Religious (Islamic) Phrases & Expressions In Egyptian Arabic

Mariam Enany

Author

Mariam Enany

Arabic learners who have been focusing on the Egyptian dialect often wonder about the many religious expressions that are part and parcel of Egyptian culture.

Linguistically speaking, is it any different to be around Muslims or Copts?

Are these expressions really religious in nature or have they embedded their way into the fabric of Egyptian culture that they no longer indicate much about the person speaking?

Well, worry no more, Arabic learner.

This following guide is a great resource covering religious (Islamic) expressions for elementary learners and rises in difficulty to include more expressions for intermediate and advanced learners.

In this first guide, you’ll find a comprehensive guide for Islamic Arabic expressions that are embedded in the culture.

Make sure to read the second part of this guide which will cover Christian religious expressions.

These two guides will enable you to have a well rounded understanding of what to say and around whom.

Let’s begin!

Religious (Islamic) expressions and phrases in Arabic

1. El Salam ‘alaykoum / Wa ‘alaykom El Salam

English Transliteration Arabic
Hello Es-salamu ‘alykoum السلام عليكم
Response - Hello back Wi- ‘alykom es-salam و عليكم السلام (و رحمة الله و بركاته)

This is probably one of the first Arabic phrases you have heard when you began your journey with this language.

The expression is used by Muslims as a formal greeting meaning Hello, and alternatively exchanged with the secular أهلا و سهلا (Ahlan W sahlan) and (Sabah/Masa’ El-Kheir) صباح - مساء الخير.

Literally, the greeting means “peace be upon you” and its response “and (peace) upon you.”

In Egypt, Es-salamu ‘alykoum/ Wi- ‘alykom es-salam are used more as formal greetings and not merely as a way to tell the person you’re talking to that you’re a muslim.

Basically, it is a formal greeting to be polite but not too friendly.

We use it when we get into a taxi, or enter a shop.

However, it is important to note that if for example you do know that the person you are talking to is Christian, please use صباح الخير - مساء الخير (Sabah/Masa’ El-Kheir) because it would be rude to otherwise.

2. Bismillah / Bismillah Al Rahman Al Raheem

English Transliteration Arabic
(Literally) In the Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem بسم الله بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

The Basmallah (Bismilah) is one of the most important phrases in Muslim culture.

Simply, it is the beginning. You call on God at the beginning of reciting the Quran, and so, we also call on God when we are about to begin new things & about to embark on actions.

As you roll up your sleeves to do some work, you say bismillah to do well.

As you begin a delicious meal, you say bismillah, and so on.

You might also hear Sammi, an imperative form to say Bismillah.

Usually it will be a parent telling his kids to say Bismallah before eating, or a family member calming another one about having anxiety before studying for a test.

They would say something along the lines of, “Sammi bas wi kolo haykoun tamam” (Just say Bismillah and start, everything will be okay) سمى بس و كله حيكون تمام

Literally: Name (v - imperative form) Sammi سمى

3. Insha’allah

English Transliteration Arabic
God Willing Inshaa’-Allah إِنْ شاء الله

This is a very good one!

Generally, Insha’allah is a phrase used to indicate “God willing”, an event will happen unless Allah wills it not to.

This is an entire phrase and not only one word, but the phrase has been enmeshed and shortened in speech.

As you can see in the Arabic section of the table, it is In- Shaa’- Allah (If -God- wills)

Here’s an example:

Teacher: See you all in class tomorrow insha’allah.

Students: Yes, insha’allah.

English Transliteration Arabic
See you all in class tomorrow insha’allah Ashoufkom fil fasl bokra insha’allah أشوفكم فى الفصل بكرة ان شاء الله
Yes, insha’allah. Aywa insha’allah أيوة ان شاء الله

Here however is where it gets interesting.

In Egyptian culture (and I dare say the rest of the Arab world) Insha’allah now is usually used playfully, meaning “Not happening”

Daughter: Baba, can I go to Alexandria with my friends next week?

Dad: Insha’allah

Daughter: Is that a yes or a no?

Dad: insha’allah. When the time comes we’ll talk.

English Transliteration Arabic
Dad, can I go to Alexandria with my friends next week? Baba momken arouh iskinderiya ma‘a sohaby el isbou‘ ely gay? بابا ممكن أروح اسكندرية مع أصحابى الأسبوع اللى جاى؟
Is that a yes or a no? Da Ah wala la’a? ده آه ولا لا؟
Insha’allah. When the time comes we’ll talk. Insha’allah. Hanetkalim lama elwa’t yeegy. ان شاء الله. حنتكلم لما الوقت ييجى.

Ahmed: Are we meeting to study together on Thursday morning?

Samir: sigh and looks away Insha’allah. Insha’allah.

English Transliteration Arabic
Are we meeting to study together on Thursday morning? Ihna hanet’abel youm elkhamees nezaker ma‘a ba‘d? احنا حنتقابل يوم الخميس نذاكر مع بعض؟
Insha’allah. Insha’allah Insha’allah. Insha’allah ان شاء الله. ان شاء الله

Obviously in these two cases, the answer is a no.

You say Insha’allah but you do know that God will not in fact will it, because you are not planning to go to that group study or permit your daughter to go to another city with her friends.

Insha’allah is the perfect way to say I’ll decide later (but it’s secretly a no. They just don’t know it yet.)

Here you go, now you know our secret!

4. Elhamdullela

English Transliteration Arabic
Thank God Elhamdullella الحمدلله

Elhamdullela is another Islamic phrase that got shortened in speech, when in fact it used to be Elhamdu-le-llah. It means Thank God.

You’ll hear it on several occasions as people express their comfort that something went well after being distressed.

Student (A): How did the test go?

Student (B): Elhamdullela! I did well! I was so worried.

English Transliteration Arabic
Student (A): How did the test go? ‘Amlt eh fil imtihan? عملت ايه فى الامتحان؟
Student (B): Elhamdullela! I did well! I was so worried. Elhamdullela! ‘Amlt kowayes. Kont Al’aan awi. الحمدلله! عملت كويس. كنت قلقان أوى

Or, simply expressing thanks that they are doing okay.

أحمد: ازيك يا منة؟
منة: تمام الحمدلله. أنت عامل ايه يا أحمد؟
أحمد: كله تمام الحمدلله
English Transliteration Arabic
How are you? Ezayyak? (Directed to second person masculine) \ Ezayyek? (Directed to second person feminine) ازيك؟
How are you doing? ‘mel eh?(Directed to second person masculine) ‘mla eh? (Directed to second person feminne) عامل ايه؟
عاملة ايه؟
Okay/well. Thank God. Tamam, Elhamdullela تمام الحمدلله

Here Ahmed and Menna are having a conversation asking each other how they are doing, and you can see that both use the term “Elhamdullela” to indicate they’re well.

you’ll also hear it in a very specific context when someone sneezes. Here how it goes:

A: Sneezes Alhamdulella.

B: Yarhmkoum Allah.

A: Yarhmna wa Yarhamkoum

English Transliteration Arabic
Thank God Alhamdulella الحمدلله
Bless you. \ Literally: May God have mercy on you Yarhmkoum Allah يرحمكم الله
Us and You \ (May he has mercy on Us and you) Yarhmna wa Yarhamkoum يرحمنا و يرحمكم

In this context, the response to Alhamdullela has to be Yarhmkoum Allah, just like in English when someone says “bless you” as someone sneezes.

In the Arabic version, the first person adds at the end “(mercy, blessings on) Us and you as well.”

It is a mouth full when someone sneezes. Be prepared!

(5) AstaghfiruAllah Al’zeem

Arabic Transliteration English
استغفر الله
استغفر الله العظيم
Astaghfiru-Allah
Astaghfiru-Allah Al’zeem
Forgive me lord

This expression is also another shortened phrase.

In Arabic, it is Astaghfiru-Allah Al’zeem (I ask God the Great for his forgiveness).

you’ll either hear it in full or as a short version, Astaghfiru-Allah (I ask God for his forgiveness)

The term has a few occasions to use.

First, the obvious one that has a religious connotation: When you sin or when someone asks you to do something you think is morally wrong.

Astaghfiru-Allah. I would never do that!

English Transliteration Arabic
Astaghfiru-Allah! I would never do that! Astaghfiru-Allah! ’Omri ma a’mil keda! استغفر الله! عمرى ما أعمل كده!

The second occasion is when you’d like to express anger or the fact that someone is very difficult to deal with and that you are about to say something mean.

Here’s an example:

هبة: ده غبى جدا! بجد استغفر الله يعنى.
ندى : لا بجد, الموضوع صعب أوى معاه.
English Transliteration Arabic
Heba: He’s so stupid. Seriously, Astaghfiru-Allah Dah Ghabi Gedan! Begad Astaghfiru-Allah ya‘ni هبة: ده غبى جدا! بجد استغفر الله يعنى.
Nada: No, really, it’s so difficult with him. La’ begad, elmawdou‘ sa‘b awi ma‘ah ندى: لا بجد, الموضوع صعب أوى معاه.

6. A’outhu billah (A’outhu billah min al elshaytan elrajeem)

English Transliteration Arabic
I seek refuge in Allah from the outcast Shaitan (the devil) A’outhu billah (A’outhu billah min al elshaytan elrajeem) أعوذ بالله - من الشيطان الرجيم

So, I wanted to include this expression right after “AstaghfiruAllah” because culturally, they have more or less the same use. In AstaghfiruAllah, you are asking God for forgiveness, while A’outhu billah, you are asking God for refuge and protection.

If we go back to the same cultural examples:

(١) هبة: ده غبى جدا! بجد استغفر الله يعنى.
(٢) ندى : لا بجد.ايه الخرا ده.

Here both Heba and Nada are talking about the stupidity of their classmate/co-worker with a twinge of feeling bad about it.

They are kind of asking God for forgiveness.

However, let’s assume that their classmate/co-worker is very rude and is not doing his expected share of the work, the conversation would go along the lines of:

هبة: ده قليل الذوق جدا!
ندى : لا بجد, ايه الخرا ده. أعوذ بالله بجد. مش مصدقة ان حد سيئ كده.
English Transliteration Arabic
He’s so rude Da Aleel Elzou’ gedan ده قليل الذوق جدا
No really, what is this shit? Seriously A’outhu billah. I can’t believe that someone is that bad of a person. La’ begad, eh elkhara da? A’outhu billah begad. Mesh mesda’a in fi had saye’ keda لا بجد, ايه الخرا ده. أعوذ بالله بجد. مش مصدقة ان حد سيئ كده.

Basically, they are seeking refuge from this person’s rudeness.

7. Allah Yen‘im ‘alik

This will be a very interesting one for you as an Arabic learner who speaks English.

THere’s no cultural equivalent in American or British culture when you see someone who just had a shower or a new fresh haircut.

In Arabic we say “Na’iman” and the person usually replies with “Allah Yen‘im ‘alik”

English Transliteration Arabic
Literally: Blessed/Blessings Na‘iman نعيما
May God gives you his blessings Allah Yen‘im ‘alik الله ينعم عليك

8. Mashallah

Another shortened phrase from Ma-Shaa’-Allah.

Mashallah is used to express joy and awe at something beautiful.

English Transliteration Arabic
It is what God had wanted! Ma-Shaa’-Allah ما شاء الله

Example:

She’s so successful, Masha’allah. Heya nagha gedan masha’allah هى ناجحة جدا ما شاء الله

These next two Islamic expressions have strictly religious purposes and they are used after two people finish praying together.

Each response is contingent upon the first term used and as you’ll see in the next two tables, you can not exchange one with the other.

9. Haraman/ Gama‘an

English Transliteration Arabic
May you pray at the Haram (The Great Mosque in Mecca) Haraman حرما
May we pray there together Gama‘an جمعا

10. Taqabal Allah/ Menna wa Menkoum

Arabic Transliteration English
تقبل الله Taqabal Allah May God accept (your prayers)
منا و منكم Menna wa Menkoum (May he accept) from us and from you

11. Sali/Sallo ‘ala El-Nabi

English Transliteration Arabic
Offer Salat to the Prophet Muhammed - Imperative form to second person singular Salli ‘ala El-Nabi صلى على النبى
Offer Salat to the Prophet Muhammed - Imperative form to second person plural Sallo ‘ala El-Nabi صلوا على النبى

Okay, what does it mean to offer Salat to the prophet?

It means to mention him and praise him.

You’ll hear this sentence in two different contexts:

1- the first and most obvious in the religious context, when you are walking around in an Egyptian city, you’ll find posters or engravings on the wall with the sentence هل صليت على سيدنا محمد (ص)؟

Have you offered a prayer to prophet Muahmmed? \ Have you praised prophet Muhammed? Hal Sallayt ‘ala sayedna Muhammed (S.A.W)? هل صليت على سيدنا محمد (ص)؟

It’s a reminder to think of the prophet, and is part of what Muslims call Dhikr.

You call on God and praise his prophet. It’s a solitary and sometimes quiet activity.

2- When this phrase is used in the imperative form in a cultural context, it is usually used in the occasion of breaking out arguments.

People are fighting or arguing and a third person would come on and say “Sallo ‘ala el nabi - ya gama’a” to calm them down and it drives their attention to reply:

May (Allah) praise him and grant him peace Wi ‘aleih el salatu-wa-elsalam و عليه الصلاة و السلام

When you respond with “Wi ‘aleih el salatu-wa-elsalam” it means that you started to calm down and people can leave you alone.

13. La Illah Ila Allah

THere’s No God but God La Illah Ila Allah لا اله الا الله

It is by far the most important phrase in Islam, It is the first part of Al-Shihada and what identifies a Muslim - THere’s No God but God.

The second half of the Shehada is “and Muhammed Rasoul Allah - and Muhammed is his prophet.”

you’ll hear this phrase whenever someone hears of a calamity, they will say in disbelief - La Illah Ila Allah

Example:

عادل: محمد حصلتله حادثة عربية النهاردة الصبح و فى المستشفى!
عمرو: مش معقولة! لا اله الا الله! أنا كنت معاه امبارح!
محمد حصلتله حادثة عربية النهاردة الصبح و فى المستشفى! Mohamed hasalitlo hadthet ‘arabeya elnahrda elsobh w fil mostashfa Mohamed had a car accident this morning and is in the hospital!
مش معقولة! لا اله الا الله! أنا كنت معاه امبارح! Mesh ma‘’oula! la illah ila allah! Ana kont ma‘ah imbareh! No way! La Illah Ila Allah! I was just with him yesterday!

you’ll also hear it after a specific expression when someone is about to have with you some “real talk”.

They are just about to tell you how something really is.

تصدق و تأمن بالله؟
لا الله الا الله.
تصدق(ى) و تأمن(ى) بالله؟ Tesda’ wi to’men billah?
Tesda’y wi to’menny billah?
Do you believe and have faith in God?

Usually, this would happen in a bargaining situation as you are trying to lower the price, and so the vendor will say something along the lines of “Tesda’ wi to’men billah?” which you would answer to with “La Illah Ila Allah.”

He would proceed to tell you that he bought the item you are bargaining about with the same price and if he lowers the price any more than what you have agreed on, he won’t make any profit but you’re still his favorite customer.

This is a very specific example, but it has happened too many times to my liking, and I am sure it will happen to you as well.

14. La Hawla wala Quwwata Illa Billah

Continuing with the calamity occasion that we spoke about in the previous term.

The Hawqala or the phrase “La Hawla wala Quwwata Illa Billah” means tHere’s no power or strength except by God’s help, and is used in calamity.

THere’s no power nor strength except by God’s help La Hawla wala Quwwata Illa Billah لا حول ولا قوة الا بالله

Looking at the example of Mohamed’s accident:

عادل: محمد حصلتله حادثة عربية النهاردة الصبح و فى المستشفى!
عمرو: مش معقولة! لا اله الا الله! أنا كنت معاه امبارح!

You can easily exchange “La Illah Ila Allah” with “La Hawla wala Quwwata Illa Billah” and it would essentially give the same meaning.

The only difference is in the latter, you are recalling humanity’s helplessness without God’s protection.


Since the guide is getting gloomier with accidents now, let’s see what to say when someone dies.

15. El Baqaa’ Lillah/ Wa Ne‘ma billah

16. Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’un

17. Allah Yerhamo Allah Yerhmaha

Literally: Permanence is for God only El Baqaa’ Lillah البقاء لله
Response- an acknowledgment of what was said was true. Wa Ne‘ma billah و نعم بالله
To God we belong and to him we return. Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’un انا لله و انا اليه راجعون
God rest his/her soul. Literally: May God have mercy on his/her soul Allah Yerhamo Allah Yerhmaha الله يرحمه
الله يرحمها

Both Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’un & El Baqaa’ Lillah is said to Muslims only and not Christians.

If you’d like to be neutral, you can say: El Ba’eya fi Hayatak and then the person would reply Hayatak El Ba’ya.

The phrase means we hope that you’ll eventually live the time that was taken away from that person and that you’ll live a long life.

In other words, the deceased will live through the living kin.

Literally: The rest (of time) will be in your life El Ba’eya fi Hayatak البقية فى حياتك
And yours lives (as well) Hayatak El Ba’ya حياتك الباقية

18. Hasbunallahu Wa Ne‘ma Al Wakeel

Sufficient for us is Allah, and He is the best Disposer of affairs Hasbunallahu Wa Ne‘ma Al Wakeel حسبنا الله و نعم الوكيل

“Sufficient for us is Allah, and He is the best Disposer of affairs”.

This is another religious phrase from the Quran and Dhizkr that people tend to use culturally.

In a religious context, you are doing what Muslims call Tawakkul which means you are trusting God’s plan and putting your good faith that things will turn around.

Culturally however, we mostly use it when we are so angry and hurt that people have done us wrong and that we are in position to retaliate.

مديرى بجد صعب و بيشغلنى فى الأجازة من غير فلوس. حسبى الله و نعم الوكيل فيه
English Transliteration Arabic
My boss is so difficult. He makes me work in the weekend with no pay. Hasbi Allahu W N‘ema Al Wakeel Modeery begad sa‘b wi byshaghlny fil agaza men gheir flous. Hasbi Allahu W N‘ema Al Wakeel مديرى بجد صعب و بيشغلنى فى الأجازة من غير فلوس. حسبى الله و نعم الوكيل فيه!

19. Qaddar Allahu Wa Mashaa’ Fa‘al

It is what God had wanted and done Qaddar Allahu Wa Mashaa’ Fa‘al قدر الله وماشاء فعل

This is one of my favorite religious expressions.

It is also used in difficult situations, but when losses have been more or less bearable.

When you have lost material things or broke off an engagement.

Thinking of the example about Mohamed’s accident earlier in the guide, if Mohamed had an accident, where the car got messed up but he got out okay, that would be the occasion to tell him “Qaddar Allahu Wa Mashaa’ Fa‘al”

The phrase is meant to sooze someone’s pain and to help them accept what had happened.

20. Yomhel Wala Yohmel

He gives time but does not dismiss/neglect Yomhel Wala Yohmel يمهل ولا يهمل

This is a very interesting phrase and quite similar in tone to the cultural context of “Hasbunallahu Wa Ne‘ma Al Wakeel” use.

It is meant to say that God may be patient with people, but he does not forget or dismiss what they have done, which basically means that people will eventually reap what they sow.

Yomhel Wala Yohmel however is mostly used when someone has been mistreated.

People would say to him “Yomhel Wala Yohmel”, that God will eventually punish those who have wronged him.

21. Mabrouk/ Allah Yebarik Feek

Okay, let’s end this guide on a brighter note!

Congrats (Literally: Blessed) Mabrouk مبروك
Response: May God bless you Allah Yebarik Feek(y) الله يبارك فيك(ى)

Getting good grades, or getting engaged or being awarded would get you several Mabrouks from everyone around you.

Some people would go the extra mile and say “Alf Mabrouk!” which means a thousand blessings.

The response to both is typical and short: Allah Yebarik Feeky (or feeky if it’s directed towards a female)

22. Rabina Yetamimloko Bi Kheir

May God end this for you on a good note. Rabina Yetamimloko Bi Kheir ربنا يتمملكم بخير

In another happy occasion, when two people get engaged, people would congratulate them by saying “Rabina Yetamimloko Bi Kheir” hoping that their engagement would lead to marriage and happiness.

This is the perfect phrase to say when someone is in the middle of something exciting, and everyone hopes that they would be able to complete it without many obstacles.


I hope reading this guide was useful for you and you found what you were looking for here! Make sure to share it, as it will be a good resource for you to go back to whenever you hear a new difficult religious expression in Egypt.

Be on the lookout for part II soon, as it will cover Christian (Coptic) Arabic expressions.

Until then, مع السلامة

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