IN PART 2 we looked at the matter of taking on oaths, “swearing by Allah” and engaging in appeals to Allah. Here, we explore the meaning of “OMG” and its suitability on the tongue of Muslims, in the context of “swearing by Allah” and appealing to Allah in submission and respectful awe.
“OMG” = “Yâ’ Allâh!”?
What about the commonly heard English phrase —texted as “OMG“—”Oh, my God!” (Spoken with an exaggerated falling-rising pitch pattern), or simply, “Oh God!”
Notice the difference between “Oh” and “O.” The spelling “O” is used in old forms of English—just as “yâ’” is used in the Arabic of the Quran—when calling a designated person’s attention to what is being said to him. By contrast, the spelling “Oh!” expresses a strong (usually negative) feeling concerning the shock of a surprising observation or bit of news.
Do you know anyone—Muslim or not—who use this expression “Oh, [my] God!” in the sense of “O [my] God! …” meaning that s/he is addressing Allah, reverently, in praise or supplication? (I don’t!)
I don’t believe that “Oh, my God!” (OMG) projects the same reverent attitude as does “[Yâ’] Rabb!” (“O Lord”) or “[Yâ’] Rabbi!” (“O my Lord”) as we find these phrases in Qur’anic contexts. I believe that OMG borders on the irreverent, at the least—and should be avoided by English-speaking Muslims as unworthy of our quest for taqwa, with its sense of submission to Allah and of always looking for His merciful provision and guidance.
There is, of course, the legitimate use of these “Oh…!” phrases to express extreme emotion such as outrage, distaste, loss of control or impermissible departure from accepted standards or protocol. “Oh, No!”, “Oh, dear!”, “Oh, my goodness!” “Oh, woe is me!” —to use feeble and unobjectionable language! The reader can probably think of a few choice offensive and loathsome terms commonly heard. Why not, instead, go straight to the point: “Yâ’ Allâh!” since He is the highest court of appeal and in ultimate control.
In a case of emergency or of extreme emotion, “O my God!” may be used in the sense of appealing to Allah for a remedy to an unacceptable situation. The question is whether this phrase is used reverently or whether it is being bandied about casually to suggest that one’s situation is helpless and hopeless in a godless world. Is Allah being called upon to participate in the crisis, respectfully addressed in supplication—and later thanked in praise for the good in its outcome?
It is natural for humans to appeal to the highest power when things are out of order in his life. How should we do this in conformity with Islam, in a believer-appropriate way?
As a starter, we must appeal to Allah deferentially, as our Lord who sees and knows all and who is in control. An example of disrespect is the phrase “God awful”—meaning “terribly awful” or “very awful.” While it is true that an extreme reaction is forcefully brought home by this novel word combination and no doubt is intended to be attention-grabbing, what is more important is that in the process of doing so it abuses the concept of a beneficent Deity. It suggests that if an All-Powerful Deity does in fact exist, then He has some explaining to do for all the suffering and wrongs He allows in human experience. Such is the mental reality of the secular societies in which we Muslims live—and not only in the West.
By this collocation of words, not only has the concept of “awe” (wonder) at the Creator and His creation been demeaned (to the sense of “terrible”), but similarly one’s understanding of the “Operating System of the Universe” as the Merciful and Wise Ultimate Power has been usurped and replaced with a God-less, meaningless existence.
“Yâ’ Allâh!” can express—respectfully—a Muslim’s outrage or desperation at this circumstances without losing his sense of implicit trust that Allah knows what He is allowing to take place (in the short run) —and Allah equally knows what He is doing in regard to the big picture (in the long run).
Behold, thy Lord said to the angels, “I will create a vicegerent on earth.” They said: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?—whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy [name)?” He said: “I know what ye know not.” [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:30]
True Islamic attitudes can best be absorbed from the example of “God-fearing” parents and other early influences—in conformance, of course, with Prophetic example.
When I was growing up, I was always impressed with my grandfather’s soft expression of outrage. “Lord have mercy!” This expression now reminds me that we have no need to curse unpleasant people or situations—not if we truly believe that Allah can channel the outcome of mankind’s intentions and actions, the bad as well as the good! Again, we have a number of Islamic phrases appropriate to match a variety of perceived situations:
May Allah forgive us [all]!
May Allah guide us (all)!
May Allah make it easy for you!
Also, I remember my father teaching me that we dishonor God by carelessly using His name in various expressions commonly heard. Thus, it would be sacrilegious to show one’s displeasure with expressions like “God!” or “Jesus!” or “For God’s sake!” or “For Christ’s sake!” Even euphemisms related to these expressions were inappropriate: “Gosh” (a polite substitute for “God!”) or “Geez” (a substitute for “Jesus!”) or “Crap!” (to avoid coming out with “Christ!”) or “Heck!” (for “Hell!”) or “[Gosh] Darn [it]!” (for [God] Damn [it]!”)
Our words project our inner attitudes and intention, such as our personal submission to Allah—or lack thereof. He intends for the righteous to be at peace with their circumstances at the moment, even when great struggle is in the works. Regardless of our circumstances, we will have to give account for our words and our deeds before Allah.
[But] one Day We shall summon all human beings [and judge them] according to the conscious disposition which governed their deeds [in life]… [Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, 17:71]
But, verily, thy Sustainer knows all that their hearts conceal as well as all that they bring into the open: for there is nothing [so deeply] hidden in the heavens or on earth but is recorded in [His] clear decree. [Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:74-75]
Verily, We shall indeed bring the dead back to life; and We shall record whatever [deeds] they have sent ahead, and the traces [of good and evil] which they have left behind: for of all things do We take account in a record clear. [Sûrat Yâ Sîn, 36:12]
Behold, two (guardian angels) appointed to learn (his doings) learn (and note them), one sitting on the right and one on the left. Not a word does he utter but there is a sentinel by him, ready (to note it). [Sûrat Qâf, 50:17-18]
Prophet Jesus had a similar warning for his followers:
Matthew 12:34, 36-37 … For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. … You can be sure that on the Judgment Day everyone will have to give account of every useless word he has ever spoken. Your words will be used to judge you—to declare you either innocent or guilty.”
Since all of our words and deeds will be found in our Record, it behooves us to examine our habitual expressions. If our patterns of expression need to be cleaned up, may Allah guide us and make it easy to change our habits. Anything questionable should be replaced with something better—something sure to please Allah.
Unwholesome phrasings and intolerant characterizations of others should give way to the use of phrases that praise and thank Allah, such as, Al-ḥamdulillâhi Rabbi al-ʿâlamîn (Thankful praise be to God, Lord of all worlds!), Allâhu Akbar (God is greater [than all else]), Allâhu aʿlam (God [alone] knows fully). And, when needed, we should turn to phrases which call on Allah’s help, protection, forgiveness, such as aʿuthu billâhi min al-Shayṭâni al-rajîm (I seek refuge in Allah from the Rejected Satan), aghfir lî (Forgive me!)
Make due allowance for man’s nature, and enjoin the doing of what is right; and leave alone all those who choose to remain ignorant. And if it should happen that a prompting from Satan stirs thee up [to blind anger], seek refuge with God; behold, He is all-hearing, all-knowing. Verily, they who are conscious of God bethink themselves [of Him] whenever any dark suggestion from Satan touches them—whereupon, lo! they begin to see [things] clearly, even though their [godless] brethren would [like to] draw them into error: and then they cannot fail [to do what is right}. [Sûrat Al-‘Aʿrâf, 7:199-202]
Now whenever thou happen to read this Qur’an, seek refuge with God from Satan, the accursed. Behold, he has no power over those who have attained to faith and in their Sustainer place their trust: he has power only over those who are willing to follow him, and who [thus] ascribe to him a share in God’s divinity. [Sûrat Al-Naḥl, 16:98-100]
If old habits of speech are tough to reform, then relax in Allah’s promise and say: “I take refuge in Allah from the Evil One, the Accursed” and bethink yourself of Allah.