Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a college student at UC Berkeley and a refugee from Iraq, was about to take off on a flight from Los Angeles to Oakland when he called his uncle to tell him about a dinner event he attended the previous evening featuring U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. As he spoke to his uncle in Arabic, he noticed one passenger staring at him, and after Makhzoomi hung up, he was escorted off the plane and questioned by the airline and FBI about "threatening comments,” according to a statement by Southwest Airlines.
Although Southwest Airline’s statement claimed that Makhzoomi was removed for the “content of the passenger’s conversation” and not his language choice, Makhzoomi believes it was a clear case of discrimination and Islamaphobia. What did he say before the passenger alerted the airline? Apart from telling his uncle about the event, where he was able to ask the secretary-general a question about defeating ISIS, he explained, he signed off with the Arabic expression “inshallah,” which translates as “God willing.”
Wajahat Ali, author of the play The Domestic Crusaders and creative director of Affinis Labs, a hub for social entrepreneurship and innovation, elucidates the meaning of “inshallah” and its general use for Arabic speakers, calling it the “hallmark of the Arabic vernacular.” He writes:
Inshallah is the Arabic version of “fuggedaboudit.” It’s similar to how the British use the word “brilliant” to both praise and passive-aggressively deride everything and everyone. It transports both the speaker and the listener to a fantastical place where promises, dreams and realistic goals are replaced by delusional hope and earnest yearning.
Examples of how “inshallah” is used in conversation:
If you are a parent, you can employ inshallah to either defer or subtly crush the desires of young children.
Boy: “Father, will we go to Toys ‘R’ Us later today?”
Father: “Yes. Inshallah.”
Translation: “There is no way we’re going to Toys ‘R’ Us. I’m exhausted. Play with the neighbor’s toys. Here, play with this staple remover. That’s fun, isn’t it?”
Ali summarizes, tongue-in-check, that “inshallah is used in Muslim-majority communities to escape introspection, hard work and strategic planning and instead outsource such responsibilities to an omnipotent being, who somehow, at some time, will intervene and fix our collective problems.”
In recent months, those problems have included numerous incidents of alleged discrimination against Arabic speakers and “Muslim-looking” peoples including Sikhs while flying or attempting to board airplanes. Earlier this year, three Muslims and a Sikh filed a lawsuit after being removed from a flight because the captain of the airplane did not feel comfortable with them as passengers. In November, two men were nearly prevented from boarding a Southwest flight because a few passengers heard them speaking Arabic and were afraid to fly with them. While there are many more similiar incidents, perhaps there is a silver lining in this latest one, Ali writes: “Opportunity is often born from absurdities. I believe this latest episode is actually a great moment to bring the versatile and glorious term inshallah into the vocabulary of more Americans.”