Biden Says Arabic Word Frequently Used by Muslims During Debate


Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden used the Arabic word “inshallah” during a discussion on President Donald Trump’s tax returns at the first presidential debate Tuesday night.

Moderator Chris Wallace had asked Trump about a recent article from The New York Times that said the Republican president paid only $750 in federal income taxes per year in 2016 and 2017.

“I’ve paid millions of dollars, and you’ll get to see it,” Trump replied.

“When?” Biden asked. “Inshallah?”

Biden’s campaign confirmed to NPR that the former vice president had used the Arabic word that means “Allah willing” or “if Allah wills it.”

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The word is often used sarcastically by Muslims to express doubt that someone will do something that they claim they plan to do.

Some American Muslims and others praised Biden on social media for his inclusivity.

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A BuzzFeed News immigration reporter called it “a historic moment in America.”

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Other people were not impressed.

One commentator even called Biden’s use of the word “colonial and derogatory.”

Fadi Helani, a linguistics professor at Montclair State University, told The Washington Post that the phrase seemed too sophisticated for someone who doesn’t speak the language to use in a presidential debate.

“Inshallah” is used to expressed hope for the desired outcome in formal Arabic, including in media interviews and news conferences, according to Helani.

When it is used in informal conversation, the word can be used sarcastically “to mean that the hope or statement is too good to be true,” The Post reported.

“If somebody … talks about passing a test, and you say, ‘inshallah,’ that means you’re hoping they pass,” Helani said.

“But if somebody says that, and you know they’re a lazy student, ‘inshallah’ means you don’t believe them at all.”

Helani said that Biden’s use of the word was sarcastically “casting doubt” on Trump’s claim he would release the tax returns.

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith