Reflections: The Meaning Behind Allahu Akbar

I remember being a little girl and watching my mother pray. Her dupatta (scarf) delicately wrapped around her head as she stood on my favorite blue janamaz (prayer rug). She would lightly whisper, “Allahu Akbar,” under her breath as she began her prayer and then whisper it again multiple times throughout it. Something about the phrase warmed my little five-year-old heart, and it still does so to this day. Whether I’m standing alone in prayer, or with a whole bunch of other Muslims in the masjid, the utterance of “Allahu Akbar,” is calming to me.

There are many misconceptions and preconceived notions about Islam and those who follow it. Ever since September 2001, many non-Muslims, and even Muslims have been deviated and tricked by mainstream media on some of the most basic Islamic teachings, phrases, and history. One of the most hijacked Islamic phrases since 2001 has been, “Allahu Akbar.”

Many people across the globe recognize this saying, not exactly because they have studied or follow Islam, but because media outlets have constantly appropriated it’s connotation and relevance in society. A simple Google search of the term immediately sets the (negative) tone that has been associated with those two words. Let’s stop beating around the bush (no pun intended to the ex-prez that started it all back in 2001); but people genuinely think “terrorists” exclaim this phrase solely when they’re carrying out an attack in the name of Islam. Growing up in America, even I’ve fallen victim into not understanding the true meaning behind the phrase, simply because that’s how disgustingly mind-controlling media can be.

So, let’s talk about. What exactly does Allahu Akbar translate into? Well, to answer the ever-popular, burning question, it literally means God is Greater. Like with any other language, there are many varying translations that aren’t exactly spot on, but seem to become the most widely known versions. Many believe Allahu Akbar translates into “God is Great,” or even “God is the Greatest.” While these translations are okay and may not seem all that different from the actual definition, there is great significance into why it specifically translates into “God is Greater.”

As Muslims, we are granted the wonderful blessing to pray five times a day. Without getting into all the details of exactly how Muslims pray, it’s important to note that with these five standard prayers, we say “Allahu Akbar” multiple times. It’s even in our call to prayer (adhan). This phrase is really the crux of everything, but why do we say it so much in our salah (prayer)? We stand up, “Allahu Akbar,” we bend to our knees, “Allahu Akbar,” we go down into prostration, “Allahu Akbar,” we come up from prostration, “Allahu Akbar.” Why are we mentioning this throughout the prayer so many times? Well, the answer is simple. As humans, we get distracted. We are always thinking about something, and sometimes even within those 10 minutes of salah, we can sometimes find our minds drifting away from our focus on Allah (SWT), and we start thinking about some worldly matter or item. Allah (SWT) grants us the opportunity to say “Allahu Akbar,” aka God is GREATER at every chance we get because it is a reminder to pull us back and re-focus. Whatever worldly matter you’re thinking about within these special 10 minutes, it does not matter, and Allah is Greater than what you’re thinking about and any worldly matter. In a way it really does help put into perspective all of our worries in this life, and makes us remember and rely on Allah (SWT) more often. It’s a simple, yet powerful reminder to keep us in check, especially during our salah.

When I see replays of videos of random “terrorists” exclaiming that phrase before they carry out extremely inhumane acts, I know that is not what I, or the majority (almost 2 billion Muslims) believes. They are not from us. Whether it’s that phrase, or any other Arabic word from Islamic text or belief, there is no violence attributed with any of it. The media can attempt to twist and completely annihilate that phrase and my religion in their evil agenda all they want, but they will never be able to take away the true meaning of Islam away from my heart. Allahu Akbar.

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