In English, Allāhu Akbar, and in Arabic, الله أكبر. This chant has historical, religious, and terroristic significance. It has deep roots within Islamic scripture and culture. You have probably heard of the phrase, you may have made the connections between it and the odd terrorist rampage. How many times have you turned on CNN to find another case of “Allahu Akbar,” death, and bloodshed?
This theme has been played out time and time again in numerous cases of spontaneous violence. The self-declared motives are packaged into one convenient phrase: “Allah is [the] Greatest [Greater than false Gods]!” or “Allah is Greater [than your God]!” Let me explain to you this connection in detail and put an end to the media dogma surrounding it.
Religious and Historical Significance
Let me get some definitions straight: the Islamic God is called Allah, الله. Akbar, أكبر, means greater. Ilah, اله, means God. This proclaims that nothing is equal to Allah. No God is the real God but Allah. He is better than any false God, idol, or human – whatever you believe in. Scriptural view dictates that anything other than believing in Allah is idolatry. Do you get the message? It is religious supremacy supplied in a neat package.
So, where does the term come from? The Prophet Muhammad himself:
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.”
Reference: Sahih Hadith – Volume 4, Book 52 (Fighting in the Cause of Allah (Jihaad)), Hadith 195.
This hadith discusses an event in relation to the Battle of Khaybar. The Muslims won the battle, Khaybar was left ruined, the Jews suffered, and it was seen as a warning for all those who did not bend to the Prophet, and thus Allah’s, demand. Allah’s enemies were conquered on His behalf. False God’s of the ‘mislead’ Jews were demonstrated to be false through being conquered. Whom you approach to fight will be won over with Allah’s help.
The message is this: Allah has no equal or rival. He is Greater than your false perception of belief. In a way, the uttering of this message is automatically religious and automatically political. It displays supremacy in a divine worldview and cause.
Although I have not listed it here for reasons of length, this symbolism is also present in the Sirat Rasul-Allah and Sealed Nectar in which the Prophet Muhammad or his Companions celebrate victory over tribes around the Arabian Peninsula, over Mecca and thus the Ka’bah and over Meccan polytheism.
As a reminder, I am only trying to discuss Islamic extremism, I know that some people will interject with fallacious arguments. To cut that short: Allahu Akbar is also said during call to prayer, prayer itself (salat) and in sermons (khutbah). It is a phrase advocating for Allah, used civilly (and non-militarily), in celebration and joy. The faithful will, and do, use it civilly.
The Warcry in Modern Terrorism
When you hear the cry, it can be representative of the message the perpetrator is trying to play. The modern state of our media tends to downplay this message, as do fellow believers. Let me put it straight: some of the people who chant this during an attack are doing so because they believe they are acting for Allah. They are killing disbelievers on behalf of their religion, which authoritatively commands One God, the True God, Allah.
Above: ISIS chant “Allahu Akbar!” after praying (in slow motion).
It is provocative and celebratory, it exalts Praise and thanks to Allah, it shows pure and religious intentions, and it declares support for your belief in Allah. It shows dominance of Allah over Earthly Creations. It shows that your actions were guided by Allah. It is used in a militaristic sense to the message, in that those fighting for Allah are ‘winners.’ The ideological battlespace is one between the Islamic God, His system, versus all others.
What was the action taken? Defeating the government forces? Shooting an infidel in the street? Beheading a soldier? All of these actions carry religious significance:
When a suicide terrorist screams it and blows himself up in an Ahmaddiya Mosque he relies on predestination, affirmation of heresy, and belief in the Jannah: Imaan.
When the AK-slinging terrorist shouts it whilst firing down the street he relies on his belief in Allah, and his interpretation and supremacism of that message: Tawheed.
When the knife-carrying terrorists shouts it to begin beheading a man he understands that he is embarking on a religiously supreme act, divinely-sanctioned deed: Sunnah.
These terms and concepts may otherwise be peaceful. But some, in some cases, lean towards violence. The religious extremist either weaponizes the concept or uses the concept as the original Muslims – Sahaba – or the Prophet Muhammad intended and demonstrated.
For reasons of ignorance, apologia, blindness, the media attempt to washout the significance of such a chant. This is ineffective. Most online or social media comment sections tend to explode with suspicion of this minimization – or make accusations of covering-up the said religious evidence. They’re not in the wrong. You, the mainstream media, are in the wrong. You, the political pundits, are in the wrong.
Whether from the Nice truck attacker, the French Church hostage-takers and killers, one of the September 11th hijackers, or the vast number of examples available, the significance of this wail is recognised. Just this past month there have been more than a few terrorist attacks in Australia involving this slogan. The connection to religion and our political environment is self-evident. Hiding the connection is unjust, unprofessional, and at the level of a propagandist.
Put an end to this institutionalised dogma. Please, for the sake of logic and reason.
The warcry, “Allahu Akbar,” is not a superficial exclamation of the irreligious. It is the religious man’s cry of praise, joyous celebration, provocation, and the declaration of support of Allah and His message. The media and political pundits often get this wrong.
The religious terrorist acting on behalf of Allah chants this during an attack to symbolise his or her faith and in-the-moment motives and ambitions. The hope for the religious terrorist is that they gain access to Jannah – to Heaven – for doing a “good” deed as similar to that of the Prophet Muhammad and fellow Sahaba.
These acts include that of terror, at least in their eyes and to their interpretation. Killing, bloodshed, slaughter.