Mash’Allah: Whatever the Will of God

When my wife and I arrived in Kuwait a few years ago, we thought we’d brought with us an informed perspective on the Middle East.

But when we faced Kuwaiti heat for the first time, we realized there might be a gap between our academic preparations and the actual life we were undertaking. At 10 p.m. the temperature was more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (42 C). It felt like we were standing behind the exhaust pipe of an idling car. The next day brought a temperature of 122 degrees (50 C), and we again had to adjust our definition of the word hot.

The [language of God and devotion to Islam] are as pervasive as the heat that dictates life in Arabia.

Similarly, we realized quickly our lack of appropriate language in the West to describe the influence of Islam on Middle Eastern life. In parallel with our culture, Reformed Christians have adopted the language of separation between everyday life and religion. In the Arab world, however, life and religion remain so infused that many Muslims do not even have words to describe a separation between them.

In classical Arabic—the language of the Qur’an—there is little capacity for the future conditional tense. You do not hear, even translated to English, “That might happen tomorrow” or “Maybe I’ll come by next week.” Rather, you get used to hearing, “It will happen tomorrow, Insha’Allah” or “I will come next week, Insha’Allah.”

Insha’Allah, “by the will of God,” is one of the few Arabic religious phrases that have crossed into Western awareness— often as a source of frustration for Western businesspeople who think it means they cannot secure a firm commitment from their Arab counterparts.

But when Muslims speak that way they are not being evasive. Nor would it be accurate to describe Insha’Allah as merely an expression. Rather, it is a seamless integration of faith and language that we cannot fully appreciate until we see how everything in Arab life—from business transactions to driving to parenting—happens, literally, according to the will of God.

Thus the language of God and devotion to Islam are as pervasive as the heat that dictates life in the Arab world, the birthplace of Islam.

The Middle East’s deserts contain some of the most unforgiving terrain on Earth, and those who dwell here must live according to strict practices in order to survive.

Mohammed, Islam’s most venerated prophet, was first a shepherd. He was intimately familiar with the hardships of desert life and, as a result, Islam’s basic tenets reflect an unbending adherence to ritual and tradition. Centuries later, Muslims still unquestioningly adhere to those tenets because Allah, through his desert-wise prophet, left little room for questions.

When Christians in the West try to decipher the Muslim mindset, we do so at great disadvantage: we simply have little conception of the strength of a message born in such an unforgiving environment. We often label Muslim devotion as extremist, linking the terrible things we see on the news and the extreme language we hear with the average Muslim.

The simple reality of millions of Muslims faithfully and peacefully observing the rituals of their faith should give us something to ponder. I cannot claim to live a seamlessly Reformed Christian life; when I say “God willing,” it is often as an add-on—one with more doubt than certainty. And I do not know many Christians—even among our pastors and leaders—who get down on their knees to pray, much less five times a day.

After four years living in the Middle East, we still agree that the call to prayer, the adhan, is perhaps the most potent reminder of life in our adopted home. Five times a day, from before sunrise to after sunset, the hauntingly beautiful voices of the muezzins blanket Kuwait, calling the faithful to prayer with Allahu Akbar, “God is great.” With mosques on almost every block, the reminder to prostrate oneself before the Creator finds its way into every corner and crevice, just as the desert dust sifts into our clothing.

We do our own faith irreparable harm when we dismiss such devotion as superstition or fanaticism. Rather, we have much to learn from Islam, a faith that demands so much of its believers.

For Discussion

  1. Give examples of how, in the West, even "Reformed Christians have adopted the language of separation between everyday life and religion." Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
  2. Read James 4:13-15. Do you think that parallels what Muslims believe when they say Insha'Allah ("if God wills”)?
  3. How can we live a more seamless Christian life within the (largely) secular culture in which we live? Are Muslims good role models for us? Do you agree with Van Staalduinen that we have much to learn from Muslims on this score?
  4. Would a stricter observance of spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible reading, giving to the poor, etc.) make us better Christians? What would be the gains? What might be the dangers?
  5. So is everything that happens God's will? Even the terrible tragedies? Even the troubles we inflict on others or on ourselves?

About the Author

Brent van Staalduinen teaches high school English, journalism, and film at an international school in Kuwait City. He is a member of Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Ancaster, Ontario.

See comments (6)


It's not the devotion that's fanaticism.

It's when they think that devotion requires killing us - *that's* when it's fanaticism.

"We do our faith irreparable harm when we dismiss such devotion as superstition of fanaticism. Rather, we have much to learn from Islam, a faith that demands so much of its believers."

Sometimes Christians are called "legalist" by other Christians, if they live out their faith.

Perhaps one of the reasons the Islamic religion demands so much of their believers, is that their faith is based on works of righteousness. They have to earn their way to heaven. Sadly, it is done in vain, as it does not lead to eternal life. This is a call for the Christian to be urgent, diligent, passionate, and faithful, in proclaiming the Gospel.

For the Christian it is: "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast." Eph. 2:8,9

While I appreciate your perspective on Insha’Allah, it seems a bit idealistic. My brother worked in the Emirates for 8 years and learned to dread the phrase. While there were many whose faith as an important part of their lives, there were also many whose faith was culturally driven, a problem we are all to familiar with here in North America. Over time he came to realize that Insha'Allah could be used to place the blame on God when promises went unfulfilled.

From what I understand, Kuwait has plenty of secularly focused individuals - a fair amount of wealth for many in the country and a focus on cars and clothes. While I appreciate the point of your article, but don't think insha'Allah needs to be idealised in order to make it.

Devotion, praying five times a day, or on your knees, is a good thing. Provided it is not to a false god. We often pray five times a day. Often more. It is fanatical in a way, but it is not fanaticism. It is simply living in faith before God. It is not about fulfilling a five times a day legal rule, but finding appropriate context and opportunity.

As Christians, we know God is part of all of life, not just some parts of it.

Using a harsh environment as an excuse for the inaccuracies or excesses of a religion, seems rather to miss the point. The desert is harsh, but so is the frozen north and the hazards of the jungle. We do not practice our faith as if it will somehow reduce the hazards of our physical existence. Islam in particular does not treat life as if it is somehow more important than worship.

God willing is also a statement of faith for Christians, one we often neglect to make. The control we have over our own lives is not greater than the control that God has over us.

I've done some studying of the Islamic religion and their diety. This author seems to be confused about who Allah is and who Yahweh is...and they are not interchangeable. I was therefore confused by his use of God and Allah as one in the same. I was always taught as a Christian that the capital G was reserved for the one true God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, and all others were a lower case god. The God of our Scriptures has given us salvation from sin...Islam is works-righteousness, with salvation as a wish and a prayer.

I agree agree with Mike James, John Zylstra, John Runner & Truth Matters below so I'll try not to restate what they have said, except that I want to also say that I was appalled at the author's capitalization of the word god when referring to the Muslim god. I too felt the author was confused and confusing about who Allah is and who the one true God is.
I posted this transcript & link in response to Rev Tom Ooterhuis' submission on the meaning of jihad & I thought it would be appropriate hear as well. Below the transcript is a link you can copy & paste in your web browser.

Daniel Shayesteh was many things: radical Muslim, active militant, Iranian fundamentalist, death row inmate . . . but today, Daniel is a born-again Christian! He travels throughout the world revealing the hate-based teachings of the Quran—Islam’s holy book—and shines light on the truth of the Bible. Watch this informative, illustrated testimony as he shares his miraculous escape from darkness.