It’s a beautiful phrase, one that pays high respect to the power of the divine. Translated in English, it means “If God wills it” and for all its intent and purpose, both religious and cultural, it is supposed to mean something positive. But I’ve come to dread these words. Whenever I set a meeting and someone tells me Insha Allah I slowly panic and running in my head are different thoughts primary of which is, “Is this person serious in pushing through with the meeting?”
I had my Editor in Chief explained the concept to me and he shared that when Arabic speakers use this phrase, they meant well. He explained that nobody really knows what’s going to happen the minute each of you and the other person leave each other. He said no one really knows what’s going to happen the day after. It is only through God’s blessing that whatever meeting is set, will happen in God’s perfect time and plan.
When I was new in the country, whenever I set a date for meeting or an interview and the other person tells me “We will meet soon, Insha Allah,” I automatically rebuts, “No. Not Insha Allah. We will meet on this date.” It was my way of saying that the schedule is fixed on stone. That it is not movable. That it is not changeable and that only extraordinary circumstance will hinder it from happening. I would come to learn that they do not mean it in a negative sense when they say Insha Allah.
But experience is a good teacher and Insha Allah which has a positive meaning seemed to get associated with the negative. To many non-Arabic speakers, the translation becomes “I don’t have any plans of seeing you (or doing this) at all.”
One most recent experience was when I opened a checking account with a bank. I was given a timeframe of when they say it will be done. When I called on the last day of the time frame, the call centre agent told me that “Insha Allah, tomorrow it is there.” And it wasn’t.
I made several more calls after that. I called the next day and the day after that. The replies were the same, “Insha Allah tomorrow.” It took almost 15 days to get it fixed. That means several days of false assurances. Subconsciously, Insha Allah cemented its bad reputation.
Try to do a little experiment. It doesn’t matter if you’re a national or an expat. Go ahead and set a meeting with a foreign friend and try ending the conversation with, “I’ll see you very soon on this date. Insha Allah” and try to note down the reaction. How many stares or “Are you serious?” do you think you will get?
Try to have a decent conversation after. Go to the roots. Try to ask how an expat or a foreign friend who doesn’t speak Arabic feels when they hear the words. Note down the answer. Is it within your power to change the meaning from the negative to a positive one?
As one writer proposes, people should use the word sparingly and within its proper context. As my colleagues also pointed out, to those who are not familiar with the culture, you should take it as a positive sign — as said earlier, with Divine providence, all will be well, and whatever is agreed upon will happen.
It is saddening that something positive is getting all this hate and earning a bad reputation. With proper education and correct contextual usage, hopefully Insha Allah will get all the respect and praise it deserves. It is a beautiful phrase with a beautiful meaning. It such a waste it’s totally misunderstood.