Media outlets routinely mangle the true meaning of “Allahu akbar,” the ubiquitous battle cry of Islamic jihadists as they commit mass murder.
The war-cry is mistranslated in the Western media as “God is great.” But the actual meaning is “Allah is greater,” meaning Allah Is Greater Than Your God or Government.
It is the aggressive declaration that Allah and Islam are dominant over every other form of government, religion, law or ethic, which is why Islamic jihadists in the midst of killing infidels so often shout it.
One primary purpose of shouting is to “strike terror in the hearts of the enemies of Allah.”
Chief 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta made this explicit in his letter to himself before carrying out his jihad mission: “When the confrontation begins, strike like champions who do not want to go back to this world. Shout, ‘Allahu Akbar,’ because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers.” This is why the Fort Hood jihad killer, Nidal Malik Hasan, shouted it as he shot thirteen Americans in November 2009, and why so many other jihadis have used it essentially as an announcement that non-Muslims are about to die.
But it is also frequently used when no infidels are within earshot. According to Islam, Allah is sovereign and dominant over all things, and controls everything. His control is so absolute he decides if unbelievers reject Islam, according to the Qur’an.“If we had willed, We could have given every soul its guidance,” but instead, “I will surely fill Hell with jinn and people all together.”
This sovereignty over absolutely everything leads the willing slaves of this god to exclaim “Allahu akbar” in a multitude of apparently contradictory situations:
“Allahu akbar” can be a declaration of joy and gratitude to Allah, as in this video, when the jihadis shout it after shooting down a helicopter, with particular vibrancy when the helicopter bursts into flames. It can also be an expression of grief and anger, as in this video, in which Syrians exclaim it as an airstrike hits their village.
This video of a failed rocket launch illustrates the variety of uses.
…. As the rocket begins to ignite, and then launches, only to travel a couple of feet and explode in their own compound, the watching jihadis shout “Allahu akbar!” repeatedly, like characters in Orwell’s 1984 book who are restricted by Newspeak to think only thoughts that can be expressed by a few permitted words.
First come the fervent “Please-make-it-work” “Allahu akbars,” and then the excited “Wow-its-working!” “Allahu akbars,” followed by, as the rocket fails, the resigned “Too bad” “Allahu akbars,” the apologetic “We’re-sorry-please-forgive-us” and the reassuring “Allah still is on our team” “Allahu akbars.”
In contrast, a group of free Christian or post-Christian Westerners would have appealed to diligence, effort, luck and science — “Be careful!” “Go!” “Sh..,” and finally, “Back to the drawing board.”
In Islam, the outcome actually determined by human choice, math, probability, luck and machinery are all under Allah’s control, and so the most appropriate thing to say no matter what happens is…Allahu akbar.
In terms of its connotation, then, “Allahu akbar” can mean just about anything — except the one phrase it is most often rendered as in English, “God is great.”
Even though “Allah” means “the God” and is used by most Arabic-speaking Christians to refer to the God of Christianity, when jihadis use the phrase, they mean to emphasize the superiority of Islam and its god – hence it would be more precise to leave the word untranslated and render the phrase “Allah is greater” in English.
And to say “God is great” in Arabic would require a different word — Allahu kabir, because akbar is the elative, or comparative and superlative, form of kabir.
Thus a Christian equivalent of “Allahu akbar” would not be “Jesus is great” or, to use an actual Christian phrase, “Jesus is Lord.’ In its variety of connotations and uses, it corresponds roughly to the Evangelical/Pentecostal use of “Praise the Lord”; however, that phrase contains none of the notions of superiority that are inherent in “Allahu akbar.”
If the Christian terrorists of media myth ever became reality and were casting about for a phrase they could use the way Muslims use “Allahu akbar,” they might shout something like “In hoc signo vinces.” That’s the Roman Emperor Constantine’s fourth-century vision of victory under the Christian Cross — In this sign conquer — shortly before he won the Empire-changing battle of the Milvian Bridge.
But in “Allahu akbar,” Islamic conquest is simultaneously asserted and assumed – and the Latin phrase has none of the compactness nor the multiple-meanings of “Allahu akbar.”
Nor does any Christian phrase carry any of the whiff of threat and menace that “Allahu akbar” possesses.
When “Allahu akbar” was found scrawled on the fuel tank of an airliner in Paris just weeks after the Paris jihad massacre of November 2015, the threat was unmistakable. Whoever wrote it wanted, in Atta’s words, to “strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers.”
As jihadis the world over scream “Allahu akbar” as they begin killing infidels, there is no doubt that this phrase does indeed, all too often, strike terror into the hearts of unbelievers: the superiority of the god of Islam is asserted in blood.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Complete Infidel’s Guide to ISIS. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.