The Abused "Inshallah"

Inshallah, insh’Allah, insha’Allah -God willing is a very frequently used term among Muslims. It stands for “if God wills, it will happen” and it’s meant to be said as a positive thing. Responding with “inshallah” after having been asked to do something, should be like a promise to do ones best to get the job done. Only if God wills otherwise they wouldn’t be able to deliver that promise.

Despite it’s true meaning, in reality ‘inshallah’ is widely used to express something else altogether. In fact, it has become like a promise not do something. Within  the workplaces in KSA, where multiple nationalities and cultures mix, ‘inshallah’ has caught on a negative connotation to it. The saying is commonly used and abused by expats and Saudis as well.

In Saudi hospital culture, which I’m familiar with due to my profession, ‘inshallah’ is generally used to brush things off as unimportant or insignificant. When there are no intentions to actually perform a task, a plain ‘inshallah’ is the most common response. ‘Inshallah’ is used as a sort ‘buffer’ to soften what the person really wants to say; “NO”. The saying can also be used when someone doesn’t take the person or question at hand seriously. Sometimes when people are just too busy, they say ‘inshallah’ to take the responsibility off oneself. Sort of like saying, if they don’t have time to do the job, it was not their fault, because ‘God willed it” so to say.

Simply not knowing the answer to something is more often an inshallah than “I don’t know”. ‘Bukra inshallah’ is something everyone in Saudi Arabia will hear every so often. In other words, ‘inshallah bukra’ means it’s not. gonna. happen. Person saying it is well aware of this but lets just say ‘inshallah’ if a miracle were to occur and the it would actually happen!
Inshallah has been abused to the point it has become something negative. It triggers ill feelings and it has the tendency to make people really annoyed.

More examples from the healthcare field: For instance patients sometimes get upset and refuse to accept an “inshallah” from the doctors as an answer. They know very well it’s like a false promise, that the doctor is in fact hiding something or it means a delay in treatment. Nurses at times tell patients “inshallah” rather than “I’m sorry I can’t” when too busy to perform certain tasks, giving patients false hopes.
Pharmacists might use ‘inshallah’ when asked for how long it will take for the medication to be prepared.

A ward clerk might opt to say “inshallah” to try and get rid of demanding relatives asking too many questions.
When discussing diagnosis or prognosis with patients some physicians rather say “inshallah” then reveal the truth of the matter which is probably one of the worst instances to use the term.

And the list goes on unfortunately. It’s as if ‘inshallah’ has been turned upside down from its real meaning, to the point where people have begun using it in sentences like “Don’t inshallah me!”.

arabic text

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  • Om Lujain©December 20, 2010 - 9:25 am

    I had to stop using Enshallah the ‘Slang’ way, when my daughter looked at me in the face, and said… mommy I don’t like enshallah. I then realised that I have been using enshallah the ‘slang’ way instead of the proper way. now I have made sure I use enshallah ONLY when I am 100 % sure the thing will happen. And she has grown to like the term once again.ReplyCancel

  • طيب النازلDecember 20, 2010 - 3:00 pm

    Totally agree with you about the misuse of word inshalah.

    I think most of the Saudis (including myself) have misused this word tooooo much!

    Thank you for being a good mirror for us.ReplyCancel

  • Proud MuslimahDecember 20, 2010 - 10:59 pm

    I used to have the same problem with “insha’Allah” but mainly when I had first converted and thought “insha’Allah” could be used interchangably with “we’ll see” or “maybe” (which, unfortunately, it was being used that way.) My ex husband (who is also Saudi) used to use “insha’Allah” whenever I’d ask him to do something and after awhile, I just freaked out and said “ya know, God helps those who help themselves so get off your butt and do what you said ‘insha’allah’ to!” lol.ReplyCancel

  • The first wifeDecember 22, 2010 - 11:52 am

    I agree 100% with this post. I don’t like the term one iota! My husband uses it when I ask him something that he feels is not of importance. I say to him….YES OR NO… NOT INSHA’ALLAH! He will say why not? I respond that when he says Insha’Allah, it means no.

    I am an American and he is Middle Easteren. There are alot of things I noticed about their “sayings” haha. The one thing I know for sure, is that if he says Insha’allah, the garbage will remain in the kitchen and I wont get my pictures hung up on the wall…hahahaReplyCancel

  • LaylahDecember 22, 2010 - 1:39 pm

    Hi everyone and thaks for your comments!
    I have to admit I sometimes use it myself at work when I’m busy..I’ve tried to avoid saying it altogether at work to avoid all sorts of miscommunications between people.

    It’s such a deeply rooted saying for most arabs that its extremely hard for them to get rid of this habit.ReplyCancel

  • The Burdened MaryDecember 25, 2010 - 8:58 pm

    Although I don’t like the term being mistreated, I think I’ve learned to just accept this second, cultural meaning as an existing thing. Language is an organism; it grows and changes over time and it lets new things in. This use of Insha’Allah is deeply rooted as it was consumed by language. I think that the use is hypocritical and annoying, but it is a reality and it is an effective way to get a certain message across. I don’t blame you for using it as a convenient method :) It’s good we remember what it TRULY means, though, even if it has taken on a secondary meaning in this new context.ReplyCancel

  • ipv6January 13, 2011 - 3:12 am

    I know fairly bit about the abuse of the word esp. in business/corporate dealing, many Muslim businessman from all around the world been mislead/dupe by the excessive used of Inshallah by their Middle East counter part, while unknow to ’em these fella merely utter the world without weight what soever.

    But I never realize on how far it goes into the daily life of the people on the streets. This is absurd and a bit comical I must said.

    ThanksReplyCancel

  • Proud MuslimahFebruary 11, 2011 - 6:34 pm

    while I dont like when “Insha’Allah” is used as a lazy way to not have to say yes or no, it is important for Muslims to not stop saying it all together. “Insha’Allah” reminds us that Gods will is at the center of absolutely evreything we do. I dont mind if someone says “insha’Allah” when I ask them to do something as long as they make the effort to do it.

    Otherwise, its just as dangerous to ask your spouse or friends or to make yuorself stop using it. If you use it, just use it correctly :)ReplyCancel

  • AanFebruary 26, 2011 - 2:57 pm

    nice infoReplyCancel

  • […] Knowing they only cared for the well-being of their mother, I told them to consider finding another part-time sitter for mama Ameenah. This way Sinta could rest, and not get sick all the time. And if Sinta got very sick, who then would take care of their beloved mother? I suggested hiring just one more sitter or maid that Sinta could rotate shifts or days with. it was pointless, like talking to a wall. Money wasn’t their problem so I just assumed it was either laziness or purely being stingy because how could they not want to give just one day off a week or even a month! All of my suggestions were fruitless and met only with “inshallah’s“. […]ReplyCancel

  • PamSeptember 21, 2014 - 7:07 pm

    الحمد لله، الحمد لله، الحمدلله رب العلمين!!
    May Allah reward those who always strive to say it with truth & conviction.

    By the way, the first letter in Allah is always, always capitalized!!ReplyCancel

  • […] Any pleads (which I directed toward the only people who came to visit the patient, the son and the spinster daughter) to find a substitute maid for Sinta were completely fruitless. Mostly my suggestions were met with the “inshallah attitude”. […]ReplyCancel

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