In the Name of God: the Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Beloved Lord
It is a very common Islamophobe claim that the phrase, “Allahu Akbar” is the “Muslim battle cry.” They base this claim on the fact that many Muslim extremists yell out “Allahu Akbar” before their acts of barbarism. Indeed, that does happen. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.
First, the word “Allahu Akbar” means “God is the Greatest.” It was not the “Muslim battle cry” at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), although it is almost certain that many Muslims have used the phrase in that manner. In fact, in many of the protests of the Arab Spring, the peaceful, unarmed protesters yelled out that very phrase, “Allahu Akbar,” while being shot at by security forces.
Yet, “Allahu Akbar” is more than just a phrase; it is a way of life. It means that God is Greater than anything else on earth: whether it be a vicious tyrant shooting and killing his own people or from one’s own evil whims and temptations.
Before the Muslim enters the ritual prayer, she must utter “Allahu Akbar” out loud. Once she does that, she enters into the Divine Presence. That is because, at that moment, she leaves the entire world behind in order to offer the ritual prayer. Thus, “God is the Greatest.” In the course of a day, Muslims will utter this phrase, “Allahu Akbar,” at least seventeen times, one for each ritual prayer cycle. Yet, there are many Muslims who utter with their mouths “God is the Greatest,” and their actions belie those sacred words.
Take the barbarian extremists who kill in the name of God. If they yell “God is the Greatest” in celebration of an attack that kills innocent human beings, they lie in the worst manner. Their act of murder precisely declares that God is not the greatest to them. For, if God was truly the greatest, they would not harm any innocent life. If a Muslim merchant prays five times a day and utters “Allahu Akbar” seventeen times, yet cheats his customers, then God is truly not the greatest to that merchant. If a Muslim citizen cheats on his income tax return, then God is truly not the greatest to that citizen.
In fact, the ritual acts of worship are connected directly to the character of the believer. Take this Prophetic report (reported in Muslim):
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, asked, “Do you know who the bankrupt are?” They said, “The one without money or goods is bankrupt.” So the Prophet said, “The bankrupt are those from my nation who come on the Day of Resurrection with prayer, fasting, and charity, but comes also insulting, slandering, consuming wealth, shedding blood, and beating others. They will each be given from his good deeds; if his good deeds run out before the score is settled, their bad deeds will be cast upon him, then he will be thrown into the Hellfire.”
All those good works, done in gratitude to God for His undying and unending love for us, will mean nothing on Judgment Day if they are not accompanied by good character. For, if God was truly the greatest to someone, then he would not treat God’s creations – humanity, animals, and the natural world – with contempt and brutality. It can be difficult sometimes, to do the right thing. Yet, that is the true meaning of Jihad: the struggle to overcome our own temptations and whims in order to do what God wants of us. But we do that precisely because “Allahu Akbar”: God is the Greatest.