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Allahu Akbar

/ (ˈæləˌhu ˈakˌbaː) /
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interjection

Islam an exclamation used in the call to prayer and also used as a call to the defence of Muslims, an expression of approval, and a funeral litany

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from Arabic, literally: God is most great
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

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What does Allahu Akbar mean?

Allahu Akbar is a common exclamation that literally means “God is (the) greatest” in Arabic.

In Islam, it’s variously used in prayer, as a declaration of faith, and during times of great joy or distress. In the West, the phrase has become associated with Islamist terrorism.

How do you pronounce Allahu Akbar?

[uh-lah-hoo ok-bahr]

Where does Allahu Akbar come from?

In the Islam religion, Allahu Akbar is known as the Takbir, or “declaring greatness.” The phrase is written as الله أكبر  in Arabic script, based on Allah (“God”) and akbar (“greatest”).

While not found in the Koran, Allahu Akbar is said to have been cried out by the prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Badr in 624 CE. Evidence for the phrase can be found in English in the early 1600s.

Allahu Akbar plays a prominent and frequent role in everyday Islamic life, and it notably appears on the flags of Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq.

Worshippers chant it during daily prayers and fans cheer it upon football victories. Parents exclaim it upon the birth of a child. Soldiers shout it in battle. It is that last area of use that has made Allahu Akbar most familiar to Westerners in the 2000s, hijacked—as the majority of Muslims feel the normally peaceful phrase has been—by Islamist extremists and terrorists.

Hijacking, alas, is an operative word, as Allahu Akbar has been found in notes and cockpit recordings connected to the 9/11 attacks. Witnesses report assailants defiantly shouting Allahu Akbar before perpetrating subsequent terrorist attacks, including the 2009 Fort Hood shooting.

Misinformation about the expression has led some Westerners to think Allahu Akbar is a phrase only used by terrorists and others and have incorporated it into Islamophobic content on the internet. This misinformation has also had some real-life consequences.

Following the 2017 attacks in Barcelona, the mayor of Venice threatened to sniper anyone uttering Allahu Akbar in St. Mark’s Square—which would be like shooting down any English-speaker just for saying “God is good.”

On the lighter side, though it shows ignorance of Islamic culture, a St. Louis reporter was roundly mocked in 2017 for mispronouncing Allahu Akbar as Aloo Akbar. That means “potatoes are the greatest.”

How is Allahu Akbar used in real life?

Allahu Akbar is used by the many millions of Arabic-speaking Muslims throughout the world and throughout their daily lives, from formal prayers to informal praise.

https://twitter.com/JJarvz/status/995758211809542145

In the West, many wrongly think the phrase is synonymous with terrorist attacks and suicide bombings—which isn’t helped by media outlets prominently featuring the phrase in headlines about Islamist extremism.

More examples of Allahu Akbar:

“Actors Storm Iran Mall Dressed as ISIS Fighters Shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’”
—Brendan Cole, Newsweek (headline), May, 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

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