Bismillah is an expression that is not only used in the Muslim world. It is also sometimes used in Europe and the USA, especially by people with a migration background from Islamic countries. But what exactly does this expression mean – and when is it used?
Meaning of Bismillah in English
Bismillah comes from Arabic and means something like: „In the name of God“. Allah is the Arabic and Muslim word for God. Bismillah is also written as Basmala or Bism Allah, and is traditionally written on paper in richly decorated calligraphy. Bismillah is often used in everyday life. The origin of this word is found in the Quran – the holy scripture of Islam.
Bismillah in the Koran and in everyday life
Before (almost) every surah of the Qur’an is the following formula: „bismi ʾllāhi ʾr-raḥmāni ʾr-raḥīmi.“ In English, this means something like „In the name of the merciful and gracious God.“ As a noun, Basmala refers to the full version of the above formula. The use of the abbreviated version of this formula – that is, the word basmala – is prescribed in Islam in various situations. These include the slaughter of animals, religious lectures and speeches, and letters. The Quran states:
„And do not eat meat over which (in slaughter) the name of God has not been pronounced! That is sacrilege.“
Muslims also say bismillah in other situations – for example, before embarking on a long and important journey, before eating (as Christians might say a short grace), when entering a mosque, or even during marital intercourse. However, in these situations, according to Islamic law, it is not obligatory to say bismillah.
Muslims, by the way, believe that the Basmala existed before the Koran was written. In popular folklore, especially in the popular prophet legends, it is believed that the word Basmala was written on the wings of the archangel Gabriel and on the train of Jesus, among others. Indeed, Muslims also revere Gabriel, Jesus and other biblical figures such as Noah, Adam and Abraham.
The basmala also appears in the constitutions of many Muslim-majority countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, and Iran. Just as in the Koran the basmala is found at the beginning of the vast majority of suras, in the constitutions of the countries just mentioned it is usually found at the beginning of the preamble.
Other Islamic-Arabic idioms
In addition to Bismillah, there are other widespread idioms that originate in the Quran. However, they are also heard in everyday life, both in the Arab world and in Europe or America. Three of the most famous Arabic or Islamic idioms are as follows:
Inshallah: In English, „God willing.“ This expression is very common and is used by Muslims and Arabic-speaking Christians whenever talking about future plans.
Subhanallah: In English, roughly, „Exalted is God.“ This expresses the perfection of God. It is repeated several times in the context of dhikr, a spiritual practice that is meant to lead to the realization of God.
Mashallah In English, „What God wants.“ One uses this expression to express one’s devotion to God, but also when one sees or hears something astonishing or particularly beautiful.