Allahu Akbar

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This article discusses the meaning of the Islamic phrase, "Allahu Akbar", and its translation into English.

Malaysia Allah for Muslims only.jpg

Introduction[edit]

Although the phrase "Allahu Akbar" (الله أكبر) is a common phrase used by all Muslims in various situations, including the Salah (obligatory five prayers a day) and has even been used in the past by some non-Muslims as a show of support for the protesting Iranians, it is widely associated with the Muslims who shout it whilst engaged in Jihad. Many people claim it is simply the Arabic translation of a common English phrase meaning "God is great!" This article analyzes this apologetic claim by examining the use of the phrase in scripture, and the use of these words in their original Arabic.

Analysis[edit]

Allah[edit]

Claim: 'Allah' is simply the Arab word for 'God.'

Fact: 'God' in Arabic is translated 'ilah,' not 'Allah.'


Allah = الله (alif ا, lam ل, lam ل, ha ه)

ilah = اله (alif ا, lam ل, ha ه)

Evidence[edit]

The Shahadah is one of the five pillars of Islam, and is recited by all Muslims:

Arabic: أشهد أن لا إله إلاَّ الله و أشهد أن محمد رسول الله

Transliteration: ašhadu ʾanla ilāha illal-Lāh, wa ʾašhadu ʾanna muḥammadan rasūlul-Lāh

Literal: There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.

As you can see, even though many English speaking Muslims claim it states "there is no god but God", this is not the case. Muslims view the name Allah as a proper noun, as opposed to a common noun descriptive applicable to any deity. Allah is not the generic word for 'god' in Arabic, but the name of Islam's deity.

[1.1a] The belief that Allah is One is the fundamental basis of Islam, and when Divine Unity is expressed, the name "Allah" must be used. It is not permissible to say, "There is no god but the Almighty" or use any other names except Allah for the shahada. Nothing at all resembles Him or is equal to Him.
The Risala of 'Abdullah ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani
A Treatise on Maliki Fiqh (Including commentary from ath-Thamr ad-Dani by al-Azhari)(310/922 - 386/996)

Why some Apologists insist 'Allah' means 'God'[edit]

For some, it is a lie told to facilitate proselytisation (Da'wah). For others, it is purely out of ignorance. Language is always evolving, so the actual definition of a word and its popular usage can, and very often does, differ. For example, 'gay' still means 'happy' but through its use in western pop-culture, it can also mean 'homosexual'. This is also the case for the word "Allah" in predominantly Muslim cultures and societies. It is used interchangeably with 'God', as most people are Muslims; to them Allah is God, thus to make a distinction would be redundant.

Some are willing to take advantage of people's ignorance of the Arabic language when it suits their purpose. For example: the false conversion story of pop legend Michael Jackson. A video entitled 'Inshallah' (Allah willing) has been doing the rounds on user-contributed media sites like YouTube. It contains edited footage of Michael Jackson using the phrase 'Inshallah,' and its editor proudly proclaimed on its page "only Muslims say Inshallah." a view which was echoed by many of the Muslim commentators who viewed it. However, it was simply a case of selective editing. The Muslim who made the video had cut off the first part of Michael's statement. It was a 12 year-old promo for his Tunisian fans on the eve of his HIStory world tour. Since Arabic is Tunisia's official language and since Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians living in Tunisia also use the phrase 'Inshallah', it was not proof that he had converted to Islam.

In another case in Malaysia, the government banned Christians from using the word 'Allah' in reference to the Christian God,[1] and in one incident, reported by CNN in October of 2009, twenty-thousand Bibles were seized by authorities because they referred to the Christian God as 'Allah,'[2] completely disregarding the fact that due to the evolution of the Malay language, which has borrowed extensively from Arabic, Sanskrit and Portuguese, there is no indigenous Malay word for 'God' other than the pagan 'Allah'. It was reported that in 2010 a court ruling overturned the ban, a decision which the government has appealed against, insisting that it should remain in place.[3] This decision to allow Christians to use the word 'Allah' has led to violent protests and bombings of several Malaysian churches.[3] One of the protesters summed up the thoughts of many Malaysian Muslims, stating, “Allah is only for us, The Christians can use any word, we don’t care, but please don’t use the word Allah.”[3]

So, according to Muslims, is 'Allah' the word for 'God' or the name of their particular deity distinct from the God of Christianity and Judaism? No doubt you will receive very different answers depending on the situation. However, the original Arabic script found within the Qur'an tells you all that you need to know.

Akbar[edit]

Claim: 'Akbar' means 'great.'

Fact: 'Akbar' in English is translated 'greater,' not 'great.'


Great = كبير (Kebir)

Greater = أكبر (Akbar)

Evidence[edit]

Kebir and akbar are not interchangeable words. For evidence, we only need look to the Qur'an. Both kebir (great) and akbar (greater) are used in the following verse:

Original Arabic script:

يسالونك عن الخمر والميسر قل فيها اثمتتفكرون كبير ومنافع للناس واثمهما اكبر من نفعهما ويسالونك ماذا ينفقون قل العفو كذلك يبين الله لكم الايات لعلكم

Transliteration:

Yas-aloonaka AAani alkhamri waalmaysiriqul feehima ithmun kabeerun wamanafiAAu lilnnasiwa-ithmuhuma akbaru min nafAAihima wayas-aloonaka mathayunfiqoona quli alAAafwa kathalika yubayyinu Allahulakumu al-ayati laAAallakum tatafakkaroona

Yusuf Ali:

They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: "In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit." They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: "What is beyond your needs." Thus doth Allah Make clear to you His Signs: In order that ye may consider- [4]

Allahu Akbar[edit]

Lane's Lexicon and Other Sources[edit]

Lane's Lexicon, the most revered and scholarly dictionary of the Arabic language, confirms the majority view is that "Allahu Akbar" refers to Allah being "greater". Unlike in its early years, so does Wikipedia, stating the phrase literally means "God is greater". But is usually translated "God is [the] Greatest," or "God is Great".[5] Similarly, Pierre Tristam, the Lebanese-American About.com Guide states, although most often translated as "god is great," Allahu Akbar is Arabic for "god is greater," or "god is greatest."[6] Many news sources and other web resources are now also beginning to use the more correct translation.

Used in Context by Muhammad[edit]

"Allahu Akbar" has been used historically by Muslims as a battle cry during war.[7] This precedent was set by Prophet Muhammad when he attacked the Jews of Khaibar.

In the following sahih hadith, you can see the phrase has been translated correctly into English by Muslims.

Narrated Anas: The Prophet set out for Khaibar and reached it at night. He used not to attack if he reached the people at night, till the day broke. So, when the day dawned, the Jews came out with their bags and spades. When they saw the Prophet; they said, "Muhammad and his army!" The Prophet said, Allahu--Akbar! (Allah is Greater) and Khaibar is ruined, for whenever we approach a nation (i.e. enemy to fight) then it will be a miserable morning for those who have been warned."

One must also note that if the word "Allah" meant "God", why then would he be telling the Jews of Khaibar (who supposedly worship the same god) that Islam's Allah is greater?

Here are a few more quotes which use the phrase "Allahu Akbar".

Yahya related to me from Malik from Abu Ubayd, the mawla of Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik, from Ata ibn Yazid al-Laythi that Abu Hurayra said, "Whoever says 'Glory be to Allah' (Subhana'llah) thirty-three times and 'Allah is Greater' (Allahu akbar) thirty-three times and 'Praise be to Allah' (al-hamdu lillah) thirty-three times, and seals the hundred with 'There is no god but Allah, alone without any partner. The Kingdom and praise belong to Him and He has power over everything' (La ilaha illa'llah, wahdahu la sharika lah, lahu'l mulku wa lahu'l hamd, wa huwa ala kulli shay'in qadir) after every prayer will have his wrong actions forgiven him even if they are abundant as the foam on the sea."
Yahya related to me from Malik from Hisham ibn Urwa that his father never brought food or drink, nor even a remedy which he ate or drank but that he said, "Praise be to Allah who has guided us and fed us and given us to drink and blessed us. Allah is greater. O Allah! We have found Your blessing with every evil, give us every good in the morning and evening. We ask You for its completion and its gratitude. There is no good except Your good. There is no god other than You, the God of the salihun and the Lord of the Worlds. Praise be to Allah. There is no god but Allah. What Allah wills. There is no power except in Allah. O Allah! Bless us in what You have provided us with and protect us from the punishment of the Fire!"


Al-hamdu lillahi-lladhi hadana wa at amana wa saqana wa naamana. Allahu akbar. Allahumma'l fatna nimatik bi-kulli sharr. Fa asbahna minha wa amsayna bi-kulli khayr. Nasaluka tamamaha wa shukraha. La khayr illa khayruk. Wa la ilaha ghayruk. Ilaha'-saliheen wa rabba'l-alameen. Al-hamdu lillah. Wa la ilaha illa'llah. Ma sha'Allah. Wa la quwwata illa billah. Allahumma barik lana fima razaqtana. Waqina adhaba'n-na

Conclusion[edit]

Many Muslims and their apologists claim "Allahu Akbar" is simply the Arabic translation of a common English phrase meaning "God is great!" However, this is untrue. "Allahu Akbar" does not mean "God is great" as claimed. It actually means "Allah is greater."

'Allah' is not simply the Arabic word for 'God,' but the name of Islam's chosen deity and 'Akbar' does not mean 'great', but 'greater'. Greater than what? The answer is, Allah is greater than whatever god you happen to believe in.

See Also[edit]

  • Allah - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Allah
  • Islamic Terms - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Islamic Terms

External Links[edit]

  • Allahu Akbar - Muslim Arabic speaker, commenting on this page, confirms "Allahu Akbar" means "Allah is greater" (not "God is great)"

References[edit]

  1. "Malaysia: Government Maintains Only Muslims Can Use ‘Allah’ Term" - Compass Direct News, January 08, 2008
  2. Saeed Ahmed - "Bibles seized as Malaysia minorities fear fundamentalism" - CNN, October 29, 2009
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Mydans, Seth. "Churches Attacked in Malaysian ‘Allah’ Dispute", The New York Times, January 9, 2010. 
  4. Quran root browser - ك ب ر - k-b-r
  5. "Takbir", Wikipedia, accessed August 4, 2013 (archived), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takbir. 
  6. Pierre Tristam, "Allahu Akbar", Middle East Issues (About.com), accessed August 4, 2013 (archived), http://middleeast.about.com/od/a/g/allahu-akbar-definition.htm. 
  7. Ludwig W. Adamec, "Historical Dictionary of Islam", Scarecrow Press, 2nd ed. 2009, p. 32