Claim: ‘boko’ in the name Boko Haram comes from the English word ‘book’

Abubakar ShekauBoko Haram, Nigeria’s militant Islamist group, has caused mayhem through bombings, assassinations and abductions, in an effort to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state. In April 2014 the group made worldwide headlines when it abducted more than 200 schoolgirls during a raid in Chibok, Nigeria.

The name Boko Haram, hints at the group’s motives and core beliefs – at least this is what we learn from a recent Telegraph article in which Boris Johnson comments that boko “appears – on at least one interpretation – to be a kind of pidgin word for the English ‘book’. ‘Haram’ means forbidden, religiously prohibited, … . The gist of their manifesto is that Western education – reading a boko – is haram.”

We looked into the meaning and origins of the words boko haram. There is little doubt about haram, a word borrowed from Arabic into the local Hausa language, which refers to things forbidden in Islam (as opposed to things halal, or permitted). The language is spoken by the Hausa population (predominantly Muslim) in the northern half of Nigeria. Dan Murphy in The Christian Science Monitor points out that the history of the word boko is less clear. He discovered the answer in a paper on the etymology of boko, by Professor Paul Newman, an expert on Hausa.

True or False?

The Hausa word boko does not come from the English word ‘book’, so claims that it does are false. The similarity between boko and ‘book’ is coincidental.

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