Biden Uses ‘InshAllah’ in Presidential Debate, What Does It Mean?

The recent use of the phrase “inshAllah” in the United States presidential debate has many of us curious. Do we actually know what the phrase means? 

Put simply, “inshAllah” is a phrase combining three words in Arabic, in sha’ Allah, translating to “if God wills.” Though it is commonly transliterated as “inshAllah“, its correct form in fact is “insha’ Allah“, or “in sha’ Allah“.

While this phrase is most often used by Muslims, its meaning is not strictly Islamic. Arab Christians use the Arabic phrase as well. I’ve even heard it from practicing Christians in the U.S. in various forms such as “by God’s will” or “God willing.” 

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Why Does Allah Say Insha’Allah?

More colloquially, the phrase has been skewed to use in more social and less religious context. Saying “insha’ Allah” may be a way to politely respond to an invitation.

In other circumstances, it can be used as a way to passively mean “no.” This can be a frustrating but hilarious exchange between parents and children.  

The Prophet’s Lesson on “Insha’ Allah

Our introduction as Muslims to the importance of insha’ Allah comes from the revelation of Surat Al-Kahf.

To keep the story short, a few Meccans journeyed to ask Jewish scholars regarding the validity of the Prophet Muhammad’s claims to prophethood. The scholars informed the Meccans that if he was a true prophet, he would be able to tell them stories regarding three topics.

When the Meccans confronted the Prophet regarding the details of the three topics, he told them he’d have the information the following day. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was expecting Allah would send revelation but several days passed without it coming. Eventually revelation came, but not without a necessary lesson.

{And never say of anything, “I will definitely do this tomorrow,” without adding, “if Allah so wills!” But if you forget, then remember your Lord, and say, “I trust my Lord will guide me to what is more right than this.”} (Al-Kahf 23-24)

The verse is an instruction to verbalize that what good we intend to do can only come to fruition with God’s will. Not even the Prophet (pbuh) is excused from that truth. 

Insha’ Allah Doesn’t Mean No!

We mentioned earlier the way insha’ Allah has been used in social contexts to almost mean “no” or “never.” The phrase dresses up our passivity in matters by making it seem our negligence is simply a matter of God’s will. It’s ironic because that is a contradiction to the phrase! Insha’ Allah is to be added to intended action, not intended inaction. This reminds me of the concept of tawakul.

Anas ibn Malik reported: A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I leave her untied and trust in Allah?”

The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.” (Tirmidhi)

This hadith is famously known for its simple yet effective explanation of tawakul or trust in God. Part of God’s gift to us is our ability to take direct action.

So displaying trust means “I do my part and know the rest is not in my hands.” Insha’ Allah ties directly to the hadith. I intend to do my part but I know, ultimately some things are not in my control. That is part of God’s plan. 

Putting InshaAllah to the Test

Let’s look at an example of insha’ Allah rooted in inaction versus rooted in tawakul. A 14 year old daughter asks her mom if she can go to the mall tomorrow to get a new sweater for fall. Mom says “insha’ Allah.”

When tomorrow comes, mom intentionally delays action until eventually, it’s too late to go. She does this because she honestly does not want to go and would prefer to wait for the weekend for a shopping trip.

Now, let’s look at the same 14 year old with the same request. This time, when the mother says “inshaAllah,” she means it. Once afternoon hits, she lets her daughter know to get ready. She grabs her wallet and car keys and they get into the car. Ten minutes into the drive, the car gets a flat tire. The mom has to carefully turn around and drive home.

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In both cases, the outcome is the same: the trip to the mall never happens. The first situation was a lapse in mom’s will and her broken promise. The second was an unforeseen circumstance of God’s will. Who knows, perhaps God was protecting the mom and daughter from a calamity through this inconvenience.

All we know is mom did her due diligence and trusted God.

Conclusion

Let’s return to using “insha’ Allah” in the way it was intended. The Seerah is filled with so many reminders of how God’s will operates in our lives.

It was God’s will that the Prophet (pbuh) would be able to leave Makkah safely, despite the Quraish’s efforts to find and kill him.

It was God’s will to send down angels to assist during the Battle of Badr.

Insha’ Allah is the way to recognize the grace God sends us. Without it, who knows what the outcomes of many blessed occasions would have been. 

About Hana Alasry
Hana Alasry is a Yemeni American Muslim community organizer and activist working most heavily with MAS Youth. Her work focuses heavily on Muslim youth development, Islamic tarbiya and the Yemen crisis. She is currently in PA school studying medicine at the University of Detroit Mercy.