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Inshallah - The Arabic Word the West Needs

**Please realize that I am not Muslim, and do not speak for Muslims, nor am I attempting to do so. This is my experience and relationship as an atheist western woman with an inherently religious Arabic word. **



It is my personal experience and belief that we in the West would benefit from the daily reminder of a word like Inshallah. I have come to really love the word, even though I am not Muslim. Before I get into how we could benefit from using this word in our own conversations, let's look at its meaning and context.

Inshallah, translated literally, means 'God willing' or 'if God wills it.' It is meant to be used seriously, when you truly hope something will happen. An example of this use might be when speaking about a loved one who is ill.

In modern language, it is used in this way, as well as more liberally as punctuation and in jest. For example, if a child asks his parent if they can go to get ice cream, the parent might say inshallah (translation: probably not)

There are similar words in other languages. Spanish, for example has its own word that was borrowed from Inshallah- Ojal√°. In the formal sense, it means God willing, informally it means hopefully.

My relationship with this word did not begin as rosy as it is now. When I lived in UAE and Oman, I flip flopped between being pissed off and emboldened by it.



The times it made me angry

It pissed me off in situations where I believed that God had no hand, for example when a student was hospitalized for a seizure. The doctor said "Inshallah she will be better sometime tomorrow." What do you mean Allah willing?! Isn't it your job to make sure she is?!

Other times it angered me when I saw people put their range rovers on two wheels through a roundabout, or not wearing seat belts, because from my perspective, behavior = consequences. The more you do something dangerous, the more likely an injury will happen. I didn't understand then that Inshallah explained occurrences where a person surely should have died or been critically injured and miraculously survived unscathed. If  you were meant to go, you would. If you weren't, whatever happened to you, you would survive. This doesn't mean that there weren't people who used this belief as a justification to behave recklessly. There is a saying in Arabic "Trust in Allah, but tie your camel to the post." Basically meaning, trust Allah, but don't be stupid and take unnecessary risks.

I also got annoyed when I would make arrangements to meet with someone, and they would say "Inshallah I will see you then." I didn't like it because I wanted to know they would be where they said they would, and also because it reminded me how little control real we have over our lives. As an early-20-something, I hated that idea.

The times it made me bold

Deep water soloing and cliff jumping in Oman

We (my Western coworkers and I) emboldened ourselves with Inshallah whenever we did something
risky or reckless. Yell it while cliff jumping. When you drive super fast down the wadi, and someone in the car complains, shrug your shoulders and say "Inshallah." For me it was #YOLO before YOLO was a thing. If hashtags had been big back then, I would have plastered #Inshallah all over Instagram. It was an easy way to shrug off risk.





When my viewpoint changed

It wasn't until I spent time in Morocco that the beauty of this word really blossomed. My change of heart and mind was probably due to a variety of factors. The first was the reality that adulthood wasn't getting any easier as I was getting older. I had much more life experience under my belt and had grappled with the chaotic unpredictability of life. Another was the incredibly close friendships I made with our local staff members, all of whom were Muslim, insanely smart and kind. I never got the chance to forge such close relationships with locals when I lived in Oman. I never got to see how Islam really shaped a Muslim's life until then. The final tipping point for me was one of my American students sharing her viewpoint with me.

My students and I bought necklaces in Arab script. Some girls got their names, others got the translation of a favorite word. One of my students got the word Inshallah. I knew she was not religious. I asked her what made her want to get that word. Her viewpoint radically changed mine. She told me what she observed. That the word encouraged people not to take their lives or their loved ones for granted. To appreciate every day.

Inshallah brings you into the present. It makes you keenly aware of your own mortality. It encourages you not to take anything or anyone for granted.  

The reality is that I could get hit by a crosstown bus tomorrow. Or you could. Or some crazy thing happens and the world economy collapses. All kinds of unpredictable life shattering things could happen that we never see coming.

Inshallah is used constantly in daily conversation in Muslim majority, Arabic speaking countries. You'll hear it many times a day. It relentlessly reminds us we are squishy, fragile, inherently mortal humans. It reminds us that the universe is full of chaos we cannot predict. It also reminds us to hug our loved ones an extra time, make sure they know we love them, just in case it's the last time we see them, or them us.

You know that whole mindfulness and 'being present' thing everyone is so obsessed with now? All the science and gurus tell us that meditation is the key to mindfulness and being present. But maybe we could all benefit by adding something like 'Ishallah' to our daily conversations to help us stay present and grateful.






1 comment:

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