Friday, 26 July 2013

Bismillah - "In the Name of God"

Bismillah, Arabic, Muslim, Islam, Religion,


Interjection & noun. Late 18th century.
[Arabic bi-smi-llah(i), the first word of the Koran.]

(The exclamation) in the name of God; used by Muslims at the beginning of any undertaking.

The figures vary slightly according to different sources, but the proportion of Muslims in the United Kingdom stands at around 5%, and about 1% in Ireland. Saying bismillah, which is the opening word of every surah in the Koran but one, is an important aspect of daily Muslim life, and is said before meals and before undertaking any specific task. As with just just about every Arabic expression I hear, I do rather love the sound of it - maybe one day I'll work up the courage to learn Arabic, which currently sits alongside Russian and Hindi on my "Really hard languages that I'm going to learn one day" list. Until then, I will have to be satisfied with the scattered but beautiful words and expressions that have become part of English.


  1. Does that correspond to the phrase 'god-willing' attached to plans by Christians?


    1. I had thought about that - I suppose it does. From what I read about it, however, saying 'Bismillah' is actually a tenet of Muslim belief. When someone says "God willing", it's more akin to "hopefully" isn't it? I think; I'm not too sure.

  2. Very suitable word, now that it's Ramadan.

    Such a weird difference in percentage. Although in Belgium it's kind of different per region as well. About 4.5% for both Flanders and Wallonia, and then, BAM! 22.4% in Brussels. Which is kind of normal, come to think of it. Big cities attract a lot of different cultures.
    RYC: You're too kind. Thank you so much for being so supportive of me :) Hey Ed! You'll be so proud! I drove my dad's car yesterday (with my dad next to me, of course), all motorway! It was super scary and after about 30-45 minutes I was exhausted and we had to switch places >< But I'm glad it was a better experience than that time about a month ago.

    1. I think the history of Islam in Britain is much deeper and goes back much further than it does in Ireland (you know they're different countries, right?). Also, Ireland has been deeply Catholic for a long, long time - Britain is and has been very apathetic toward religion, and religion in the UK has had nothing like the power it's had in Ireland.

      PS: I say about them being different countries because it does confuse people sometimes. A friend from Spain who lived here would go home to visit, and people would say "How's life in England?" When he'd correct them and say he was in Ireland, the response would typically be a dismissive wave of the hand with a "Pff! Same difference!"

      And congratulations, Bibi! Motorway driving! Learners aren't even allowed on the motorways here! Very soon, you'll be cruising along a motorway and come to the numbing realisation that it's the easiest and most boring type of driving there is, and you'll wonder what you ever felt anxious about : o )

      I hate driving - I really do. It's just so damn dull. And you'd never believe the amount of people that responsd: "But you're a man ...?" when I say that.

    2. It's not dull! Christ, it's anything but dull! It's scary, that's what it is! The car's going so fast and the tiniest movement of the steering wheel sends the car I don't know where, and then there are trucks and all the other cars are going so fast too... I think I gave my dad a couple of scares he won't forget for the next couple of years.

      You know, I didn't really know about Ireland and the UK not being part of the same thing, I thought it was like having Wales and England and Scotland and such... Okay, just now I went on Wikipedia and Northern Ireland is part of the UK, but then the other part isn't?

      There are so many different names for different collections of regions and islands: UK, Great Britain, British Isles... whatever else... Oh oh! No wonder I'm confused when it's "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and IRELAND". Why do you make it so hard, huh?

      (and now all Irish people who fought for their independence are thinking of hitting me in my ignorant face)

    3. Don't worry, Bibi - you know, most British people don't know the difference between the United Kingdom and Great Britain (and there is a difference). However, just so we're clear: it's the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and *Northern* Ireland".

      The Republic of Ireland, known colloquially as Southern Ireland, is a separate country - completely independent of Britain.

      England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are a different debate entirely, and whether or not you think they're countries comes down to how you define the word 'country' (people from the UK do tend to think of them as countries, in my experience). None of them are independent states, as all come under the United Kingdom which has its base in London, obviously.

      And that's not even starting on the Commonwealth, which pulls in coutries like Australia and Canada as they still retain the Queen as Head of State!

      And you're right - Irish people (understandably) do not like being confused with English, or thought of as being part of England or Britain. As for the confusion, I get similarly confused about Holland / Netherlands and Belgium / Flanders etc. We're not the only ones that make it confusing!

      As for motorways, you just wait! On long motorway journeys, the biggest risks are falling asleep at the wheel through the interminable dullness of it all, or your body just losing the will to live as the endless tarmac saps away your vital life force.

      I hate driving.

  3. It seems you really do :P You're probably the first man I've encountered who hates driving with such a passion.

    As for the Netherlands and Belgium, you can't be wrong if you stick to those terms (unless you're talking about the years before 1830, when Belgium became an independent country, but why would you?). Both Holland and Flanders are regions within their respective countries; they're not autonymous, although Flanders does have its own government (Belgium's a complex country).

  4. Ed, do you accept blog awards (the ones that are passed on from blogger to blogger)?
    I'm sending you one:

    1. Evi sent me one too, Ed. And I linked your blog to my post completing it too - I don't follow a whole lot of blogs, but even if I did, yours would be one of my favourites. No obligation to do anything if you don't want to, but I thought I'd share your blog with those who read mine!

    2. Yes, thank you Kara - I wrote a little piece about it on the halfway update of the letter B.

  5. Hmm, I wonder if I was the only one to learn this word from Bohemian Rhapsody.

    1. Oh yeah! I never realised that, Nick. How interesting!