The Takbir (تَكْبِير, pronounced [tak.biːr], "magnification [of God]")[a] is the name for the Arabic phrase ʾAllāhu ʾakbaru (ٱللَّٰهُ أَكْبَرُ, pronounced [ʔaɫ.ɫaː.hu ʔak.baru] (listen)), meaning "Allah (God) is the greatest".[1][2]

It is a common Arabic expression, used in various contexts by Muslims and Arabs around the world: in formal Salah (prayer),[2] in the Adhan (Islamic call to prayer),[3], in Hajj, as an informal expression of faith, in times of distress or joy, or to express resolute determination or defiance. The phrase is also used by Arab Christians.[4]

Exegesis

The Arabic word كَبِير (kabīr) means great from the Semitic root k-b-r. The Arabic word أَكْبَر (ʾakbar) is the elative form (greatest) of the adjective kabīr. When used in the Takbīr it is usually translated as greatest, but some authors translate it as greater.[5][6][7] The term Takbīr itself is the stem II verbal noun of the triliteral root k-b-r, meaning "great", from which akbar "greater" is derived. The form Allāhu is the nominative of Allah, meaning 'God'.[8][9]

Usage in Islamic rituals

The takbīr in nastaʿlīq
The takbīr in nastaʿlīq
A Muslim raises both of his hands to recite the Takbīr in prayer.
A Muslim raises both of his hands to recite the Takbīr in prayer.

This phrase is recited by Muslims in many different situations. For example, when they are very happy, to express approval, to prevent a Muslim from becoming prideful by reminding them that Allah is their source of success, as a battle cry, or during times of extreme stress. The phrase is not found in the Quran, which does not describe God as akbar, but uses the name al-Kabīr "The Great" or Kabīr "Great", commonly translated as "Most Great" (13:9, 31:30, 22:62, 34:23, 40:12, 4:34).

In prayer

The phrase is said during each stage of both salah (obligatory prayers, performed five times a day), and nafl (supererogatory prayers, performed at will). The call to prayer by the muezzin to those outside the mosque (adhan) and the call to those inside to line up for the commencement of prayer (iqama) also contain the phrase.[3]

While there are many short prayers like it, the takbir is used more frequently than any other.[10]

Following births and deaths

The phrase is used after the birth of a child as a means of praising God.[11] It is also part Islamic funeral and burial customs.[12]

During the Eid Festival and the Hajj

During the festival of Eid al-Adha and the days preceding it, Muslims recite the Takbīr. This is particularly the case on the Day of Arafah.[13]

During the halal slaughter of animals

The process of pronouncing the name of Allah while performing Dhabihah one must say "Bismillah Allahu Akbar".[14]

Other social usage

Allāhu akbar in a memorial, Desouk, Egypt
Allāhu akbar in a memorial, Desouk, Egypt
"Allāhu akbar" in Arabic calligraphy seen on Imam Ali Mosque architecture (center of the Iwan), 1994
"Allāhu akbar" in Arabic calligraphy seen on Imam Ali Mosque architecture (center of the Iwan), 1994

The expression "Allah Akbar" can be used in a variety of situations, from celebrations to times of grief.

In a historical account by someone who was present both at the birth of Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and at his funeral, the author observes that "Allahu Akbar" was said on both occasions.[15]

In times of distress

The phrase is sometimes used during distress.

Just before Garuda Indonesia Flight 152 crashed into the jungle near Medan, Indonesia, the pilot screamed "Aaaaaaah! Allāhu akbar" into his radio. According to a radio communication transcript, the pilot's conversation with the air controller had been in English, but his last words as the plane crashed were the takbir.[16][17]

In times of joy and gratitude

The takbir can be used to express joy or surprise. It is also used as applause in religious contexts, such as after a Quran recital, as other forms of applause are considered less appropriate.[18]

When Reshma Begum was discovered alive 17 days after the 2013 Savar building collapse in Bangladesh which killed 1129 people, crowds jubilantly cried "Allāhu akbar" to express their joy and gratitude that she had survived.[19][20]

As a multi-purpose phrase, it is sometimes used by Arab football commentators as an expression of amazement,[citation needed] or even as a football chant.[21]

In battle

Historically, the takbir has been used as a cry of victory.[22] Ibn Ishaq's Life of Mohammed narrates at least two incidents in which it was so used.

"When the apostle raided a people he waited until the morning. If he heard a call to prayer he held back; if he did not hear it he attacked. We came to Khaybar by night, and the apostle passed the night there; and when morning came he did not hear the call to prayer, so he rode and we rode with him, and I rode behind Abu Talha with my foot touching the apostle's foot. We met the workers of Khaybar coming out in the morning with their spades and baskets. When they saw the apostle and the army they cried, 'Muhammad with his force,' and turned tail and fled. The apostle said, 'Allah akbar! Khaybar is destroyed. When we arrive in a people's square it is a bad morning for those who have been warned.'" (page 511) "So he got off his horse and came at him and 'Ali advanced with his shield. 'Amr aimed a blow which cut deeply into the shield so that the sword stuck in it and struck his head. But 'Ali gave him a blow on the vein at the base of the neck and he fell to the ground. The dust rose and the apostle heard the cry, 'Allah Akbar' and knew that 'Ali had killed him." (page 456)[23]

In protest

During the Iranian Revolution of 1979, it was shouted from rooftops in Iran during the evenings as a form of protest. This practice returned in the 2009 Iranian presidential election protests,[24][25] which protested the election results.[26]

Usage by extremists and terrorists

The phrase has sometimes been used as a battle cry by Muslim extremists.[27][28] This usage has been denounced by other Muslims.[15][21]

Professor Khaled A. Beydoun writes that the association of the phrase "Allah Akbar" with terrorism has been exacerbated by mass media and television pundits. He points out that fictional films and shows also utilize it as a cinematic trope further cementing the association.[1]

Usage by Christians

The phrase is also used by Arabic-speaking Christians, "God" being translated "Allah" in Arabic. The phrase is used in liturgical contexts among Palestinian Orthodox Christians, and its use has been defended by Theodosios, the Palestinian Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia.[29]

Use on flags

Afghanistan

The Afghan constitution that came into force on January 4, 2004, required that Allāhu akbar be inscribed on the Flag of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.[30] In 2022, Afghanistan transitioned from a Republic to an Emirate following a Taliban offensive and subsequent Taliban victory in the Afghan War, and the Allahu Akbar was removed from the Afghan flag.

Iran

The phrase Allāhu akbar is written on the flag of Iran, as called for by Article 18 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.[31] The phrase appears 22 times on the flag, written on the borders of the central white stripe.[32]

Iraq

The phrase Allāhu akbar is written on the center of the flag of Iraq.

During the Gulf War in January 1991, Saddam Hussein held a meeting with top military commanders, where it was decided to add the words Allāhu akbar (described as the Islamic battle cry)[33] to Iraq's flag to boost his secular regime's religious credentials, casting himself as the leader of an Islamic army.[34][35] Hussein described the flag as "the banner of jihad and monotheism".[36]

In 2004, the US-picked Iraqi Governing Council approved a new flag for Iraq that abandoned symbols of Hussein's regime, such as the words Allāhu akbar.[34][37] In January 2008, however, Iraq's parliament passed a law to change the flag by leaving in the phrase, but changing the calligraphy of the words Allāhu akbar, which had been a copy of Hussein's handwriting, to a Kufic script.[38][39] The Iraqi flag under Hussein had each of the two words of the phrase written in one of the spaces between the stars on the central band; the 2008 flag, while leaving the phrase in, removes the stars.

Other uses

A resistance movement that fought British rule in Waziristan, Pakistan, used a red flag bearing Allāhu akbar in white letters.[40]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Also transliterated as Takbīr, Takbiir or Takbeer.

References

  1. ^ a b Khaled Beydoun. "The perils of saying 'Allahu Akbar' in public". Washington Post.
  2. ^ a b "The Times of the Five Daily Prayers". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  3. ^ a b Nigosian, S. A. (2004). Islam: Its History, Teaching, and Practices. Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 102. ISBN 0-253-21627-3.
  4. ^ Team, Bridge Initiative (12 Sep 2017). "Allahu Akbar - Factsheet: Islam, Muslims, Islamophobia". Bridge Initiative. Retrieved 2 Nov 2021.
  5. ^ E. W. Lane, Arabic English Lexicon, 1893, gives for kabir: "greater, and greatest, in body, or corporeal substance, and in estimation or rank or dignity, and more, or most, advanced in age, older, and oldest" (p. 2587) Archived October 7, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ A.O.Green (1887). A Practical Arabic Grammar. Clarendon Press. p. 66.
  7. ^ "The formula, as the briefest expression of the absolute superiority of the One God, is used in Muslim life in different circumstances, in which the idea of God, His greatness and goodness is suggested." Wensinck, A. J. The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition. Brill, 2000. Volume 10, T-U, p. 119, Takbir.
  8. ^ Böwering, Gerhard, God and His Attributes, Encyclopaedia of the Qurʼān, Brill, 2007.
  9. ^ Macdonald, D. B. The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition. Brill, 1971. Volume 3, H-Iram, p. 1093, Ilah.
  10. ^ Patrick J. Ryan, S.J. (29 October 2015). "What I learned from Muslims about God". America.
  11. ^ "On Birth & School". Archived from the original on 27 August 2013. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  12. ^ el-Hibri, Tayeb (19 October 2010). Parable and Politics in Early Islamic History: The Rashidun Caliphs. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231521659.
  13. ^ Rabbani, Faraz. "The Day of 'Arafah: The 9th of Dhu'l Hijjah". Qibla.com. Archived from the original on 15 October 2013. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  14. ^ "Arabic Definitions". USA Halal Chamber of Commerce, Inc. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  15. ^ a b Omar Suleiman. "What 'Allahu Akbar' really means". CNN.
  16. ^ "Left-right confusion led to smog air crash". The Independent. London. September 30, 1997. Archived from the original on 2022-05-26. Retrieved May 8, 2011.
  17. ^ "Business - Indonesian Pilot Was Confused Before Crash - Seattle Times Newspaper". nwsource.com.
  18. ^ "Allahu akbar: What is the Takbir?". The Week.
  19. ^ Andrea, Crossan. "Survivor Found in Collapsed Bangladesh Building After 17 Days". PRI's The World. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  20. ^ "Survivor pulled from Bangladesh ruins after 17 days". Global Post. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  21. ^ a b Eric Nagourney. "'Allahu Akbar': An Everyday Phrase, Tarnished by Attacks". New York Times.
  22. ^ Ludwig W. Adamec, Historical Dictionary of Islam, Scarecrow Press, 2nd ed. 2009, pg. 32
  23. ^ Life of Mohammed [سيرة رسول الله] by Ibn Ishaq, translated by Alfred Guillaume, Oxford University Press, 1955, 17th printing, Karachi, 2004 https://archive.org/details/TheLifeOfMohammedGuillaume
  24. ^ Yahoo News Archived June 17, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. June 9, 2009. Archived from the original on 2021-11-10. Retrieved May 8, 2011.
  26. ^ "How Iran's opposition inverts old slogans". BBC News. December 7, 2009. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
  27. ^ "'We Have Some Planes'". 9/11 Commission Report. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. 2004. Retrieved May 30, 2008.
  28. ^ Chazan, David; Jalil, Jannat; Samuel, Henry (16 October 2020). "Teacher beheaded in Paris suburb after showing cartoons of Prophet Mohammed to class". The Daily Telegraph.
  29. ^ Tiessen, Terrance. "We Palestinian Christians say Allahu Akbar". Thoughts Theological. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  30. ^ [ McCarthy, Andrew C., "Cold Comfort on Islam and Apostasy; No one who's actually read the Afghan constitution should be surprised by the Abdul Rahman case", National Review, March 27, 2006, accessed February 11, 2010]
  31. ^ Iran (1980). Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mizan Press. ISBN 978-0-933782-02-0.
  32. ^ Jacoby, Jeff, "Is Israel a Jewish State?", The Boston Globe, November 14, 2007, accessed February 11, 2010 Archived August 8, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ "New Straits Times". January 15, 1991. Retrieved May 8, 2011.
  34. ^ a b "U.S.-picked Iraq leaders approve new flag". USA Today. April 26, 2004. Retrieved February 9, 2010.
  35. ^ Deroy Murdock. "Murdock, Deroy, "The 9/11 Connection," April 3, 2003". The National Review. Archived from the original on June 17, 2010. Retrieved May 8, 2011.
  36. ^ Long, Jerry M. (April 2004). Saddam's war of words: politics, religion, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Jerry Mark Long, University of Texas Press, 2004, ISBN 0-292-70264-7. ISBN 9780292702646. Retrieved February 19, 2014.
  37. ^ "Rosen, Nir, "Iraq's religious tide cannot be turned back,"". Asia Times. May 26, 2004. Archived from the original on May 28, 2004. Retrieved May 8, 2011.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  38. ^ Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, "Iraqi Lawmakers Vote to Change Flag," USA Today, January 22, 2008, accessed February 9, 2010 Archived March 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  39. ^ Abdul, Qassim (February 5, 2008). "Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, "Iraq unveils flag without Saddam's stars"". USA Today. Retrieved May 8, 2011.
  40. ^ "Analysis: A ride on the wild side". UPI. September 19, 2005. Retrieved May 8, 2011.

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