Thought 10: What do you mean, “There will be a test tomorrow if God wills it?!”

Whenever my professor announces the schedule for tomorrow’s class, she says “Inshallah,” even if that schedule involves an exam.  On the first day of class, she asked me where my name came from, and I explained that I’m named for my Grandmother (my father’s mother) who passed away many years ago. She replied with “Allah-ya-HamuHa.” When any of my classmates sneeze, the whole class says, “Hamdulillah” before turning our attention back to the teacher. I discussed my graduation plans with our resident director the other day, and he commented “MaShah-Allah” to my plan to graduate in December.

In just two short weeks in Morocco, I can see that the Arabic language is intertwined with both the geography of place and the anthropology of religion in the Arab world. At the vary least, its important to keep in mind the importance of respect for culture, language, and religion. I’ve found that its easiest to understand a culture if you first understand the language. In understanding the language, colloquial phrases are as important as verb conjugations, especially when both religion and language are tied together. The Arabic language and the religion of Islam have a long history both together and apart, and this is reflected by the way Arabic speakers use phrases like “Inshallah,” in everyday speech.

If you talk with an Arabic-speaker long enough, you’ll start to notice patterns with the use of common expressions. In general, Muslim and non-Muslim speakers of Arabic use all of these phrases. There are some phrases that exist specifically within certain religions–there are Arabic-speaking Christians, Muslims, and Jews all living in the same cities in Morocco. For non-native speakers of Arabic (like myself), it can be helpful to have a short tutorial on the meaning and usage of common expressions–for example:

  • “In-shah-Allah”: It means “If God wills it.” Use this when talking about the future–making plans, scheduling things, or hoping that things turn out all right. Example: Inshallah my sister comes to visit me. Inshallah we will get coffee at three pm. Inshallah she feels better because she has been sick.
  • “Al-Hamdulillah”: It means “Praise be to God.” Use this literally–Hamdulillah I did well on the test. Hamdullilah the train was on time.
  • “Allah-ya-Haneek”/”Tareq Salaama”: It literally means something along the lines of “God guide you and keep you safe;” or “Through peace,” it would be best translated to “Godspeed” in English. Use it when someone is going to be traveling.
  • “Salamu-Alay-kuum,” (Response: “Waa alay-kuu-mu-Salaam”: This means, “Gods peace onto you” and doesn’t really have a direct translation to English.  I think the only time I’ve encountered it is in Sunday School–there’s a passage somewhere where Jesus sends out his disciples and tells them to go into a house and if they are welcomed, to say, “Peace onto this House”. In my Arabic translation of the Bible, it literally says, “Salamu-Alay-Kuum,” which I imagine reflects that a similar phrase exists in Hebrew. People nowadays use this greeting to say hello and goodbye, and to express well wishes to friends and family. It is formal and can be used with elders or professors, and also among friends and family.
  • “Ma-shah-Allah”: Means something along the lines of, “Praise God that you have been blessed but I’m not jealous of your blessing and I wish you the best.” There is no direct translation to English–maybe something like “Congratulations,” but that doesn’t quite cover it. You use it when a baby is born, you use it when someone achieves something special (like graduation), or when someone exhibits a talent.
  • “Allah-ya-HamuHa”: means “May she rest in peace.” Its appropriate to use this when someone mentions that a family member or friend has passed away.  Some people will begin stories or memories by saying, “My Grandmother, Allah-ya-HamuHa.” It is sometimes applied to things that have been broken beyond repair (like a car, a bike, or a refrigerator), but that’s less frequent.
  • “Maa-Salaama!”: This one’s easy–it means goodbye. Literally translated, it means, “With Peace.” Its used the same way we use “goodbye” in English.

And with that, I say, Maa Salama and Inshallah you have enjoyed my post today!

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One thought on “Thought 10: What do you mean, “There will be a test tomorrow if God wills it?!”

  1. Hahaha, great! I always laughed long time ago when I was working in Egypt, and my Egyptian college would always say the number of clients in our group (while buying the entrance tickets to the sites for them) with Inshalla after it. As if we were hoping that nobody passed away in the meantime? Probably not, but I thought it was cute 🙂

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