and other misunderstandings
No matter what I say, no matter what I ask for, regardless of the nature of my comments, my observations- the first, and sometimes only answer I hear is "Inchallah"... "If God wills".
"If God wills, If God wills, If God wills"… There is simply no getting around it. The doomed colloquialism sending shivers down my spine. Whether you need to make an appointment, inquire about upcoming events, or ask if the local grocery store has eggs, the answer will inevitably and invariably be: "If God wills".
To most non-Moroccans
in Morocco, "inchallah" is the arch-enemy,a frustrating expression
they interpret to mean "maybe".
This can be a rather frustrating experience for those of us who aren't so accustomed to thinking of the world, and of our future, as products of a supra-human will. To those ears this expression can sound like a suspect intention to flake, to default, to avoid promises. It 's a refusal to commit, an ex-ante defense against blame or guilt. And in some ways it is... For lurking behind every "Inchallah" is an even trickier "maktoub ": "It was written" - the ultimate alibi, the complete exemption from responsibility. No one to blame…just another bad twist of fate. Perhaps even a divine punishment. Nothing to feel sorry for… as it all lies well beyond any given individual's powers.
Now in many ways, this "inchallah" business is rather pragmatic- the truth is that we do not have total control and that unexpected events do occur. Actually, we all take these contingencies into account, making room for the unexpected: an accident that cancels a meeting, a reversal in fortune, a change in plans. So while we universally recognize the very contingent nature of life, different cultures adopt different means of expressing it, of weaving it into daily life.
In the West (to use a very broad, vague but hopelessly substituteless term!) unexpected events are thought of as anomalies, deviations from the norm. In the 'usual' course of events, things work out as planned, giving each actor the very real illusion that he or she controls this course of events. To reflect the low probability of unpredicted events occurring (and perhaps to reinforce the illusion of control) we simply omit to reference it, occasionally cracking jokes around it (One of corporate America's favorite expressions in reminding workers to archive all their work is "Just in case you get run over by a bus"; how charming!).
In Morocco, the incessant use of "inchallah" points to the exact opposite understanding of contingency in life. It's "normal" for plans to be canceled, for things to go wrong, for people to lose track. What's unusual is prediction, commitment, fulfillment. Chaos is the norm, order the anomaly... For a Muslim, this intuitive understanding of chaos is based on his or her understanding of God's will. While things may appear chaotic, random and unpredictable from 'down here', they all wonderfully fit in the 'bigger picture', which no individual can dream to comprehend...Life is a constant act of faith, a daily acceptance that God, not I, controls my life. And I owe it to others to remind them : "inchallah"!
us westerners run about making promises, talking about tomorrows, acting
as if today were a good enough predictor for days to come, Muslims remind
each other daily that the present has very little to do with the future,
and that your guess is as good as mine as to what 'might' happen. Take
away the "divine" explanation of this contingency and you get a rather
healthy reminder of the genuine ambiguity of time passing. Generations
of rational sciences have taught us to analyze the present with respect
to our past, finding comfortable cause and effect links between what was
then, and what is today. But these 'ex -post', after the fact rules don't
easily translate to' ex-ante', before the fact rules- just as many an
inaccurate prediction reminds us. It may not be the works of a fickle
God, but humans certainly do have to deal with much darkness regarding
the future- a darkness we too hastily mask, by using today as a perfect
predictor for tomorrow.