“Allahu Akbar” has been hijacked by terrorists

Feb 20

Florida Times Union, Nov 8, 2017

Terrorists who act in the name of Islam, have misappropriated many legitimate and peaceful actions of Islam.

The latest kerfuffle is over the New York terrorist saying “Allahu Akbar” soon after he killed eight and wounded 11, running them over with his rented truck.

The phrase “Allahu Akbar” is not found in Islam’s holy book, the Quran. But it is commonly used in many aspects of religious and secular life.

Arab Christians also use the phrase in social settings, similar to its usage by Muslims. Arab Orthodox Christians even say “Allahu Akbar” in their churches.

So what does “Allahu Akbar” mean? Literally it means God is Great, but it implies that God is greater than anything, greater than any of our challenges, aspirations and allegiances. It is a way to remember and praise God, an exercise hardly unique to Islam.

After the New York truck attack, right-wing media unfairly pounced on CNN’s Jake Tapper for saying that “Allahu Akbar” can be used under the “most beautiful circumstances,” which is indeed correct. Missing in the Tapper criticism is the fact that he also noted “Allahu Akbar” is “too often” used by terrorists.

Those committing terrorism in the name of Islam are part of a messianic cult who twist sacred texts to comport to their parochial view of religious supremacy and eschatology. The problem is hardly unique to Islam, although popular imaginations conflate fanatical misappropriation of sacred religious ideas as a particularly “Islamic” problem.

Muslims say “Allahu Akbar” many times in their daily prayers. The phrase is also used in mundane circumstances, from cheering for a favorite team after every success to whispering it into the ears of a newly born child.

An average Muslim will say “Allahu Akbar” well over 20 times a day, which translates to over 20 billion “God is Great” a day! So why is its misappropriation by terrorists normative of Islam but the billions of peaceful expressions not?

Islamic exceptionalism is pushed by both terrorists and Islamophobes.

Those who commit terror in the name of Islam want to present themselves as warriors in a cosmic battle between right and wrong.

Islamophobes suggest that militant interpretations of Islam are the norm and not the exception in a faith practiced by over 1.6 billion worldwide.

Often such cues comes from the top. President Donald Trump never wastes an opportunity to fan the flames of divisiveness. After a white man in Las Vegas killed 58 people and injured over 500, the president and his supporters decried any attempt at gun regulations, saying it was too soon to act after a tragedy.

But after New York, they wasted little time arguing against a diversity visa program that the New York killer used to gain entry. The Las Vegas killer was not called an “animal,” while the New York killer was.

Trump did not demand the death penalty for the white supremacist who killed worshippers at a Charleston black church but he has repeatedly demanded this for the New York killer, perhaps jeopardizing the legal case.

Liberals have their own culpabilities. Ayan Hirsi Ali and Bill Maher are the leading edge of such bigotry.

Hirsi Ali once said that anyone who says “Insha Allah” (God-willing), another common phrase among Muslims, ought to be treated as a “red-flag.”

Maher noted that he never heard a Christian say “Merry Christmas” before detonating a bomb. Religion reporter, Sarah Harvard pointed out that the Christian equivalent for “Allahu Akbar” is not “Merry Christmas” but “Deus Vult” a Latin phrase that means “God wills it” and was used by Pope Urban II at the start of the first Crusade.

Today “Deus Vult” is a common hashtag among the far-right and has been used in several recent acts of violence.

Muslims will continue saying Allahu Akbar daily. Neither the terrorists nor Islamophobes are going to intimidate Muslims from peacefully expressing their religious identity and upholding their deeply cherished religious culture. We can use tragedy to drive deeper wedges or heal exacerbating wounds. That choice remains ours.