Who doesn’t hate exams?
I, for one, do. I finally completed the latest round of exams last week. As a senior at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, by now I should be accustomed to studying, then being tested for my understanding of a thick book in one hour. However, I’m not. I’m still a rebel against such a method, which I don’t think gives a true result because it is so stressful and is based primarily on your ability to memorize.
To motivate myself, I kept saying, “This time, I will start studying earlier. I will prepare myself in advance this semester and get top marks, inshallah.” But I didn’t; once again, I crammed the night before. Clearly, I am one of those procrastinators who delay finishing a textbook until the night before the exam.
Yesterday, during a rare time when I could just relax, I wondered why I am this way, along with so many others. Is it because I don’t agree with the educational system here? I don’t, but I was not obliged to apply for university, and I really want this degree even if I believe such exams are not the right way to achieve it. Am I a masochist? Oh, my God, no! This procrastination is not a lifestyle; it only happens when I have to study, and rely on the spirit of inshallah to act.
Inshallah! Is that the reason?! Could the “inshallah” mindset be the enabler of this bad habit?
“If God wills” is the literal interpretation of “inshallah” (إن شاء الله)”. It’s even listed in the Oxford Dictionaries as meaning “if Allah wills it.” (I was amazed to discover that this Arabic expression is now included in an English dictionary!) Historically, this three-word expression (in sha’a Allah, “if wills God”) comes from the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, where a verse commands every Muslim to say inshallah after anything he/she intends to do. As the word of God, the Qur’an is regarded as the greatest book that exists, and its use of the Arabic language is considered “supreme.”
Today, inshallah is commonly used among all Muslims, Arab or not, as well as by most Arabic speakers regardless of their religion. (It has even become “hip” among young people in the West, although many don’t even know the true, spiritual context.) And along the way, it began to be used as a way to avoid commitment.
One time, on a hot summer day, my niece asked me to take her for a walk to get ice cream. Although I loved her suggestion, I couldn’t accept because I had French class that day and a wedding party afterward, so spending the afternoon with her would have made me too tired. I thought for a while, not wanting to say no, and said, “OK, inshallah, darling.” She is a bright girl and analyzes situations logically, so she responded, annoyed, “Just say yes or no. Don’t say inshallah!” Her innocent mind realized that our inshallah can also mean a gentle no. I was in her shoes when I was a child, so I knew how she felt.
Many foreigners have become as suspicious as her. I still remember how an Italian journalist whom I served as a fixer last year became angry when a Gazan arrived for a meeting six hours late! My journalist friend kept calling him, and each time he replied, “I am coming, inshallah.” In the end, my Italian friend said exactly what my niece did, with much more anger. I had to be moderator, and explained that it’s not inherent in our nature to avoid commitment, but that the harsh, draining conditions here—the electricity cuts, the lack of opportunities, the pervasive feeling of futility—saps one’s resources. Therefore, the Gazan’s inshallah means that if the conditions are right, and if he has the energy, then he will. A productive Gazan is a real soldier in the battle of living here. My advice to visitors is to not accept “inshallah” as an answer if it is important; insist on a yes or no, or an explanation of the uncertainties.
My advice to myself and to my friends and family is: Don’t hide behind inshallah. It can be a trap! Try harder to give or get a true and clear reply, from yourself and from others. It is comforting to think that our ancestors used the same expression we use today to communicate our trust in God; it is a beautiful testament of one’s faith. I am not happy, however, about how its use has evolved in our culture to instead delay or avoid a decision altogether.
I know it is impossible to change a culture, so all I can do is start with myself. I will start studying the first day of my next class!
Mentor: Zeina Azzam