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Common Phrases, Common Questions

September 8, 2008, 7:45 pm

Filed under: Series for New Muslims | Tags: islamic expressions, new muslims

Note:  Part Two of Seven - “Am I Muslim?” Series for New Muslims


Common Phrases


Here is a list of common phrases that are often used in Islam.  You will hear them from other Muslims, so it’s helpful to know what they mean, but it is also good to get in the habit of using these phrases in your own life.  Many of these phrases emulate certain aspects of Islam that are important to the religion - so the more you use them, the more you can remember Allah in your daily routine.




1.  Asalaamu alaykum - this means “may peace and blessings be upon you.”  The response when someone says this to you is to say:  Wa alaykum salaam, which means “and upon you be peace, as well.”  It is customary to use these phrases when answering the phone, when greeting others, and also when saying good-bye.


2.  Alhumdulilla (praise be to Allah) - This phrase is used many times throughout the day.  It is used in response to the question:  “how are you” to express that you are thankful for the day, thankful and praising Allah for your mood, whatever it may be.


This phrase serves as a reminder to ourselves that no matter what struggles we are going through, we should always remember to praise Allah and show our gratitude.  So if someone were to be having a bad day, they may describe what is bothering them, but then at the end they would add “alhumdulilla” to show that still they are thankful for everything, despite their circumstances.  (The first four paragraphs of that link can more effectively explain the concept of this phrase.)


It is used also at mealtimes - when you have eaten enough that you are full, you say “alhumdulilla” to thank Allah for the meal.   It is also used after sneezing.


3.  Bismillah (in the name of Allah) - before beginning anything.  It is said before you take the first bite of a meal and when walking over the threshold of a home.  Before you start driving, before you begin cooking, and also before doing anything that might be dangerous, you use this phrase.


4.  Insha’allah (If Allah Wills) - Whenever you make a statement of intention - something you intend to do in the future -  you say ”insha’allah” at the end of it.  Nothing can occur without Allah willing it to happen.  So we can’t say anything we intend to do, whether it be to make a return phone call or to take a trip next summer, without the rememberance that it is Allah who is in control of all of things, who knows whether or not we will or will not do something, whether or not an event will occur.


5. Subhan’allah (Glory be to Allah) - for praising something.  I usually use this phrase in moments when there are no words to describe the beauty of something, such as when I stare up at the night sky and see the thousands of stars, or whenever you find something beautiful in nature.


6.  Masha’allah (what Allah has willed) - this phrase is used when expressing appreciation for something good.  For example, if I am commenting on the fact that my little fishy (who I thought was destined for death) has happened to survive - I would state “masha’allah” afterwards to show that I recognize it was Allah who made this happen.


These are a few of the common phrases Muslims use in their daily activities.  There are many more, and you can find more explanations for other common sayings or expressions here.



Common Questions (and How to Respond)


Often when someone close to you (non-muslim) learns that you have converted to Islam, there are many questions that come to their minds.  If they feel comfortable enough to voice them, then you have a great opportunity to spread more truth about Islam, perhaps clearing up some misconceptions that they may believe in.


The following are five questions that you may be asked.  I have included thoughtful responses to these questions, answering them the best that I know how.  If there are others out there who may have a better response or answer, please give your advice in the comments section.


Question One:  “Do you still believe in God?”  We all know the obvious answer to this question, but we must use it also as on opportunity to explain a little bit about the connection Islam has with other religions.  You can explain that all of the religions that believe in God are believing in the same God, and that when we call God “Allah” - we use that term because we believe it is the most proper name of God.  But it is still the same God we are worshipping.  We believe that God is so great, that He is above all other humans and all other creatures, and nothing compares to Him.  We believe He rules everyone and everything, and that nothing happens without his Will.


Question Two:  “Why did you change religions?” This is a tricky question, because for me, I have to restrain myself from getting too deep in answering.  Because finding Islam is so exciting to me, I often try to dive too deep when I answer and explain every single facet of Islam that amazes me and stuns me with its preciseness and clarity.  But here you have to be selective, and try to see it from their point of view.


You may answer this question with your own personal explanation - as each of our stories are individual and unique.  As for myself, I would have to answer that I found that Islam answered all the questions for me that I had been searching for, all the questions that no other religion seemed to be able to appropriately answer.  Islam makes sense to me - it is clear and direct and doesn’t leave more doubts or questions in my mind.  It is centered entirely on a belief in the one God - something I have believed in all my life, but never found a religion to match it until now.  Nothing is compared to God, nothing is united with God, it is just focused on God and God’s power above all other things.


Question Three:  “Do you think you might come back?”  This question was asked of me when I first shared my story.  After spending so many years trying to avoid the truth about Islam, trying to hide from what I had discovered in order for me to stay the way I was, continue the lifestyle I’d lived, keep maintaining the religion that I was born into, after all of that time - and then finally accepting Islam and just dealing with what comes afterwards - no, I will not be coming back.


I think here it is best to just be honest.  I think emotions and feelings are hidden inside this question, and it is important that you just be clear about your intentions so as not to create confusion.  It may be tempting to try to appease the person in some way or another, but you still must speak the truth about what you know, always.


Question Four:  “Why do you have to wear hijab?”  Ah, hijab.  This is another question that can be answered in so many different ways.  I believe what is most important is to give them an idea of what hijab really is about, that way at least they can walk away knowing and understanding (insha’allah) what hijab is all about.


Hijab is a state of mind - it involves being modest in speech, in attitude, and in action.  It is not only instruction for women, it is also for men, as we are all responsible for the modesty in our society.   When it comes to hijab, we all have alot of our own personal beliefs and feelings mingled in with what we know about it.  But hijab has more to do with modesty than it does with a piece of cloth to wear around your head.  And God instructs us about hijab in order that we may protect our modesty.


You can also mention that until recently (in this century) women wore clothing that was modest, they did not wear revealing things to show off their bodies.  And also that Catholic nuns have worn hijab for years.  So it’s not a new concept.


However, the question was not “what is hijab” but rather “do you HAVE to wear hijab?”  Here it can be explained that “there is no compulsion in religion” (Surah al-Baqarah: 256)**.  No one may be forced into Islam - it arises only from a sincere devotion.  So in that sense, forcing someone to wear hijab does not help a person in the religion, and it is not allowed in Islam to force someone to wear hijab.


However, this is not to say that this does not happen.  It is apparent that in some instances, women are forced to wear hijab.  However, this is a basis in culture, not in religion.


(There is so much controversy over hijab that I have not mentioned here - for the sake of simplifying an answer to provide to someone unfamiliar with Islam.  If any believes they have a better response to this question, feel free to add it in the comments section below.)


**(this designates where in the Qur’an this statement is found; a surah is like a chapter, and 256 is the number of the verse where it can be found.)


Question Five:  “Why do Muslims hate us?”  Someone may approach you with this question.  If it is in hostility that they are approaching you, such as a stranger on the street who you sense may be slightly aggressive, that is one thing.  But if it is from someone who earnestly feels this is the case and is curious to understand it, then it is good to be thoughtful about how you respond.


I think it would be best to explain that Islam is a religion of peace.  It is focused on prayer and charity and a constant rememberance of Allah.  So when we speak of Muslims and hate and things such as this, we have to remember that these are human beliefs, not beliefs stemming from a religion.  Not every Muslim follows Islam appropriately (or as it was intended.)  Some Muslims may act outside of the rules of Islam, yet claim that it is a part of their religion.  It is important to recognize the distinction between the two.


Beyond this - you can answer more specifically by getting to know what they really believe Islam to be and how they view Muslims as “hating us.”  This will allow you to perhaps more deeply explain different values of Islam, but also make sure to stress the difference between the people who claim to do things in the name of Islam, versus those who truly believe in and practice the true meaning of Islam.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions you might be asked.  It is a tiny portion of questions that I, in my own experience, have dealt with.  I only mean to try to help those who are new to Islam find ways to cope or understand how others may see their change in religion, what kinds of things they may be interested in knowing, and ways in which to keep the lines of communication open with others in your life.


I would like to also add some advice to this post, coming from Jamerican Muslimah, offering some alternative preperation for other types of questions that you may be confronted with as a muslim:


Eight Things Never To Say To Your Muslim Co-Worker


This concludes Part Two of the “Am I Muslim” series.  Look back next week on Monday when I will be exploring a new topic:  “How to Tell Your Family You’re Muslim.”  May Allah be with you in your journey.



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