Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Mashallah decal: the Jesus fish of Saudi Arabia

You know how when you're not looking for something, you see it all the time? But once you try to catch evidence of this thing, it seems to disappear? I had that kind of situation with the photos in this blog post. For the past couple weeks, I've been trying to catch the Mashallah decal in a parking lot so I could get a decent shot, but I could never find one. Of course I saw a billion of them while riding down the road, so forgive me for the crappy out-the-car-window-with-the-camera-on-my-phone photos in this post.

Islam teaches a belief in the Evil Eye. Muslims believe that the Evil Eye is the cause behind some of the bad things that happen to people. For example, if you don't say "Mashallah" (pronounced mosh-allah) after giving a compliment, you might bring the Evil Eye upon the complimented person/item. Last year a colleague joked that she spilled soup on her top because another colleague complimented her on the shirt but didn't say "Mashallah" afterward.

Mashallah essentially gives props to God (Allah) for providing the item that is being complimented, and kind of tells the Evil Eye to stay away from God's handiwork. It also helps the person you're complimenting to know that the kind words come from a good intention, not out of jealousy.

I've mentioned the Mashallah before, but I haven't mentioned how much we see it every day. Somebody has made a fantastically successful business out of printing Mashallah decals for the cars of Saudi Arabia. It was explained to me by one friend that people put Mashallah on their cars to protect their car, their driving, and their passengers from the Evil Eye. This results in fantastic irony when you see a Mashallah car in a 3 car rear-ender pile-up on the highway.

Another acquaintance explained that people put the Mashallah on their car to "Show off what a good Muslim they are." The jury's still out as to which explanation is more valid.

Anyway, I say all this to tell you the conclusion I reached the other day: The Mashallah sticker is the Jesus fish of Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps it's because I was raised in the American South, but I think most of us can agree that one sees a plethora of ichthuses when driving down the roads of suburbia in the States.

They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and sometimes in little fishy pods, I assume to represent each member of the family that owns the car.

Or apparently the whole family tree!
I've never been much of a Jesus fish kinda Christian. I always thought it was your walk, not your driving that showed the world your beliefs. Plus I knew that all it took was one accidental run of a red light or speeding ticket being issued on the side of a busy highway for a person to say, "All those Christians are so hypocritical." I couldn't take the pressure. 

Just like the Jesus fish and its many designs, the Mashallah decal has several variations for the discerning Muslim driver. Here are a few of the more popular ones.

The teardrop Mashallah 
This decal is every.where here! Maybe because of its appealing, calligraphic design, or maybe because it is compact yet artistic, the teardrop Mashallah is definitely the front runner in this race of the religiously zealous. 

The Comic Sans Mashallah
Can you believe my luck!? I spotted two of the most popular Mashallah decals right next to each other at the same red light! The Comic Sans Mashallah seems to say "I'm hip and fun, but I'm also a faithful Muslim." Its spunky, carefree design is most frequently seen on the Honda Accords and Kia Ceratos of Arabia. There is one car we see almost every morning that has no less than 4 of these decals on its back bumper. That guy is extra safe from the Evil Eye.

The So Calligraphic You Just Have to Ask Someone What It Says Mashallah
I'll admit: I'm guilty of being that girl when we first moved here. Before the Mister and I moved into the apartment, we were living in a hotel and I rode to work each day with a female colleague, driven by a school driver. We were riding down the road and someone with this decal drove by. I asked my driver what the deal was, and got a 30 minute diatribe from my driver and my Muslim colleague. I mean I got the full explanation of what Mashallah meant (kind of...they kept trying to out Muslim each other. "Well actually it means..." then  "No, that's not right. Really, it means...") and then I got a lesson on how to read Arabic calligraphy and the haricat and intricacies of the Arabic alphabet.

You only make that mistake once.

The super calligraphic Mashallah seems to give the impression that the driver inside wants to prove his faith, but without all the trendy hype. This style of writing more resembles the writing you find in the Qur'an, without all the influence of pop culture and looking like one of those kids speeding down the highway in an Accord.

Any way you spin it, the Mashallah sticker is everywhere. I love that so much of Saudi Arabia is so similar to home, just with a different religion behind all the action.

Vicariously yours,


  1. Certainly you don't really mean what you say in the last sentence!!!!

    1. I did then, and I do now, Jeffrey. Just like there are Christian extremists (like the KKK) that are the minority of Christians in the American south, the extremists you hear about in the news back home did not affect us in any way while we were living in Saudi Arabia. Obvious differences like the fact that the government of KSA is a theocracy don't apply to that last sentence, but the zeal with which the typical Saudi citizen practiced his/her faith was no different than the way a typical Christian in the American south did.