It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

Arabia Felix


À propos a recent discussion on Twitter regarding Matthew Cook’s story ‘Insha’Allah’ in the current issue of Interzone, below is an old and racist description of the phrase and its uses, taken from English-Arabic conversational Dictionary, first printed in 1909, my edition a 1969 edition, from Hirschfeld Brothers Ltd of Great Portland Street, London:

A favorite word of the Oriental, which he pronounces at every possible, suitable or unsuitable, opportunity, but with which he generally simply cloaks his innate laziness and indolence, frequently also his ill-will. As the European by hearing this inshallah always pronounced with the same nugatory, often even ironical tone, is at last reduced to sheer despair, he will do well to break his companion of it as soon as possible. The Muslims only should not be interfered with, because the Koran prescribes to them the continuous use of this showy phrase.

I have a second copy of the book, different cover but identical contents, which claims to be by Professor Anwar Hafiz and Moustafa Aziz, but does not give a publisher or year of publication. It also omits the footnotes. I suspect it is a pirate edition.

As noted above, the Qu’ran commands Muslims to use “insha Allah” when describing any future action – see Surat Al-Kahf:

18:23 – And never say of anything, “Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,”

18:24 – Except [when adding], “If Allah wills.” And remember your Lord when you forget [it] and say, “Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct.”

4 thoughts on “Arabia Felix

  1. Catholics have a similar phrase, “Deo volante” (God willing), sometimes shortened to “DV” in text. I’ve not heard it for a while, so it may be restricted geographically.

    This – and the definition you quote above for “insha Allah” – is much more in line with the Merton Thesis, that there exists something called the “Protestant Work Ethic” which meant that northern and western Europe, and their diasporic populations, were more enrteprising and inventive than the southern and eastern European populations because of the differences between the Protestant and Catholic faiths. Of course, this also automatically excluded non-Christians.

    This essentially rascist concept, which underpins a lot of right-wing thinking on the inherent superiority of capitalism and the historical destiny of the West to rule the world, of course falls down totally when you consider the prevelance of mercantilism and science in a range of different cultures, from medieval Italy, through the Islamic world, to China. But that involves learning about other cultures, and that’s too much trouble for a lot of people who have a vested interest in the working classes not being educated at all – because with education comes a questioning attitude as opposed to a complaint workforce.

  2. What about the English phrase, “If we’re spared.”
    It means much the same.

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