Bismillah! - if you’ve trekked in Morocco you’ll have heard it – it’s used like bon appetit in French or ¡que aproveche! in Spanish. In reply people often say hamdullah or alhamdulillah. These are all terms expressing thanks and gratitude for what we’re about to receive. Bismillah, meaning “In the name of Allah” or “In the name of God” is the shortened form of the Basmalah. This is a full Arabic phrase: Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim meaning “In the name of God the Most Gracious the Most Merciful“. Alhamdulillah, translated as “All Praise and Thanks to God” is used so frequently in Arabic-speaking countries that it might better be understood as meaning “thankfully,” “thank goodness,” or “thank God” as used in English. Which is to say that not all Arabic speakers who use the phrase are consciously praising God when they say it. Hamdullah teams up so naturally with bismillah that it swings in like bitte after danke, and prego after grazie.
Cool or what: The Iranian authorities permitted an album of songs by the English rock band Queen to be released in Iran in August 2004, partly because the song Bohemian Rhapsody contained several exclamations of the word Bismillah. Freddie Mercury (known by the snappy moniker Farrokh Bulsara to his family) was born in Zanzibar to Indian Parsi parents and was proud of his Persian ancestry. Other rockers and rappers have also used the Basmala – from the Wu Tang Clan to Mos Def at the beginning of each of his albums, Lupe Fiasco in Food and Liquor and Rakim on his track from the 8 Mile soundtrack. On a more controversal and irreverent note Busta Rhyme sampled the Basmala in the chorus of his single release Arab Money.
Here’s another one for you – insha’Allah: “God willing”. Any European asking for specific weather prediction, precise times of departure, or just what might exactly be happening when we arrive at… will often be delivered an insha’Allah as part of the possibly hazy reply. We have a version in Spain – ¡ojala! – which paired with mañana gives you some idea of the relaxed cultural attitude you can expect both in the Iberian Peninsular and in the Maghreb.
¡Hasta luego! Ma’a salama!