Sunday, February 21, 2010

Etymology of Inshallah

We are truly, truly scared of the word "Inshallah".We’ve heard our share of Inshallahs from electricians, plumbers, shopkeepers, domestic helps, well almost everyone we have had to contact in times of crises and we’ve learnt the hard way that Inshallah almost always never means the obvious -- “God willing”. 

When our generator crashed, a major crisis as sometimes we have to brave power cuts of up to eight hours, the technician responded to our SOS call with Inshallah; when we faced acute water shortage for over six months last summer and had to call in tankers, the guy at the helpline politely quenched our inquiries with Inshallah; we’ve often splurged and sealed bad deals falling for the shop-help’s Inshallah; when we decided to leave our cats at the vet’s for a few days and asked if they would be comfortable, he cheerily assured us with an Inshallah as he shoved them into a cage near a German Shepherd’s. (It's another matter that one of the cats had a huge scar on his face when we picked them up.)

We’ve finally figured that Inshallah doesn’t always mean that things will get done asap. More often than not, the term is thrown to buy time, defer or indefinitely postpone things that can be taken care of in the here and now. Alternatively, the term can be employed beautifully to shirk responsibility or make an empty promise.

Like everything else we’ve learnt to take the Inshallahs, a term which is used liberally throughout the Muslim world, in our stride. We often narrate our encounters with the word to our friends.  So when a Pakistani designer friend texted to say “we must meet Inshallah”, he remembered to add “not your plumber-wallah Inshallah”. Some other friends have caught on to our “Inshallah-tala (lock)” usage.

Today we were at the receiving end of yet another Inshallah. Our newly hired help (she’s been with us a fortnight) is in the family way and her Mamu broke the news to us smilingly: “You will have to adjust with her and Inshallah there won’t be a problem,” he told me. Having mastered conversations peppered with Inshallahs, this is what I have decoded: (a) the girl is unapologetic that she hid her status when she was being hired; (b) “adjusting” by extended logic means she can call it a day anytime she pleases and that I would have to fill in for her; (c) we’d feel guilty if we asked her to vacate her quarter; (d) my life is *****.


  1. awesome..inshallah great posts wud keep coming..

  2. Hey guys, thanks for the nice blog and sharing your lives with netizens. Its enchanting to read about ordinary life is Pakistan from the eyes of two fellow Indians. I wish you blogged more frequently and with more pics :) Stay safe, Inshallah :)

    Closer to home, I also enjoy Delhi Walla's blog too.

    God bless.


  3. Awesome!

    I regret not being an Indian journalist/diplomat in Pakistan. I really do. If I remain a journalist, someday I sure will live in Pakistan. Inshahallah!

    And in the wake, I MUST try to crack the civils to make it to the IFS.

    Always look forward to your posts.

  4. Jaydev: Inshallah to that...

    Vishal: Will post more often Inshallah.

    XYZ: Hope you crack the civils Inshallah!

    Thank you all for reading.

  5. Whats wrong with Inshallah...nobody is cheating per your own definition, it means"God willing" so if the work doesnt get done it means God was not willing..this is simple logic..why crib about it

  6. Sure Ma'am. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Inshallah is said all the time here a few reasons why we Pakistanis say it:

    1 - We really want this to happen and add that to the statement to give it that little bit of extra umph e.g. 'i'm going to college next year, inshallah' (i.e. oh god please let me pass my exams so i can get into college)

    2 - When we're really indifferent, its your issue not mines but i've said inshallah to help it along/make you less worried - but i dont really care! e.g. fikar not, it will be done/happen inshallah.

    3 - Say it because it is supposed to be said e.g. Khawatein o hazerat inshallah thori hi der meiN hum uthreNgey... - ladies and gentelemen inshaalah we shall soon be landing... (we know we are going to land, but its just polite and formal to say it)

    i'm sure you'll find other reasons, these are the ones i can think of so far!

    You should also research the use of 'Mashallah' another important Allah word, ALWAYS use it when referring to someones children or something nice as this one deflects Nazar/Evil eye/maliciousness... e.g. 'mashallah kitney pyaarey bachey haiN aapke'
    will put a mother at ease and has removed all imagined/unintended maliciousness/bad spirits etc. than just
    'kitney pyaarey bachey haiN aapke'

    Theres a few other Allah words that you can look into and master the use of! Though in Pakistan not all of thses words esp. Inshallah/Mashallah denote religiosity, they are just part of the vernacular and are used by all and sundry!

    The molvi joke

    Three molvi are walking down the street and see a pretty girl go by:

    molvi 1 - Mashallah
    molvi 2 - Subhanallah
    molvi 3 - Inshallah


    KH (Khuda Hafiz)

  8. Excellent! Just wish you were not so Anonymous.

    Coming up next Mashallah :)

  9. Very nice post haha. You know, I say Insha'allah sometimes too when I don't really mean it. ex. when someone invites me to a wedding ceremony (especially when they are in India and I in the USA), I politely say 'Insha'allah if it is possible, I will come'. In the past, I have said 'No I can't come' etc. a few times and realized that it appeared very rude to the other person. So I stick to Insha'allah, which is more polite and if Allah really wills, I will probably attend too - who knows.

  10. Good posts. We have also come across so many inshallah...but we never felt in a negative way. it's their faith.

  11. Nice :)
    Saw your blog link on Shashi Tharoor's tweetfeed.
    Please keep writing. You have a new fan. :D

  12. @anon and powercord, thanks guys. Spread the word.

  13. Enjoyed reading it... i can so very well relate to this being in Saudi, its so annoying that people keeping saying inshahllah when they actually don't mean it, such a misuse of this beautiful word....

  14. Thanks for reading Pakz!