the term given in brackets proves that a neologism of foreign origin is introduced into the context).

Russian news stories which describe the events outside Russia, especially when it is the translation from English, more often use the above-mentioned ideologemes-synonyms of Arabisms, which have a wider meaning and don't contain the semantic component of Islam, for example, a «террорист-смертник на мотоцикле при самоподрыве унес жизни семи гражданских и двух полицейских на базаре в городе Каджаки» [8] - «a suicide-bomber on a motorcycle claimed the lives of seven civilians and two policemen when he self-destructed himself on the market in the town of Kadjaki». The use of such a general term to a certain extent neutralises the context lessing the possible effect of Islamophobia.

Nevertheless, even in the translated Russian texts one can note the greater number of the borrowed Islamic terms, than in the English-language stories. It can be proved when comparing a part of the original article «..аn influential Muslim scholar has issued a global ruling against terrorism and suicide bombing...» [7] and its Russian translation «...Влиятельный мусульманский проповедник доктор богословия Тахир Кадри намерен издать в Лондоне всемирную фетву против терроризма и взрывников-смертников...[7]», where «a global ruling» is translated as Fatwah. This Arabism in Russian means «Mufti's statement on a certain problem, basing on the Koran, Sunnah or Shariat» [2. С. 822]. As for the expression «suicide bombing» a traditional neutral translation was used (though, the lexico-grammatical meaning of the action was replaced by the subject of the action (suicide bombers) as the verbal noun denoting the idea of committing the act of bombing does not exist in Russian. In the Russian text the name of the issued document is more exact, underlining its belonging to Islam and its orientation against terrorism, which has nothing in common with Islam.

The above-mentioned examples may lend to certain conclusions. Firstly, the official status and the growing expansion of the Islamic religion in Russia leads to the usualisation of the Islamic terminology, which is reflected in mass media texts.

Secondly, the Islamic vocabulary in Russian texts acquires a more vivid emotive meaning as compared with English news stories, as it belongs to the Russian realities and due to the wish of the authors to influence the target audience.

Thirdly, unlike the English language sources, the Islamic terminology in Russian mass media is more diverse, it is denominative, though it does not always passes the transparent semantics.

In their turn, English-speaking journalists (notably, BBC reporters) use Islamic terms rather carefully, mainly, when speaking about the Muslim states and most often as the names of the parties and groups, for example, Taliban, Mujahideen (at that they preserve the form of the Arabic etymon, while in Russian they are no longer the names and acquire the new morphological forms, for example, those of a noun).

In the fourth place, if an Islamic term is used in the English texts, the commentary specifying its meaning, is more often needed some words of the Arabic origin (shahid, for example) are used when translating Russian texts and are connected with the Russian reality.

In the fifth place, when translating English mass media texts into Russian and vise versa it is necessary to be neutral and use Arabisms very carefully, giving preference to ideologemes.

In conclusion, there are some variants of the translation of a few Islamic terms from Russian Russian and English news stories:

Table 1




Mujahidin, mujahideen



Shakhid, martyr

(suicide bombing)



пояс шахида

Suicide belt, shakhid belt









Мусульманский проповедник

Muslim scholar





эмир, амир

Leader, head