Inshallah – "…a new word to match a new sense of our limitations"
Posted On December 9, 2007
I remember now that I used to say “inshallah” frequently, something I picked up while working with many Somali patients in Seattle. When I left there, I lost the habit after having to explain one too many times.
When worlds collide, the sparks are sometimes linguistic. Not long ago, in a Q and A on the Web site of The New York Times, an Iraqi translator was asked to explain the points of difference he saw between his own people and the Americans he encountered in Iraq. He brought up the Arabic phrase “inshallah.” The Americans, he said, “have respect for time”; Iraqis, in contrast, “use the word inshallah, which means `if God wishes,’ to postpone things.”
It may be that this point of difference won’t be a distinction much longer. An American colonel in Iraq, writing to The Washington Post’s Thomas E. Ricks, recently observed: “The phrase ‘inshallah,’ or ‘God willing,’ has permeated all ranks of the Army. When you talk to U.S. soldiers about the possible success of ‘the surge,’ you’d be surprised how many responded with ‘inshallah.’” The phrase seems to have permeated all ranks of the diplomatic corps, too: Zalmay Khalilzad, when he was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, once stated at a press conference, “Inshallah, Iraq will succeed.