Even people who know next to nothing about the Arab World or Islam have heard this odd-sounding foreign expression. Sadly, as international Jihadist terrorism expands due to the support it is getting from NATO and some Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the expression is associated today with irrational, nihilistic murder and destruction. Is it really a war cry? What does it mean?
The Mosque of Qaayedbey (var: Kayetbay) in Egypt. A muezzin stands at the top of the minaret and calls the faithful to prayer with the chant “Allahu Akbar” followed always by passages from the Qur’an. Jews have the Shofar, Christians, the bells and Muslims, the Mu’azzin.
The Arabic language is very ancient but does not have an ancient script. We don’t know whether Allahu Akbar existed prior to the rise of Islam and the vast literature it created. The oral record which has come down in poetic form discloses no prior evidence of the expression. What we do know is that it is a contraction of the words: Al-Ilaahu Akbar.
The Arabic script is universally recognized as ornate, elegant and beautiful. Its origins are clear to your editor: Syriac (a form of Aramaic) and, possibly, Nabatean. The cursive script from right to left and the florid curves evidence a reliance on the pre-existing Syriac:
The need to preserve the Qur’an in writing was the impetus for the Arabic script we know today. In the beginning, an entire class of “qurraa’” (قرّاء) was created to memorize every word of the Muslim Holy Book. The institution of the Qaari’ or “reader” still exists in today’s Afghanistan with such names as “Qari” being bestowed proudly on Afghan male infants. A great compliment can also be bestowed on someone by calling him a “Haafezh”, one who has memorized the Qur’an. But the “reader” class we mentioned was beginning to die out by the time of the Third Righteously Guided Caliph, Uthman Ibn Affaan, (d. June 17, 656 C.E.) and a need to preserve its text was considered vital to the survival of the faith. Just as important was the requirement that the Qur’an be uniform and not subject to variations: after all, it was to Muslims the spoken word of Allah.
I, frankly, don’t know how Al-Ilaahu Akbar became Allahu Akbar except that the sound of the latter is more felicitous and the appearance of the word “Allah” in script and calligraphy is quite memorable.
Compare here the first: الاله اكبر
To: الله اكبر
The appearance of the word “Allah” in the second example gives it the look of a trident, or even a crown. The quality of contraction or “krasis” makes it seem magical to eye and ear.
The meaning of the expression is in the comparative. It is not in the superlative: God is Greatest, as many think . It is not in the base adjectival form: God is Great. Ergo, the actual meaning of the expression is: God is Greater. That always had more sense for me when I was studying Islam at the University of Michigan in that a Muslim could challenge the universe by asking it to produce its greatest attributes. It could produce Time itself. But a Muslim could always say that God was Greater. Infinite Space would be an hard act to follow: but, God was Greater. And God was Greater than the entire universe! In a way, it exalts God and places Him always in a position above all other things no matter how abstract or vast. That was the significance of the comparative form.
So why do those terrorist rats in Syria keep saying Allahu Akbar even when they are being routed by the Syrian Army? Why do they say it to someone who is mortally wounded and in need of medical intervention? Why do they keep repeating it even as the Syrian Army is blowing them all to smithereens?
It has become a mantra for the ignorant. Both the Iraqis and the Iranians screamed it out during their horrible 8 year-long war which ended, appropriately enough, in a stalemate after taking the lives of close to one million people. Even more interesting is the fact that both sides declared Jihad (Holy War) against the other. So much for comparative theology.
It seems to be blurted out as the enemy is watching the skies come down on him. It’s recited as they watch other humans suffer, such as when they behead a person in a manner inconsistent with the Qur’an. They recite it ad nauseam when a friend falls victim to a bullet or a missile – when he needs isopropyl alcohol more than some incantation for divine intervention. It seems, at times, to be a reaffirmation of the fact that one is Muslim even if all religions agree that God is Greater. In other words, it seems downright stupid! And it is recited so much that it has become as meaningless as a famous and overly-used curse in American English.
Look at this video we previously posted and count how many times these rats used Allahu Akbar and try to figure out why.
Most Jihadists are either morons or emotionally disturbed individuals. Sane Muslims (who are the overwhelming majority), who have no axe to grind with anyone, use the phrase Allahu Akbar differently. They seem to use it when you surprise them with something nice or when they are frustrated by a plan that doesn’t seem to work. For those who are rational and sensible it is an expression which assures the utterer that there is something in this universe that makes all the vagaries of life meaningful. Only degenerate apostates and blaspheming nincompoops use it the way Al-Qaeda does. ZAF