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Ajami redirects here. For other uses, see Ajami (disambiguation).
For other uses, see Ajam (disambiguation).

Keshvar ajam used to mean Persian in a 1255 Hijra letter from the Ottoman Empire to
Persian emperor Mohammad Shah
Ajam is a word used in Persian and Arabic literature, but with different meanings.

In Arabic, Ajam (???) has two meanings non-Arab, and Persian. Literally, it has the
meaning one who is illiterate in language, silent, or mute and refers to non-Arabs
in general.[1] Although traditionally developed as a derogatory term, in modern
sense, it is a neutral term meaning stranger or foreign,

Contents [hide]
1 Etymology
2 History
3 See also
4 References

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?ajam has one primary meaning in Arabic non-Arab.[2]

According to a traditional etymology, the word ?ajam comes from the Semitic root ?-
j-m. Related forms of the same root include, but are not limited to[3]
?ajama ?a?jama ?ajjama to dot in particular, to add the dots that distinguish
between various Arabic letters to a text (and hence make it easier for a non-native
Arabic speaker to read). It is now an obsolete term, since all modern Arabic texts
are dotted. This may also be linked to ?ajam ?ajam pit, seed (e.g. of a date or

Persian painting, depicting Jamshid halved before Zahhak

in?ajama (of speech) to be incomprehensible
ista?jama to fall silent; to be unable to speak
'a?jam non-fluent
musta?jim mute, incapable of speech
Homophonous words, which may or may not be derived from the same root, include

?ajama to test (a person); to try (a food).

According to The Political Language of Islam, during the Islamic Golden Age, 'Ajam'
was originally used as a reference to denote those whom Arabs in the Arabian
Peninsula viewed as alien or outsiders.[4] The early application of the term
included all of the non-Arab peoples with whom the Arabs had contact including
Persians, Byzantine Greeks, Ethiopians, Armenians, Assyrians, Mandaeans, Arameans,
Jews, Georgians, Sabians, Samaritans, Egyptians, Berbers and the somewhat related

The term has a derogatory meaning as the word is used to refer to non-Arab speakers
(primarily Persians) as illiterate and uneducated. Arab conquerors tried to impose
Arabic as the primary language of the subject peoples throughout their empire.
Angry with the prevalence of the Persian language in the Divan and Persian society,
al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf ordered the official language of the conquered lands to be
replaced with Arabic, sometimes by force (including cutting out the tongues of
Persian speakers, further popularising the term mute).[5] Persian resistance to
this mentality was popularised in the final verse of Ferdowsi's Shahnameh; this
verse is widely regarded by Iranians as the primary reason that they speak Persian
and not Arabic to this day.[6] Official association with the Arab dominion was only
given to those with the ethnic identity of the Arab and required formal association
with an Arab tribe and the adoption of the client status (mawali, another
derogatory term translated to mean slave or lesser in this context).[7]

During the early age of the Caliphates, Ajam was often synonymous for barbarian or
stranger. In the eastern parts of the Middle East, it was generally applied to the
Persians, while in al-Andalus it referred to speakers of Romance languages -
becoming Aljamiado in Spanish in reference to Arabic-script writing of those
languages - and in West Africa refers to the Ajami script or the writing of local
languages such as Hausa and Fulani in the Arabic alphabet. In Zanzibar ajami and
ajamo means Persian which came from the Persian Gulf and the cities of Shiraz and
Siraf. In Turkish, there are many documents and letters that used ajam to refer to

The verb ?ajama originally meant to mumble, and speak indistinctly, which is the
opposite of ?araba, to speak clearly. Accordingly, the noun ?ujma, of the same
root, is the opposite of fu??a, which means chaste, correct, Arabic language.[8] In
general, Ajam was a pejorative term used by Arabs conscious of their social and
political superiority, in early Islam. However, the distinction between Arab and
Ajam is discernible in pre-Islamic poetry.[8]

According to Clifford Edmund Bosworth, by the 3rd9th century, the non-Arabs, and
above all the Persians, were asserting their social and cultural equality (taswia)
with the Arabs, if not their superiority (tafzil) over them (a process seen in the
literary movement of the o?ubiya). In any case, there was always in some minds a
current of admiration for the ?Ajam as heirs of an ancient, cultured tradition of
life. Even the great proponent of the Arab cause, Ja?e?, wrote a Ketab al-taswia
bayn al-?Arab wal-?Ajam. After these controversies had died down, and the Persians
had achieved a position of power in the Islamic world comparable to their numbers
and capabilities, ?Ajam became a simple ethnic and geographical designation..[9]
Thus by the ninth century, the term was being used by Persians themselves as an
ethnic term, and examples can be given by Asadi Tusi in his poem comparing the
superiority of Persians and Arabs.[10] Accordingly territorial notions of Iran,
are reflected in such terms as iranahr, iranzamin, or Faris, the Arabicized form
of ParsFars (Persia). The ethnic notion of Iranian is denoted by the Persian
words Parsi or Irani, and the Arabic term Ahl Faris (inhabitants of Persia) or ?
Ajam, referring to non-Arabs, but primarily to Persians as in molk-e ?Ajam (Persian
kingdom) or moluk-e ?Ajam (Persian kings)..[11]

In the Persian Gulf region today, people usually refer to Persian as Ajami as they
refer to Persian carpet (Ajami carpet or sajjad al Ajami), Persian cat (Ajami cat),
and Persian emperors (Ajami kings).[12] The Persian community in Bahrain calls
itself Ajami.

Belad Ajam meaning Persian Lands and Khaleej Ajam meaning Persian Gulf, Ottoman map
'Ajam was used by the Ottomans to refer to the Safavid dynasty[13]
The Kurdish historian, Sharaf Khan Bidlisi, uses the term Ajam (???) in his book
Sharafnama (1597 CE) to refer to the Shia Persians.[14]
In the Eastern Anatolia Region, Azerbaijanis are sometimes referred to as acem
(which is the Turkish translation of Ajam).[15]
Modern Sunni Kurds of Iran use this term to denote Persians, Azeris and Southern
Adjam, Hajjam, Ajaim, Ajami, Akham (as Axam in Spain for ajam), Ayam in Europe.
In Turkish, the usage of the term is not applied to any ethnic group, but instead
appears to have evolved from the original Arabic usage for outsiders in-general and
shifted into a different meaning as the term ajemi (in modern Turkish acemi)
literally means rookie, clumsy, inept or novice.[17] The word, with this meaning,
has been borrowed into languages of the former Ottoman Empire such as Bulgarian and
Macedonian (???????), Serbo-Croatian (adamija), and Greek (at?a??) .
It is also used as a surname.[18]
Arabs and Turks once used Ajam (keshvar-e Ajam) as a synonym to Persia, also a
medieval name for the Persian Gulf (Bahr-e Ajam), or to refer to the follower of
Shia Islam.[19]
In Oriental music, there is a maqam (musical mode) called Ajam, meaning the Persian
mode, corresponding to the major scale in European music.[20]
In Hindustani classical music, there is a maqam called Navroz-e Ajam.[21]
See also[edit]
Ajami (disambiguation)
Nemets - the name given to Germany or the German people in many Slavic languages,
with a similar derivation to Ajam
Ajam of Bahrain
Ajam of Iraq
Ajam of Kuwait
Jump up ^ A similar linguistic development exists with the Hungarian name Nmeth
which literally means he does not speak and in fact means German
Jump up ^ Sakhr Multilingual Dictionary. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
Jump up ^ Sakhr Lisan al-Arab. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
Jump up ^ Lewis, Bernard (11 June 1991). The Political Language of Islam.
University Of Chicago Press. Retrieved 6 February 2017 via Amazon.
Jump up ^ Frye, Richard Nelson; Zarrinkoub, Abdolhosein (1975). Section on The Arab
Conquest of Iran. Cambridge History of Iran. London. 4 46.
Jump up ^ Firdawsi; Davis, Dick (2006). Shahnameh the Persian Book of Kings. New
York Viking.
Jump up ^ Astren, Fred (February 1, 2004). Karaite Judaism and Historical
Understanding. Univ of South Carolina Press. pp. 3335. ISBN 1-57003-518-0.
^ Jump up to a b Encyclopdia Iranica, Ajam, p.700
Jump up ^ Encyclopdia Iranica, Ajam, Bosworth
Jump up ^ ????? ?? ?????? ??? ???? ? ?????
???? ??? ?? ???? ??? ????? ??????
??? ?? ?? ??? ??? ???????? ??? ??
?? ???? ??? ??? ???? ?? ??????
Jalal Khaleqi Motlaq, Asadi Tusi, Majaleyeh Daneshkadeyeh Adabiyaat o Olum-e
Insani(Literature and Humanities Magazine), Ferdowsi University, 1357(1978). page
Jump up ^ Encyclopedia Iranica, IRANIAN IDENTITY iii. MEDIEVAL ISLAMIC PERIOD by
Ahmad Ashraf
Jump up ^ The Book.documents on the Persian gulf's name.names of Iran pp.23-60 Molk
e Ajam= Persi . Molk-e-Jam and Molouk -e-Ajam(Persian Kings). ??? ????? 2010 ISBN
Jump up ^ Martin van Bruinessen. Nationalisme kurde et ethnicits intra-kurdes,
Peuples Mditerranens no. 68-69 (1994), 11-37.
Jump up ^ Philip G. Kreyenbroek, Stefan Sperl, The Kurds, 250 pp., Routledge, 1992,
ISBN 978-0-415-07265-6 (see p.38)
Jump up ^ (in Turkish) Qarsli bir az?rbaycanlinin r?k szl?ri. Erol zaydin
Jump up ^ Mahmood Reza Ghods, A comparative historical study of the causes,
development and effects of the revolutionary movements in northern Iran in 1920-21
and 1945-46. University of Denver, 1988. v.1, p.75.
Jump up ^ Turkish Dictionary for Language Learners and Travelers to Turkey.
Retrieved 6 February 2017.
Jump up ^ Names Database Ajam Surname. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
Jump up ^ The Book.documents on the Persian gulf's name.names of Iran pp. 23-60
Molk e Ajam Persi . Molk-e-Jam and Molouk -e-Ajam (Persian Kings). ??? ????? 2010
ISBN 978-600-90231-4-1
Jump up ^ A. J. Racy, Making Music in the Arab World, Published by Cambridge
University Press, 2004. pg 110.
Jump up ^ Manorma Sharma, Musical Heritage of India, APH Publishing Corporation,
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