Have you ever heard the word inshallah or inshalla (انشاالله)? Maybe you’ve even wondered what it meant? In this article, we’ll cover all the definitions – both literal and contextual – so you can use the word inshalla like a native Arabic speaker!
First and foremost, the literal definition of Inshalla (انشاالله) is “If God wills [It].” This is a commonplace shortened, casual, and slightly less religious variation of the word inshaAllah (إِن شَاء اَللّٰه), which is pronounced with one more syllable (“In-sha-Al-lah”) and used in more religious contexts.
The word is often assumed to only be spoken by Muslims, but this is a common misconception! Inshalla is actually used by Arab-speaking and Arab-influenced people of all faiths and beliefs from every corner of the world. For example, you can find this word spoken by Coptic Christian Egyptians, multicultural Kurds, secular Turks, Muslim Indonesians, Zoroastrian Persians, and many other communities!
Each community has added its specific touch to the pronunciation; it is common to hear Kurds and Iranians use the term less religiously by pronouncing it as ishalla (ایشالا) without the n and, again, dropping the stress of the last syllable. As you can see, this word is actually used by non-Muslim and secular people across the world!
Because so many people from different backgrounds, beliefs and origins use this word, there are a lot of different transliterations for it! Whether it be enshalla, enchalla, inchallah, nchallah, you will most likely encounter انشاالله in a myriad of different forms!
The word has even found its way into Spanish – “Ojalá.” This borrowing also means “God willing” or “hopefully” and entered the Indo-European language during the period of Muslim rule of the Iberian Peninsula, known as Al-Andalus.
Now that we have established the structure of the word and who uses it, what does it actually mean? Alas, there is no single answer! Inshalla is employed in a variety of circumstances to convey affirmation, hope, prayer, exceptions, and even polite disagreement. Confused? Have no fear! We’ll cover all the basics and – inshalla – you will feel more confident by the end of the article.
1. “Yes, I hope so, too”
In the most basic sense, inshalla is a form of genuine agreement with something that was expressed, especially about a future event.
Eg. A: I hope we pass our exam day! B: Inshalla!
2. “Yes, and I’m praying for it too..”
The second basic use emphasizes that although you agree, it’s contingent upon divine will. In some devout communities, people are advised that since only God knows what will happen in the future, they should stay away from making definite statements about the future. Therefore, inshalla replaces “Yes!” You’re saying you wish the event happens, but as it’s not (entirely) in your hands, you can only speculate and pray.
Eg. A: I hope the weather is good tomorrow, I would love to have a picnic on the beach. B: Inshalla!
3. “Yes, okay (respectfully)!”
Inshalla can also simply be a respectful way to say “yes” and acknowledge you hear and understand what the other person said and you’ll do what they asked. This is especially common between older and younger family members!
Eg. A: You really need to clean your room today. B: I’ll get to it as soon as I can, inshalla.
4. “No… (but we’ll see if God wills it)”
Modern uses of inshalla can also be sarcastic. You can use the word to mean that you have no interest in making something happen, but “Yeah, sure, we’ll see if God or fate makes it happen.” This use is a well-known pet-peeve for many who grew up in Arabic-speaking homes!
Eg. A: Mom, can I please go to the beach tomorrow with my friends? B: Inshalla.
5. “We’ll see… but it’s probably not gonna happen…”
Inshalla can also be a form of disagreement or procrastination, an outright “Nope, never gonna happen.” How do you know this is the case? It’s all about understanding the dynamic between you and the person you’re speaking with and feeling the context. You’ll get better with practice!
Alternatively, you’re signaling you hear what the person is saying, but you’re also probably not going to do what they asked out of laziness, limited capacity, or other internal conditions that limit your motivation.
Eg. A: Mom! Can we go get ice cream today? B: Yeah, inshalla, we’ll see…
6. “It’s going to take a while and I don’t have much information.”
This last use is related to the former, but expanded slightly in scope. Basically, the limiting condition is not only an internal state but also external circumstances. This vague answer can be frustrating to hear, but hopefully a better understanding of the cultural nuances and language will help you figure out a positive path forward.
Eg. A: When will the documents be ready? B: In a week inshalla.
A: Okay, it’s been a week, are they ready? B: No, in a few days inshalla.
A: Fine, It’s been several days. What about now? B: Inshalla tomorrow!
So there you have it — the affirmative, the sarcastic, the hopeful, and the negative. Like many words in Arabic, inshalla, is vivid and dynamic. An understanding of cultural nuances and context will make a world of difference when you’re trying to navigate what the speaker really means.
With NaTakallam, native-speaking language partners from displaced backgrounds will guide you through the ins and outs of the Arabic language and culture and their experiences in the Arab world. Don’t stop here, keep learning with us in one of our 6 Arabic dialects here! We offer Levantine Syrian, Levantine Lebanese, Levantine Palestinian, Yemeni, Egyptian, Iraqi, and also Modern Standard Arabic!