The Meaning of the Expression InshāʾAllāh

By Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi and translated by Dr Abu Zayd

To access the original arabic, follow this link

They asked: What is the meaning of the expression inshāʾAllāh?

I replied: Can the meaning of this expression, which happens to be a basic principle in the life of Muslim, be hidden from anyone?

They replied: Its usage has become so commonplace and customary that its meaning and significance has become obscured for us. We repeat it endlessly without considering its true meaning. We are rarely convinced that it can bring us benefit or that its absence can cause us harm.

I replied: It is an expression of complete trust in our Lord. When we embark upon anything, it is binding upon us to embrace the specific causes and means which the All-Mighty All-Knowing Lord has mandated, in obedience to His commands and avoiding His prohibitions. When this lofty state is realized (doing something out of obedience to God by adopting its means), it is then obligatory upon us that we not place our trust on what we have done. Instead, we leave the fulfillment of the aim and the realization of the result to God alone by saying inshāʾAllāh, meaning if God decreed it.

They asked: What is the benefit of adopting the causes and means?

I replied: God placed them as signs for the intents and requests of people. These causes and means do not actually fulfill any of these wishes nor bring them any closer. Rather, results are entirely in the hands of God alone. They are realized through His knowledge and power when He wills, how He wills and for whom He wills. God has full power to implement His affairs which none can avert. Because of this, it is incumbent upon servants of God who believe in Him that they trust in Him entirely. God says: “And when you are resolved on a course of action place your trust in God” (Qurʾān 3:159). Trusting God (tawakkul) is the pinnacle of faith, its strongest bond, and its protection in all worldly and religious affairs.

They asked: We have understood that it is mandatory that we rely on our Lord and not our efforts. Since tawakkul is an act of the intellect, then what is the role of the tongue in uttering this expression?

I replied: You are certainly correct that trusting God is an action of the intellect, but you should know that true worship is not realized until the tongue affirms what settles in the heart. Don’t you see that when a person believes in his Lord—while faith is a deed of the intellect—that they are called upon to testify to that with their tongue? The testimony of faith is an act of affirmation and submission. Because of this, uttering the testimony of faith is the beginning of Islam. Tawakkul, on the other hand, is the end point of faith. And so here, as well, there has to be a verbal expression in order to complete the state of servitude, humility, submission and resignation; along with acknowledging the power, knowledge and will of God.

They said: Can you provide us with examples?

I replied: When you intend the pilgrimage (Ḥajj or ʿUmrah), and have made all your preparations by securing all its means and causes, such as finances, transportation, travel, visas and other arrangements, you do not say that you are making the pilgrimage but you restrict your words with the will of God.

They asked: When we trust in God and express that through the words inshāʾAllāh, is it mandatory that we repeat the expression every time we inform someone of our intention for the Ḥajj?

I replied: No.

They asked: There are people who say inshāʾAllāh for every mention of a future act.

I replied: They are mistaken in its usage and do not understand its meaning properly. Perhaps they believe it is an expression linked to every future act. Know that it is only binding to mention this noble expression once, which is at the point that you have made the necessary preparations for your aim, at which point you express clearly your trust in the Lord of the Worlds.

They asked: What is the meaning of the expression māshāʾAllāh?

I replied: It is an expression of trust in God in those matters which have passed or have been established.

They asked: What is the effect of that in those things that are already settled and done?

I replied: Its benefit lies in the fact that it helps one avoid lying, disbelief, transgression and arrogance, because the servant should never forget that everything that transpired did so with the will of God, and should never ascribe any of those accomplishments to oneself in slander and falsehood, leading to confusion., conceit, rejection and disobedience.

They asked: So when should we say māshāʾAllāh?

I replied: At any mention of your accomplishing something, or your adoption of the causes and means of those accomplishments, it is binding upon you to say māshāʾAllāh so that you don’t ascribe any of the goodness or blessings exclusively to yourselves.

They asked: We see many people say māshāʾAllāh whenever they see any beauty or perfection.

I replied: They are mistaken, for they think that it is an expression that is used for anything that impresses them, whereas it is actually an expression of trust in God (tawakkul). And beauty that comes from God does not need any element of tawakkul. Tawakkul is linked to the endeavors of people, and perfection in that comes mostly from God directly and partly from human effort. You have not been commanded to express trust in God for the efforts of others. So you do not use this expression when you mention your beauty or that of others. You do not use it when mentioning the perfection of others which they have striven for. You only use the expression māshāʾAllāh for that which you yourself have achieved by adopting its causes and means.

They said: We see some people use the expression biʾidhnillāh (“with God’s permission”) in place of inshāʾAllāh.

I replied: This is a clear mistaken which affects both laymen and scholars, young and old. The permission of God is His command. There is no sense for restricting something with God’s command or permission, since we have no way of knowing God’s command and permission (in that matter). The oldest son of Yaʿqūb said: “So I will not depart from this land until my father permits me.” (Qurʾān 12:80) He predicated his departure on the permission of his father, which could have come to him through one of his brothers. As for God’s permission or command, then it is impossible for anyone to know that except for a prophet or angel. What God has commanded us in His book is to restrict the past as well as the future with the will of God, and both of these matters are found in Sūrah al-Kahf:

“When you entered your vineyard, why did you not say: ‘Whatever God wills’?”

(Qurʾān 18:39)

“And never say about anything: “I shall certainly do this tomorrow” without adding ‘If God so wills.”

(Qurʾān 18:23-4)

This is the expression used by God, His prophets, the Companions, and the pious scholars that followed them. God says:

“God indeed showed His Messenger the true vision, one fully in accord with reality. If God so wills you shall certainly enter the Inviolable Mosque.”

(Qurʾān 48:27)

Yūsuf said: “Enter the city now, and if God so wills, you shall be secure.”

(Qurʾān 12:99)

There is no report of any of the early Muslims using the expression biʾidhnillāh.

They asked: There are some who claim that anyone who transliterates the expression inshāʾAllāh as one combined word which joins the conditional preposition (in) to the verb (shāʾ) to create a new single verb (inshāʾ), meaning ‘creation,’ in fact commits disbelief since the meaning in that case, God forbid, would be that one has created God.

I replied: This is a claim from someone who is unaware of Arabic, or the workings of linguistics or scripts. Verbal nouns in possessive constructs can refer to their subjects or objects. So inshāʾAllāh in that combined form could mean ‘creation of God,’ which would be understood to mean that which God created. This usage has come in the Qurʾān: “This is the creation of God.” (Qurʾān 31:11) This refers to God’s creation, where God is the creator, with no doubt that about the subject of the verb. Furthermore, anyone who writes the expression in a joined fashion clearly intends the meaning to be the will and not the creation of God.

Modifications of script such that they become combined, though they may not be widespread, are nevertheless allowed. Writing is a human art, and human words and actions cannot ever be separated from their intent, neither in Islam nor in any other tradition—except perhaps for the Jewish tradition. Those who write inshāʾAllāh in a joined form intend the will of God, not the creation of God. In the Jewish tradition you have the principle of ruling on human statements and actions independent from their aims and intents.

So be wary of using the statement biʾidhnillāh in place of inshāʾAllāh. Avoid all innovations and shun non-beneficial speech. Obey your Lord expecting His rewards. Reflect over the meanings of words before uttering them. May God grant us His success to build deep faith within ourselves and strengthen its roots within our hearts. Ameen.

Disclaimer: Translations have not been checked by the author and represent the work of the translator