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Boko Haram

Claim: ‘Boko Haram’ doesn’t mean ‘Western education is a sin’

6 May, 2014

An article in Christian Science Monitor highlights the work of Dr Paul Newman (The Etymology of Hausa boko) who notes that the Hausa language doesn’t have a four-letter word that means “Western education” and says that the word was not borrowed from the English word “book.”

Newman found the US National Counterterrorism Center started using the “book” claim around 2011, and cites nine other instances of that use. He says the false linkage to the English word “book” was first made in a 1934 Hausa dictionary by a Western scholar that listed 11 meanings for the word – ten of them about fraudulent things and the final one, incorrectly, asserting the connection to “book.”

Newman notes that 45 years ago a Hausa scholar noted that boko was an original Hausa word that had its meaning extended from “an idea or object that involves a fraud or any form of deception” to “Any reading or writing which is not connected with Islam. The word is usually preceded with ‘Karatun’ [lit. writing/studying of]. ‘Karatun Boko’ therefore means the Western type of Education,” which was seen as false compared with traditional Islamic education. Haram is a borrowed word from Arabic that refers to things that are forbidden in Islam.