The British Health Minister hinted yesterday that Christmas carol concerts could go ahead this year despite the coronavirus pandemic by using the Arabic-language phrase 'Inshallah'.
The phrase literally means "God willing" but it is also popularly used in an informal way across the Middle East to denote something that is unlikely to happen.
Matt Hancock made the statement during an interview with LBC radio yesterday morning, without providing further detail on the government's plan for the Christmas period.
Asked by LBC host Nick Ferrari if people would be able to hold Christmas carol concerts under new guidelines which will come into force on 2 December, Hancock left a lengthy pause before answering 'Inshallah'.
Pushed to provide details, Hancock insisted: "I'm going to let the Prime Minister explain to Parliament first."
Audio of Hancock's comments can be accessed on the LBC radio catch-up app, an hour into Nick Ferrari's show yesterday.
Social media users were quick to comment on Hancock's use of the phrase, with many left confused by the minister's remarks.
"Can someone tell me why Matt Hancock replied 'Inshallah' when pressed on whether there will be Carol concerts at Xmas????? I'm so baffled," wrote one user.
Can someone tell me why Matt Hancock replied 'Inshallah' when pressed on whether there will be Carol concerts at Xmas????? I'm so baffled.
— Savi 🇯🇲 (@ItsSavlena) November 23, 2020
However, others raised concerns over the comments, claiming Hancock had fallen foul of cultural appropriation.
"Not sure what to make of this comment. But sure it wasn't a clever one! #culturalappropriation."
@MattHancock listening to you on LBC detailing the new rules ended up with you saying INSHALLAH with a 😏. Not sure what to make if this comment. But sure wasn't a clever one! #culturalappropriation#inshallah
— shereen (@shereen98501452) November 23, 2020
Others questioned how Hancock had intended the phrase to come across, pointing out that the term can be used sarcastically.
Dr Brice Scott responded to the segment tweeting: "This wouldn't be the ironic context would it? Implying that something will never happen or can be used as a gentle way of declining invitations?"
On @LBC this Morning @NickFerrariLBC asked @MattHancock if Xmas carols singing could go ahead. Hancock's response: "Inshallah". This wouldn't be the ironic context would it? Implying that something will never happen or can be used as a gentle way of declining invitations?
— Bruce Scott (@DrBruceScott) November 23, 2020
Meanwhile, another user noted sadly: "NOT Matt Hancock taking a line out of the Muslim parents' book and saying "inshallah" to shut down further questions from the press."
Adding: "Muslims kids know all [too] well that "inshallah" in this context means NO."
NOT Matt Hancock taking a line out of the Muslim parents' book and saying "inshallah" to shut down further questions from the press 😭😭
Muslim kids know all to well that "inshallah" in this context means NO. pic.twitter.com/eV6SSl8qM6
— Aleesha Khaliq (@a_leesha1) November 23, 2020
Others joked Hancock had converted to Islam, tweeting: "Mr Secretary finally seen the light asked about Christmas [carols] replies in Arabic "inshallah", welcome to Islam."
— Anser (@Anser1011) November 23, 2020
However, some reacted angrily to Hancock's turn of phrase, pointing out that the health minister had announced a snap lockdown in some areas of England just hours before the Muslim celebration of Eid Al-Adha earlier this year.
— Ash (@Ash_5896) November 23, 2020
Meanwhile, one user claimed Hancock's foray into Arabic had been the craziest moment of 2020.
"2020 has been a crazy year, but I think Matt Hancock dropping 'Inshallah' during an interview on LBC might just take the #1 spot," the user wrote.
2020 has been a crazy year, but I think Matt Hancock dropping 'Inshallah' during an interview on LBC might just take the #1 spot
— A (@adotdee) November 24, 2020
Others noted that US President-elect Joe Biden used the same Arabic phrase during a televised election debate with the incumbent, Donald Trump.
Biden made the sarcastic remark to Trump after the president disputed claims he only paid $750 in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017 saying his opponent would "get to see" his tax returns.
Biden's use of the Arabic phrase caused its own Twitter storm at the time.
Lmaaooo Biden hit mans with the "Inshallah" in a presidential debate pic.twitter.com/uyv7ZkzRU7
— Nader Issa (@NaderDIssa) September 30, 2020