On the many connotations of Insha’Allah

As mentioned in my previous posts, a common everyday phrase here is Insha’Allah, literally meaning “Allah willing”. Sudanese society seems to revolve around, and in my opinion, rely far too heavily on this concept. If everything is put in God’s hands, then people accept no responsibility for their failures or successes. This can be detrimental to how a society is run, as people feel they do not have the power to change anything themselves. A good example of this was a conversation between two friends that was later translated for me: one student was pondering whether, if he just stayed at home in bed and did nothing, a job would come to him. To me, this is ludicrous and simply a case of someone reading too literally into the words of the Qur’an.

From the various contexts that I have encountered this phrase in so far, I have deduced that it can mean: definitely, maybe, very possibly, maybe not or even probably not. Thus, my heart sinks each time I hear it. Particularly when making any type of appointment, professional or casual, you cannot know when people will turn up. Time-keeping is not a forté of the Sudanese. They are reluctant to even state a time or to inform you how long you will be waiting for their arrival. This implies that things are so often cancelled or postponed that making any arrangements is pointless in the first place.

Insha’Allah is not dissimilar from the Spanish concept of mañana, meaning “tomorrow” or “later”, an equally vague and exasperating phrase. Coming directly from Germany, one of the world’s most efficient and time-aware countries, the cultural contrast is extreme. I find the way things are run alternately frustrating and amusing, but am generally trying to go with the flow and get into the rhythm of life here. I have been told by the Sudanese themselves to expect anything, and that I shall.

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