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Some people pronounce the S in Islam as Z, and others pronounce it as S.

Which is correct?

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I don’t think this question is so much “not a real question” as much as it is argumentative, as is evident by didactic tone of the questioner’s own answer. I hope that the questioner has learned, from @RegDwight’s answer, that the pronunciations he considers incorrect are, in fact, considered correct by major English dictionaries. – nohat Sep 18 '10 at 1:23
@Dia: that is excellent reasoning, now let's put it into practice! When speaking Arabic, let us pronounce, or at least try to pronounce, all words the way native Arabic speakers do. And when speaking English, let us pronounce, or at least try to pronounce, all words the way native English speakers do. – RegDwigнt Sep 18 '10 at 5:37
@Dia: nowhere in my comments did I presume to suggest how you and your friends should be talking to each other. I am merely saying that Islam, sputnik, Texas, kindergarten, karate and countless others are not alien words that English-speaking people add to their conversation out of nowhere, mixing them with English words. Much rather, they are themselves English words now; and they have been for long. Really, I cannot put it any more succinctly than nohat: "Islam is now as much an English word as it is an Arabic word, and speakers of English decide how English words are pronounced." – RegDwigнt Sep 18 '10 at 13:53
@Dia Do you suggest that English speakers should pronounce the word octopus the way they say it today in Greece? Or that we should pronounce the word jasmine the way they say it today in Iran? Should we take advice from the Italians on how to say the word miniature? The answer to all these questions is, of course, “no”, because all those words are now English words, with English pronunciations that are different from the source language. The story is the same with Islam. – nohat Sep 18 '10 at 16:56
Valuable comments guys. Thanks to all of you. – Dia Sep 18 '10 at 18:58

5 Answers 5

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Looking at the other answers, I would like to intervene. Whatever the correct pronunciation in Arabic is, we are talking about English here. Merriam-Webster lists quite a few variations:

\is-ˈläm, iz-, -ˈlam, ˈis-ˌ, ˈiz-ˌ\

It also provides two audio recordings, one for /ɪsˈlɑːm/ and one for /ɪzˈlæm/.

The Wiktionary says:


  • enPR: ĭs-läm', IPA: /ɪsˈlɑːm/, SAMPA: /Is"lA:m/
  • enPR: ĭz-läm', IPA: /ɪzˈlɑːm/, SAMPA: /Iz"lA:m/
  • enPR: ĭz'lăm, IPA: /ˈɪzlæm/, SAMPA: /"Izl{m/

Again, with all due respect to other languages, we just don't pronounce matador the way it is pronounced in Spanish, sputnik the way it is pronounced in Russian, or kindergarten the way it is pronounced in German.

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@Dia: I am not teaching Muslims how to pronounce Islam, they know it very well. I am merely pointing out that there are other pronunciations that are very popular among native speakers of English and even listed in dictionaries. Which I certainly may do on a site about "English language and usage". I will also point out that there are countless English words that are not pronounced "correctly" in Arabic, Mandarin or Russian, but I don't think that it is preferable to tell those people that they've got it all "wrong". – RegDwigнt Sep 17 '10 at 18:32
@ShreevatsaR: because it is infeasible. There are billions of people, thousands of languages, and innumerable words that have been, are being, or will be borrowed. Any mission to correct everybody on everything is doomed. In fact, even much smaller missions are doomed. Kansas is pronounced /k(ə)nˈzas/ in Russian, and Texas is pronounced /tʲɪˈxas/. Now let's try and convince those 150,000,000 people to pronounce things "correctly". No, wait, I have an even better idea: let's teach Americans how to pronounce "Texas" correctly. It's a Spanish word, after all. – RegDwigнt Sep 17 '10 at 19:33
@ShreevatsaR: I apologize for leaving that impression, that's certainly not what I meant. I would be lying if I pretended that I have never corrected anyone's pronunciation of any word in any language. I will also add that personally, I tend to pronounce Islam as /ɪsˈlɑːm/, but only thanks to pure chance or inertia (that's the way it's pronounced in both of my mother tongues). But my point still stands, and I still think that my answer had to be added to counterbalance the other ones so far. There might be a politically correct pronunciation, but that is a different question altogether. – RegDwigнt Sep 17 '10 at 20:38
As a side note, sometimes Merriam-Webster notes (with a ÷ sign) when a pronunciation is common but considered incorrect by a significant number of people, for example the ‘nucular’ pronunciation of "nuclear". None of the pronunciations of Islam, including those with a /z/ sound, are so marked, so at least the editors of the Merriam-Webster dictionary do not find any of those pronunciations to be unacceptable. They do note that generally the first pronunciation is “preferred”, and that is the one that the original questioner prefers too. – nohat Sep 18 '10 at 1:18
…but let us not confuse less-preferred pronunciations with incorrectness. Islam is now as much an English word as it is an Arabic word, and speakers of English decide how English words are pronounced. – nohat Sep 18 '10 at 1:20

Well, "Islam" (and consequently all words derived from it) is pronounced correctly with an S not a Z.

And the importance of this distinction is that "Izlam" in Arabic means "getting dark", whereas "Islam" (with S) means "submission".

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Although there is the discussion elsewhere in the thread about Islam being an English word with all deviation in pronunciation that comes with it (and I agree with this), I do think your point is quite useful to be aware of: Many Muslims — even in English-speaking communities — might consider the [ɪz] pronunciation to be an indicator of some level of ignorance about Islam (rightly or wrongly). So, it is probably good to be at least aware of this if you are having a conversation where the topic and audience makes this important. – Kosmonaut Sep 19 '10 at 14:52
@ Kosmonaut Glad that you've got my point this way. Thanks. – Dia Sep 20 '10 at 6:55

If native English speaking Muslims (of whom there are many) favour 'Isslam', then this pronunciation has some authority. You are an authority on the pronunciation of your own religion, just as you are on the pronunciation of your own name.

It would be interesting to know the Native English speaking Muslim pronunciation.

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Being spoken by a muslim or non muslim doesnt change the english pronunciation of the word. (See accepted answer). Its just that muslims are invariably exposed to the Arabic pronunciation and they start using it more commonly. it doesnt change the english pronunciation. – Midhat Sep 22 '10 at 13:35
In addition to what @Midhat says, I would like to point out that there are quite a few different pronunciations of the word "Christianity" as well. Who's the authority on that one? The Pope? He's got a German accent... – RegDwigнt Sep 22 '10 at 13:40
@Midhat: Don't forget that both the [s] and [z] pronunciations are considered valid English variants, and that even some native-English-speaking, non-Muslim Americans use the [s] pronunciation. So, saying the [s] version is still English too. (By the same logic, though, I think we must consider [z] a valid variant, whether it is pronounced that way by English-speaking Muslims or not.) – Kosmonaut Sep 22 '10 at 14:21

It is interesting to note that the NZ media seems to have deliberately changed from 'Islamist', where the emphasis was on the second syllable, to 'Izlumist', with emphasis on the third syllable.

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The new emphasis is on -ist? Or do you mean that it's on the first syllable (Iz-)? – Sven Yargs Jul 24 at 6:41

Edit: the original pronunciation is something like "eeslahm", but the point is never pronounce it with a z.

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