Sunday, April 13, 2008


I've long thought that one of the unintended consequences of our presence in Iraq would be a sort of cross-cultural pollinization. During the first Desert Storm, we weren't in the Middle East long enough to do more than wreck things and take a few pictures. After five years in Iraq, thousands of service men and women will have begun to assimilate the culture and bring those experiences and beliefs back home with them. Inevitably, some of those mores will creep into stateside popular culture.

I'm just old enough to remember when this happened after the Vietnam war. There was a heightened interest in Buddhism (particularly after Buddhist monks began immolating themselves as a protest against the war) and phrases like beaucoup dinky dau (a mash up of French and Vietnamese dien cai dao, meaning "crazy in the head") became common slang.

Recently, I was talking to a friend's son who'd returned from two tours that added up to about three years of his life. At some point in the conversation I said something to which he replied, Inshallah.

I recognized the term, but his mom didn't and he had to explain that it'd become common slang among the troops and essentially meant, who knows?

Maybe that's the way the troops are using the phrase, but that's not what it means. Most English translations render it, God willing (from the Latin Deo volante), but the Arabic usage is more specific: not just a hope for the some future occurrence, but an acknowledgment that all of human destiny is subject to the will of Allah.

An Autumn 2007 article in American Scholar talks about the recent adoption of Inshallah among American troops in Iraq. While I specifically disagree with the author's definition of the term as he claims it's used by Iraqi's (and his conclusion in general) he did get one thing right:

To Americans the future is malleable, and it lies in our human hands to shape. Options are always on the table. At the end of his adventures, Huck Finn says “no thanks” to “sivilizin’” and decides to “light out for the territory” to the west. Baseball, the national sport, has no fixed time limit; a game could theoretically continue in extra innings forever. We nurture venture capitalists, but also a breed of “venture philanthropists” bent on bringing forth the novus ordo seclorum— a “new order of the ages”— proclaimed on our dollar bills. The ending of The Sopranos may have dissatisfied some viewers, but it left open the door to multiple imagined futures, American-style. In a passage in one of his newly published Notebooks, Robert Frost contrasts the sensibility on the opposing shores of the North Atlantic. He describes Europe as clotted with an overabundance of culture, and writes of America: “Our most precious heritage is what we haven’t in our possession— what we haven’t made and so have still to make.” As our TV announcers say, “Stay tuned!”

To Americans, the future is undefined - to Muslims the future has been ordained by Allah and man can do little to change it.

Inshallah has it's roots in the Qur'an, Surah Al Kahf, 23-24:

And never say, regarding any matter: I will do this tomorrow" -
But only: "If GOD pleases" and remember your Lord if you forget, and say "It may be that my Lord will guide me nearer to righteousness."
(You can find minor differences in the various English translations of the Qur'an. My copy is The Glorious Qur’an: Text and Translation by Dr. Ahmad Zidan.)

It's revealing in that I've come to understand that Islam is, in addition to being a religion, is also a way of life permeating every facet of the Muslim's daily life.

A couple of thoughts about what this means for the future.

First, Islam is the fastest growing religion on earth and, in particular, in America.

In the United States, for example, nearly 80 percent of the more than 1,200 mosques have been built in the past 12 years.

Some scholars see an emerging Muslim renaissance as Islam takes root in many traditionally Christian communities.

The American military, reflecting the same pressures is also increasingly Muslim. I recently received word from a friend I served with that, on his first tour in Iraq, he'd converted to Islam and sent me the translation of the Qur'an I have. He urged me to read the Qur'an, along with some pamphlets about Islam - this was his way of practicing da'wah.

The word "Da'wah" in Arabic simply means to invite to something. When it is used in conjunction with Islam it is understood to mean "Inviting to the Way of submission and surrender to Allah."

This also has it's roots in the Qur'an, Surah An-Nahl 125:

Call mankind to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and sound advice, and reason with them in a well mannered way. Indeed your Lord is aware of those who have gone astray from His Way, and He is well aware of those who are guided.
About a month ago, I was at the Tyler Mall and two young men from the Islamic Center of Corona/Norco had set up a table with a banner advertising the website, They were handing out copies of the Qur'an and explaining Islam to anyone who would listen. They were polite, clean-cut, and reminded me of me, years before, when I was a junior pastor in the Pentecostal Young Peoples Association.

I won't say it was a life-changing experience, but it did get me to thinking. We're going to see a growing Islamic presence in the United States and greater societal acceptance. True Islam will become better understood as American's learn to differentiate between the followers of the Sunnah and the fanatical few that have hijacked the trappings of Islam to serve their own violent agendas.

The barbarism that is happening in the world today under the name of "Islamic Terrorism" is completely removed from the moral teachings of the Qur'an; it is the work of ignorant, bigoted people, criminals who have nothing to do with religion. The solution which will be applied against these individuals and groups who are trying to commit their deeds of savagery under the guise of Islam, will be the instruction of people in the true moral teaching of Islam.

I didn't mean for this to be so long, so I'll just bottom-line it here:

  • Our veterans returning from Iraq will have a decidedly different view of the Middle East and it's cultures than most Americans (note that I'm not saying that it will be uniformly positive.)
  • Islam will continue to grow in the American population and it's military.
  • With this growth, as a nation we will see that Muslims are not just some boogie-man stereotype "over there," but our neighbors and coworkers.
  • As we get to know our Muslim brothers and sisters, we'll learn to differentiate between true Islam and the barbarians who claim it's mantle.
  • Expediting that understanding, by study and contemplation, can only help us learn to coexist not just in America, but in the world, where every nation is dealing with it's own version of the same situation.

A parting thought. If you get a chance, go to and search up the videos of Yusuf Estes. He's a former fundamentalist preacher converted to Islam. I enjoy his talks because he's a Texan (and talks with a twang) and his style is that of the old-time tent revival preachers I grew up with. In particular I recommend his explanation of Islam.

Related Links

Islam Tomorrow: Home Site of Yusuf Estes

Islam Denounces Terrorism

Islamic Center of Riverside

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