Word Watch: Inshallah

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illustration by Mamoun Sakkal

Phrase: Inshallah, from the Arabic, meaning “If God wishes” or “God willing.” The expression implies resignation and acceptance of what is to come. Though such a sentiment is historically anathema to America’s can-do ethos, the American Scholar (Autumn 2007) reports that inshallah has found a welcome home in the vocabularies of soldiers and diplomats stationed in Iraq. Hence, this 2005 prognosis from then-U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad: “Inshallah, Iraq will succeed.” With thousands of troops returning home “with a new word on their lips,” the phrase’s migration could signal a shift in the American mind-set. “Is it possible,” American Scholar asks, “that a little less faith in our convictions, and a little more skepticism toward our capacities, would itself be a form of self-improvement?”

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