Religious Expressions in Turkish





















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 where needed.


Selâmün aleyküm


“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”.


Mehmet: Is that Ayşe? Give her a selam from me.

Ali: She says ‘Valeyküm Selâm’. Anyway, stop talking I’m on the phone.



Inşallah, pronounced “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 him.

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 next week?
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.

Hayırlı olsun

“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 move etc.

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.
Ali: Amen...


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, something awful.

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 teacher.

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 can.


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 winning 3-0!
Melis: Elhamdulillah...

Mubarek Olsun

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 emanet olsun.

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