You may or may not have noticed that Turkey is a fairly religious
country. As such, there are many features about Turkish culture and society
which link it to the Islamic world at large.The best example of this comes in countless daily expressions derived
directly or indirectly from Arabic equivilants. Many of these expressions are
common to all segments of Turkish society and not only practising Muslims.
Embedded in a language is a philosophy and code, so learning these
expressions will open a door so understanding, inshallah, anyway.
However, if you don’t know your estağfurallahs from your maşallahs,
then don’t worry. Here is a little guide to help you through, complete with examples
“Selâmün aleyküm” is a slightly corrupted version of the Arabic
greeting which literally means “Peace be unto to you”. The response is “Valeyküm
Selâm” (“And Peace to you too”).
It is rather important to remember both the initial selam and the
response, as one cannot go without the other. According to the Qu’ran, this is
because “when a greeting
is offered to you, answer it with an even better greeting, or (at least) with
its like" (4: 86).
The greeting is slammed by
some, due to the religious connotations it invokes, such complaintants make a
point not to selam at all. In such situations, revert to “Merhaba” – a rather
more lacklustre Arabic loanword for “Hello”.
that Ayşe? Give her a
selam from me.
Ali: She says ‘Valeyküm Selâm’. Anyway, stop
talking I’m on the phone.
“İnshaa-Allah”, means “God Willing”. It is reported that when the Prophet
Mohammed fled with his followers to Mecca, the locals were a little sceptical
of his prophethood, so they consulted a bunch of Rabbis and had him tested on
biblical trivia. Generally, he would
await divine inspiration and come back with the answer a day later. But one day,
when he told them he would be back with the answer. he waited for days. In the
meantime, it looked pretty glib and the Meccans were convinced they had got
In the end, however, Gabriel
revealed the answers to him and came with another message: Never take the
future for granted, as everything is “İnşallah”.
Thus, rarely will you hear a
Muslim, in Turkey or otherwise, fail to qualify some talk of the a plan or
prediction with an “inşallah”.
Ayşe: Are you going to Antalya
Fatma: İnşallah, it depends if
I can get the time off.
This is basically the past-tense form of İnşallah (see
above): “It was God’s Will”.
If someone brings up good news, or something
particularly cool about themselves i.e. how many children they have, how long
they have been married for, or how they survived a plane crash in the Andes –
“maşallah” is the appropriate response.
Sometimes you will see ‘Maşallah’ written on the back
of old cars which, in most cases, look like they would better suit an
‘İnşallah’. None-the-less, the reason is that the car has come as a source of
pride to the owner.
İbrahim: You see that, my son is the oil-wrestling
champion of Niğde.
Mustafa: Maşallah İbrahim ağabey.
“Hayır” is a “Blessing”. The expressiong therefore
means “May it be a blessing”, which is often used in the sense English-speakers
would say “Good luck with that” when someone has a job. In Turkish though, it
could also be used for some other change of fortune, like a new car or house
Bare in mind the expression hints at a typically Muslim
sense of caution about the future, all the while trying to be positive. This is
where it differs from ‘Maşallah’ (see above).
Your friend may have got a new job, for example –
Maşallah, right? Well hang on a second, what if the job doesn’t turn out to be
that great? What if your friend ends up miserable, overworked, underpaid or
handing out leaflets for English Time? Well let’s err on the side of
caution then. Hayırlı olsun, friend…
Mert: Şeyma just split up with me man.
Ali: Dude, are you alright?
Mert: Well, you know, hayırlısı olsun, there’s plenty
of fish in the sea.
It might be a bit of a mouth-full but it has a very
important place in our stock phrases. Estağfurallah (pronounced “Estah-for-Allah”)
means “the Forgiveness of God”.
Interestingly, outside Turkey the usage is alot
different, as it is generally the response of someone being told, or seeing,
Turks have to be a bit different however, and use it
rather ingeniously as a means of accepting a compliment and simultaneously not
looking big-headed, by vocally seeking forgiveness from God for any pride one
might be taking upon hearing the compliement.
‘Esağfurallah’ has another unique usage in Turkey: If
someone falsely assumes you were judging badly, or making them feel bad in any
way, you can use the phrase to assure them otherwise – seeking forgiveness from
God that you unwittingly made them feel bad.
Merve: Your English is so good
Zübeyda: Estağfurallah canım, I just had a really good
Osman: I’ve done it again, I’ve forgotten your money.
Sorry, I’m a complete idiot.
Zehra: Estağfurallah! Just get it back to me when you
This is used almost identically to Hallelujah,
with the exact same meaning of “Praise to the Lord”. It can be used to greet
unequivocally good news.
However there a few extra uses, such as answering the
question “how are you?” – well, you are alive arn’t you? So praise the Lord.
Also, it can also mean “Thank God”, as can “Allah
Şukur” and “Hamd olsun”, which can both also be a response to how are you.
Melis: Hey Can, how are you?
Can: Elhamdulillah. Have you seen the score? We’re
Mubarek is an adjectivised form of Bereket, or
“Blessing”. Thus, Mubarek Olsun, or “May it be blessed” is tagged onto the end
of the name of the holy day to form an appropriate seasonal greeting i.e. Cuma
Mubarek Olsun, (have a blessed Friday) Bayram Mubarek Olsun (have a blessed
Eid), Noel Mubarek Olsun (Merry Christmas).
Famously introduced to the west by Freddie Mercury in
the song Bohemian Rhapsody, (“Bismillah nooo – I will not let you go!”),
Bismillah, “In the name of God” is actually the opening word of almost every
chapter of the Qu’ran and acts as a blessing which comes before every action.
The Prophet is cited as say “Every important
affair, not begun with the name of Allah, shall remain incomplete”, so you will
hear people whisper the words of the basmala in full – “bismillahi arrahman
irrahim”, or shortened to a quick “bismillah” before showering, entering a
building, starting the car engine, taking the first bite of a meal, breaking a
fast in Ramadhan and a whole host of other things.
This is the greatest thing to cry when frustrated. In
the Judeo-Christian tradition invoking God when one is frustrated is frowned
upon as “taking the Lord’s name in vain”, but as far as Muslims are concerned,
who else would you want to invoke? Thus amongst “Allah Allah” and “Allahum ya”
(God Oh God, and Oh my God, respectively) one can cry the far more elaborate
“Allah-hum-ya-arab-bim!” which translates as “Oh my God, my Lord!”
Buşra: Hey, sorry about this – I’m gona be about an
hour late. Can you just wait til I get them
Şevval: Okay, sure (hangs up phone) AllahumyaarRabbim!
So inşallah you will now be able to successful
flower-up your Turkish with some useful religious idioms. If I’ve made it seem
uneasy, estağfurallah, but maşallah you are on your way. Hayırlısı olsun. Allah