Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

My friend and former Al Jazeera America co-host Wajahat Ali penned a hilarious piece in the New York Times explaining the Arabic word “Inshallah,” or “God-willing,” in the wake of the news that a college student was escorted off a Southwest Airlines plane for saying this word on his cell phone. Ali wrote:

Inshallah is the Arabic version of “fuggedaboudit.” It’s similar to how the British use the word “brilliant” to both praise and passive-aggressively deride everything and everyone. It transports both the speaker and the listener to a fantastical place where promises, dreams and realistic goals are replaced by delusional hope and earnest yearning.

If you are a parent, you can employ inshallah to either defer or subtly crush the desires of young children.

Boy: “Father, will we go to Toys ‘R’ Us later today?”

Father: “Yes. Inshallah.”

Translation: “There is no way we’re going to Toys ‘R’ Us. I’m exhausted. Play with the neighbor’s toys. Here, play with this staple remover. That’s fun, isn’t it?”

It is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Yet, there is another slightly more serious side to Inshallah, but it is not scary in the least. Apart from the funny ways we Muslims use “Inshallah” today, as highlighted by Wajahat Ali, there is a spiritual basis to its widespread use, and it stems from this verse in the Quran: 

And say not of anything, “Surely I shall do it tomorrow”…save that God wills. And remember thy Lord when thous dost forget and say, “It may be that my Lord will guide me nearer than this to rectitude.” (18:23-24)

The story behind this verse is that the pagan Meccans came to the Prophet Muhammad with a set of questions to answer. He initially told them, “I will tell you tomorrow,” believing that God will send him revelation answering the questions. No revelation came for fifteen days, and the Meccans began to mock the Prophet (pbuh). Then, the verses answering their questions were revealed, along with the above verses reminding the Prophet to always invoke the remembrance of God. 

The message is simple: nothing happens in our lives without the will of God. We live and breathe the will of God, and whatever we want to do is always subservient to the Will of God. The Qur’an expressly says this in two places: 

But you cannot will it unless God, the Lord of all the worlds, wills… (76:30, 81:29). 

It is a constant reminder of the presence of God in our lives. It is a constant reminder that God is our Master, and whatever He wills is the ultimate mover and shaker in all of existence. And so, before I say I want to do anything, I always add “Inshallah” because, truly, if God doesn’t will it, then it will not happen. Now this does not mean that we as human beings do not have free will. Islam does not say that at all. Nevertheless, “Inshallah” reminds me to never forget God in all aspects of my life. 

And there is an exact Biblical corollary to this: “Thy Will Be Done.” Jesus Christ (pbuh) taught his disciples to say “Inshallah” in the Lord’s Prayer: 

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Moreover, Jesus Christ (pbuh) also said something similar to “Inshallah” when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane:

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt….He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (Matthew 26:39,42)

Thus, there is no reason to be afraid of “Inshallah.” It is a living legacy of two Prophets and two religious traditions, and it highlights how much we have in common rather than in distinction. In this day and age, we cannot let fear get the best of us. It will only lead us down the dark path of hatred and division.

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