Why Are So Many White Boys Saying ‘Wallahi’?

Exploring how Arabic words made their way into British slang

“Blud, you’re not on your deen”

— Skepta

There was once a time where you would only expect to hear Islamic expressions during a conversation between Muslims, but that is no longer the case as all you really need to do is take a stroll down the streets of London, where it’s not at all uncommon to hear our everyday lexical items be thrown around by non-Arabic speakers on any given day thanks to the close-knit immigrant communities, who have played a pivotal role in shaping the melting pot that is London.

British slang has origins in many of London’s immigrant cultures. Because of the unmatched diversity in the UK, everyday slang words tend to pull from the West Indian and Somali communities. For example, words such as “man dem,” meaning a group of men, and “ting” come from Patois. Meanwhile, terms like “wallahi,” meaning “I swear,” and “akhi,” which means brother, have Arabic origins. English rapper Krept encapsulated this lexical occurrence best in the song Ask Flipz where he states “Not my brudda, stop calling me akhi; I eat plantain, you eat batty.”

@karimw333 #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #muslimtiktok #muslim #muslimtok #northafrican #northafricantiktok #middleeastern #middleeasterntiktok #arabtiktok #desitiktok ♬ But im not seeing my ppl – AUSTIMUS PRIME🔱

Indeed, the Somali-British community is among the largest African immigrant population in Britain. In fact, the United Kingdom is home to the biggest Somali population in Europe, who first arrived to the UK in the 19th century, and went on to plant the linguistic roots that blossomed into the multiethnolects — dialects of the local language that include words from multiple ethnic groups — that is used today in London.

Meanwhile, other Arabic words in British slang are— you guessed it— remnants of colonialism. As a result of British colonial rule in India, many South Asian immigrants relocated to the UK, bringing with them their own linguistic influences, including Islamic expressions that derive from Arabic.

And, as Muslims and Arabs establish themselves across pop culture, they are bringing parts of their culture with them, which includes their language. The dispersion of our vernacular has accelerated and went on to enter wider usage in British youth culture thanks to hip-hop and grime music, which has also adopted Arabic words and Islamic phrases, so even white boys are walking around saying “mashallah” and “wallahi.” That’s because the adoption of slang in our everyday vocabulary is used as a marker of cultural capital and identity among certain subcultures in Britain, meaning the more well-versed you are in street language, the cooler you are.

It’s also worth noting that the use of Arabic words in British slang is not limited to Britain, and many of London’s slang words are shared with Toronto, where language has also been heavily shaped by Caribbean and Somali influences. So, please stop saying Londoners want to be Torontonians, and vice versa— this is just what happens to language when immigrants from a wide variety of backgrounds come together in one place!

Below, the Arabic British slang words (that are seemingly on the rise), what they mean, and where they come from.


Until recently, this word, meaning “brother,” was exclusively used by the Muslim community. Today, the word has been adopted by non-Muslims as well, thanks to its usage by some popular Muslim rap and drill artists in the London music scene.


Made popular by Muslims who come from non-Arabic speaking backgrounds, this word, which means “soldiers” in Arabic, is used to refer to the police in London street slang.


Hip-hop group D-Block Europe have a song called Miskeen, which is an Arabic word meaning “poor,” “innocent,” or “pathetic.”


The Arabic word for “boy”, “son,” or “kid,” just signifies an idiot in British slang. Perhaps this is because of its confusion with the Cockney term “wally,” which is used when referring to someone as a fool.


Meaning “I swear to God,” the term, which comes from the Somali community, originates from Arabic. This word has now spread to Londoners of all walks of life.

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