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Friday, March 11, 2005

Masha'Allah

I used to wonder about people who were always muttering prayers under their breath, whether they were doing it consciously, whether they were doing it just to show how much Arabic they could memorize. That was back when my understanding of applied religion was much shallower. I can't say it’s too terribly deep now, but I do at least know (SubhanAllah) that a person with true sincerity doesn't give a hot-diggety damn whether other people see them muttering prayers to God or not. To them, it wouldn't matter if the whole world thought they were crazy for it, because the world and everyone in it, with all their powers combined, still can't pass a judgment as important or well-founded as God's.

On a more basic level, this is something I had to overcome when Masha'Allah and Insha'Allah and Alhamdulillah first started creeping into my vocabulary. I was embarrassed at first, not in front of my non-Muslim friends- because they already knew I was crazy and didn't care what I was muttering about- but in front of my Muslim friends. It's sad, the judgment of our peers sometimes weighs more heavily than it should. I didn't want them to think that I was trying to be religious just to show off, or trying to be so lame that I couldn't think of anything but MashaAllah in a conversation.

I passed Mr. Brown's with a B!

Hey man, that's F****-awesome!

MashaAllah…

*roll eyes* (that religious weirdo is at is again)

There was a lot I had to overcome in order to finally put the Subhan'Allah's into my vocabulary. There was the self-consciousness (as seen above) as well as the fear of hypocrisy. I had always been wary of saying Masha'Allah, because in this culture people use Masha'Allah in a lot of ways that are not necessarily correct. Sometimes this religious phrase is used superstitiously, and could easily be substituted with 'knock on wood.'

She's so pretty!

Quick, say Masha'Allah! / Quick, knock on wood!

MashaAllah is also used as a bashful way of saying thank you instead of sincerely praising God for the compliment.

Wow, your hair is so pretty!

*girl blushes* Aw, MashaAllah…

And worst of all, it's also used as a pick-up line. I've walked past groups of young men and heard MashaAllah's and SubhanAllah's that I know were not praising God. (Don't worry, they weren't for me, I just heard em, heh.) And then there's the Masha'Allah leer: greasy man looks at you and says MashaAlllaaaaaah...

And then there was the Bosnian wedding that went like this, as seen by a friend of mine:

The wedding guests are sitting around the tables. At the far end of the hall a door opens and the bride enters in all her splendor. The DJ pushes play on a track that begins with a soft, melodic, MashaaaaaAllaaaaaah, MaashaaaaaAllaaaaah…

The bride takes a few steps, and then a heavy bass kicks in.

dooofdooofdooofdooof, MashaAllah, MashaAllah, doofdoof, MashaAllah!

It's a techno song. The guests are thrilled. They hop up onto the tables, both men and women, and begin dancing. My shocked and horrified friend leaves the wedding crying.

Masha'Allah is used sarcastically even, and I remember standing in a packed elevator at the ISNA convention some years ago as one brother was entering all the floor numbers for the various people, and somehow, the whole panel reset. All the entries were lost. His friend turned angrily to him and said, "What did you do? Masha'Allah!"

Ma means what. Sha' is want or will. Allah is God. Masha'Allah means 'What God willed.' It is a reminder to us, who, when we are pleased with a situation, should remember that it is Allah's will, and we should thank Him for it. Instead of turning it into a meaningless catch-phrase to ward off superstition or make inappropriate passes at girls in masjids, we need to take it back to what it really is: MashaAllah is zhikr. It is the audible escape of Taqwa through the lips. MashaAllah is a beautiful phrase. Let it be so.

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