Obama said, ‘Khodahafez’ to Iran’s president. Here’s what that means.

September 27, 2013

This official White House photograph shows President Obama speaking by phone Friday with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. (Pete Souza/The White House/AFP)

When President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ended their historic phone call today -- the first direct contact between U.S. and Iranian presidents since 1979 -- Rouhani signed off with, "Have a nice day." But Obama responded, according to Rouhani's later recounting of the conversation via Twitter, with the word "khodahafez."

Khodahafez is a Persian-language expression that's used to say goodbye. It's sometimes written as two words: "khoda hafez" and literally translates as "God be with you."

You can practically hear cable news talking heads trying to decide whether they should be outraged by this choice of words, but it's really just a friendly colloquialism.

It turns out there's a bit more to it, as well. CNN's Jake Tapper asked his colleague Fareed Zakaria for any insights on the expression. Here's what Zakaria told him:

In fact, it's a point of contention in the Islamic world. The Persians tend to say "Khoda Hafez" and [for] lots of people, it's the standard slang. But the hard line Sunnis now say "Allah Hafez," because they don't like the Persian word "Khoda," which is "God." But that's inside baseball.

The vast majority of Persians are followers of Shiite Islam, as opposed to Sunni Islam.

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Max Fisher · September 27, 2013