Arabic Terms

Arabic TermsAlthough Arabic is not the mother language of most of the world’s Muslims, it is the language of the Quran and thus Islam. Therefore it is desirable for all Muslims to have a working knowledge of common Islamic terms.  When learning to pray and when increasing your interaction with other Muslims you will come across many of these terms.   Some of them might seem strange and incomprehensible but you will soon realise that they are used with ease and often.  This is because the majority of common Islamic terms are in and of themselves du’as.  The Arabic language serves to unite the Muslim Ummah; if two people speak entirely different languages they are at least united by their use of Arabic to remember and worship Allah.

1.     Assalam Alaikum.  This is the Islamic greeting.  The first word, Assalam, is derived from the same linguistic root as the words Muslim and Islam, sa - la - ma, which means submission to the will of Allah and also encompasses the concepts of peace, security and safety.   When a Muslim says Assalam Alaikum he is asking Allah to grant the receiver of the greeting protection and security.  The response is Wa Alaikum Assalam, meaning,  ‘May Allah (also) grant you protection and security’. These brief Arabic words let Muslims know that they are among friends, not strangers.
When you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with what is better than it or (at least) return it equally.  Certainly, God is Ever a Careful Account Taker of all things.” (Quran 4:86)

Better Islamic greetings include, Assalam Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah, meaning, ‘May Allah grant you protection, security and mercy’, and Assalam Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah Wa Barakatuh, which means, ‘May God grant you protection, security, mercy and may He bless you’.   Returning a greeting with something better would be, for example, after hearing the words Assalam Alaikum you would respond, Wa Alaikum Assalam Wa Rahmatullah.
Prophet Muhammad said, “You will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another.   Shall I tell you about something which, if you do it, will make you love one another?  Greet each other with Salam”.[Saheeh Muslim]

2.     Bismillah.  It is the beginning word of all but one surah in the Quran and it means ‘I begin with the name of Allah’.  It is a word you will often hear before a Muslim begins any task or action.  When a  Muslim says Bismillah he invokes Allah’s blessings on whatever he is about to do, from big life changing moments to the mundane everyday tasks such as washing the hands or eating.  By uttering the word Bismillah we bring Allah to the forefront of our thoughts and in doing so possibly prevent any sin that might otherwise come from our actions.
A Muslim is encouraged to say Bismillah before starting/doing anything, as it would bless that initiative. The Prophet, may Allah praise him, said: “Any important affair that does not begin with the name of Allah is lacking (in terms of blessings).”

3.     InshaAllah.  It means Allah willing, or if Allah (God) wills it to be so.  It is a reminder and acknowledgment that nothing happens except by the will of Allah.
And never say of anything, “I shall do such and such thing tomorrow.” Except (with the saying), “If Allah wills”.  And remember your Lord when you forget and say, “It may be that my Lord guides me unto a nearer way of truth than this.”(Quran 18:23 & 24)        
The word InshaAllah is used to emphasize that a human being has no knowledge of the future or the power to affect the future.  Thus the speaker acknowledges that if something happens it is by the will of Allah alone.   If a person intends to do something at a later time he will say InshaAllah, this is for a short period of time or a longer period.  I will post that letter now, InshaAllah, or I will post that letter tomorrow, InshaAllah, or even, I will post that letter next year, InshaAllah.
The key to the correct use of this word is the intention.  If a person intends to do something InshaAllah is the correct word.  If a person has no intention of ever doing the action then using the word InshaAllah is deceptive and wrong.  For example, if a person is invited to lunch but knows he has no intention of attending yet answers InshaAllah in order to appease the one issuing the invitation he has made a mistake.  However if the person answers, yes InshaAllah, with the intention of attending unless he is somehow prevented, perhaps by car trouble or inclement weather, then the use is correct.
In this modern age many people have fallen into error by using the word InshaAllah incorrectly.  For example, saying InshaAllah to a child when the parent has no intention of fulfilling the request is teaching the child that deception is acceptable.

4.     Alhamdulillah.  It means, all praise and thanks is for Allah.   When one proclaims this he is thanking Allah for His favours and bounties.  However it is a word that encompasses much more than just thanks.  It acknowledges that whatever the situation for which we are thankful is, it has come about only due to the bounty and blessings from Allah.  It is a statement of appreciation meaning to praise and to worship and thus can be expressed as both a response and as a spontaneous act of remembrance.
Alhamdulillah is a word that you will hear often, under many different circumstances and in many situations.   If you ask a Muslim how they are they will often respond with the word Alhamdulillah, meaning that no matter how they feel at that particular time they thank Allah and praise him.  Perhaps you might thank a Muslim for their generosity and they will respond again with the word Alhamdulillah, meaning in this case that the thanks and praise belong only to Allah who has given them the means to be generous.
This is a comprehensive word that even the prophets used to show gratitude to Allah.  Prophet Noah was commanded to express his gratitude, Allah said: “...  say, ‘All praises and thanks are due to Allah Who saved us from an oppressive people.’” (Quran 23:28)
Prophet Ibrahim also used the word saying: “All praises and thanks are due to Allah Who gave me Ismail and Ishaq in my old age...” (Quran 14:39)

5.    SubhanAllah.  It is usually translated as ‘Glory be to Allah, but its more accurate translation would be: ‘Far removed is Allah from every imperfection’.  It is a phrase used to glorify Allah.
The word SubhanAllah contains two words, Subhan and Allah, and it means to glorify, praise, magnify, and extol Allah, by tongue or by heart.  It includes declaring that Allah has no flaw and is  above any imperfection,  that He is not in any way similar to His creation and that He is free from all kinds of shirk.  SubhanAllah can also be used as an exclamation.  For example, one might see a beautiful sunset and exclaim SubhanAllah.
Sheikh al-Islam ibn Taymiyah said that the command to glorify Him by saying SubhanAllah implies declaring Him to be above every fault and shortcoming, and affirming His attributes of perfection.  You may also hear the phrase Subhanahu wa ta’ala.  This means ‘glorified is He and exalted’.  This expression is often seen abbreviated in the written form as SWT.

6.    MashaAllah.  It means, as Allah wills.  Three words (ma-sha-Allah), often said as if they are one word.  This phrase is used when admiring or praising something or someone, it recognises that everything comes from Allah and should be considered a blessing.  For example if a person says, “This is my newborn baby girl”, you would reply “MashaAllah”, or a father says, “My son is a very good swimmer” you would reply “MashaAllah”, meaning this is what Allah has willed, it is a blessing from Him.

7.    Jazak Allah khair.  It means, may Allah reward you with good.  It is an expression of thanks or gratitude.  It is thought of as a better way of expressing thanks then the Arabic word for thank you – shukran.  The best thanks is to request Allah to reward the person to whom you are grateful.
Prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever has a favour done for him and says to the one who did it, ‘Jazak Allah khair,’ has done enough to thank him.”   Jazak comes from the Arabic root jazaa and means to payback or to give someone absolutely, so that there is no dissatisfaction.   Thus we are expressing that there is no better reward or thanks then the reward that comes from Allah.  You will often hear the reply “wa eyakum” - meaning ‘may He also reward you’.  Or you may hear someone reply Barak Allah feekum.

8.    Barak Allah feek.  It means, may Allah bless you.  And is an alternative word for thanks, similar to Jazak Allah khair.  It can also be used as a reply to Jazak Allah khair.  One would say Barak Allah feeki to a female or Barak Allah feekum to a group of people.  Baraka is the Arabic term that means blessing.  Baraka is a state which indicates Allah’s approval and blessings upon those who strive to establish his commands.  If Allah bestows His baraka on a person it results in a state of betterment and divine protection.

9.    Sal-lal-lahu alaihi wa salam.  You may here this saying every time the name of Prophet Muhammad is mentioned.  It is commonly translated as, ‘may Allah bestow peace and blessing upon him’ and is often abbreviated in written form to SAW or in English PBUH.  In reality, a more accurate translation would be ‘may Allah extol/exalt/praise the mention of Prophet Muhammad and protect him from all evil.’
      “Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O you who believe! Send your blessings on him, and salute him with all respect.”  (Quran 33:56)
Prophet Muhammad said, “Allah has angels who go around on earth, conveying to me the salam of my Ummah.”

10.  Azza wa Jal is a way of praising Allah and is often mentioned after saying the name Allah.  The word azza is derived from izah, which means might and power and the word jal is derived from al-jalaal, which means greatness and reverence.  Therefore, the term Azza wa Jal is an attribute of Allah that means He is the Owner of Greatness and Reverence the Most Strong, the One who is never defeated.

11.  Astaghfirullah means, I seek the forgiveness of Allah.  The act of seeking Allah’s forgiveness is called making Istighfar.  You will often hear a person repeating the word quietly, astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah… so you would say they are making istighfar.  After finishing the prayer Prophet Muhammad would say, “Astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah”, (I seek the forgiveness of Allah, I seek the forgiveness of Allah, I seek the forgiveness of Allah).   Seeking forgiveness is a very beneficial thing to do.
“Declare (O Muhammad) unto My slaves, that truly, I am the Oft-Forgiving, the Most-Merciful.” (Quran 15:49)
“So take a straight course to Him and seek His forgiveness.” (Quran 41:6)

12.  Allahu Akbar is an Islamic phrase that means, God is greater.  Or there is none greater than Allah .This is an expression used at various times throughout any average day and for special occasions.  It is used during the call for prayer, during prayer, when a person is happy, when one wishes to express their approval for what they hear or see, when an animal is slaughtered, to praise a speaker, or to express excitement.  Sometimes you might hear one person shout takbir and a group or congregation will shout back Allahu Akbar.  Takbir is the Arabic expression that means, say Allahu Akbar.