Ramadan for Christians: mashallah, inshallah, and more

Ramadan for Christians: mashallah, inshallah, and more April 19, 2021

Yesterday, I told you about a word that reminds me of the Creator: subhanallah (glory to God). Today I want to share a few more words with you that are common in Muslim culture – words that also serve to remind one of God in different ways. (Sign up for my newsletter so you won’t miss a post!)

Mashallah (ma-sha-LA)

While subhanallah is a reminder of God’s splendor, mashallah is a reminder of God’s kindness. As I experienced it, the word was used whenever something good happened – to remind us that the good thing was a gift from God. A few examples:

“Mom, look at this picture I drew!” “Mashallah, it’s beautiful!” (God gave you drawing talent.)

“Honey, the client really liked my presentation today.” “Mashallah, that’s great!” (God blessed your efforts.)

“Dinner is ready.” “Mashallah, that looks delicious!” (God gave us good food, and blessed your hands as you cooked it.)

I like this word a lot. I don’t acknowledge God’s kindness often enough – you know, “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). But since I’ve taken to saying mashallah, I’m reminded many times a day of how good God is.

Iftar at my niece’s home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Monday April 19.

Inshallah (in-SHAL-ah)

Here’s another one: inshallah. For anyone who has lived in the Middle East even a little while, this word brings a smile. It serves as a sort of pious escape hatch. The word means “God-willing,” and it grew out of a belief in predestination – that is, the idea that God has already written in a book everything that will happen in your life, so whatever you do, God willed it.

The upshot is, whenever you make a promise to do something, you tack on “inshallah” at the end, and you can bail out if you want to. Some examples:

“Will you be ready to leave on time?” “Yes, inshallah.” (If I’m running late, blame God.)

“Are you ready for the exam?” “Yes, inshallah.” (If I flunk, it’s not my fault.)

“Don’t forget to pick up milk on the way home.” “I won’t, inshallah.” (I’m going to forget, and you shouldn’t get mad.)

(Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden knew how to use the word, although his pronunciation was not great.)

Expats love to joke about this word, but for those who use it seriously, it is a reminder of God’s supremacy over everything, including our plans. Reminds me of James 4: 13-15:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business, and make a profit.” You do not even know what will happen tomorrow! What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.” 

Bonus word: Yalla (YUL-uh or YUL-ah)

Ok, this is not a God-based word, but it’s very handy and fun: yalla! It can mean, “hurry up!” or “let’s go!” or “get your butt in gear!” If you want to really emphasize your impatience, just hang onto the L sound a little: “yalllllllllla!” And if you want to get poetic, here’s a special usage: “yalla, yalla, ya Abdullah!” (“ya” means about the same as “oh,” thus, “let’s go, hurry up, oh Abdullah!”)

(By the way, if you enjoy words from other languages, I recommend googling “99 names of Allah,” and check it out. You can learn a lot about how Muslims understand God from these names.)


Ramadan for Christians: then sings my soul, “subhanallah”

Evangelicals and progressives: let’s dialogue about Jesus and poverty

Do you know God’s will for you, or just assume you know?

Muslims and Christians: we are family, Part One

FEATURED IMAGE: Iftar at my niece’s home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Monday April 19.

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