What Does Allahu Akbar Really Mean?

A man sells fruits past midnight under a graffiti saying 'Allahu Akbar -god is Great'
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Although most often translated as "God is great," Allahu Akbar is Arabic for "God is greater" or "God is greatest." The phrase, known as takbir in Arabic, is expressive of a range of moods and occasions in the Islamic world, from displays of approval and happiness to entreaties or spiritual and at times propagandistic cheerleading during political rallies. Allahu Akbar is also spoken during salat, the five-times-daily prayer, and by muezzins as they chant the call to prayer from their minarets.

Allahu Akbar in International News

The phrase has been tainted by its usage, or rather misuse, by Islamist extremists, Salafists and terrorists, including the 9/11 terrorists, several of whom carried copies of handwritten letters exhorting them to "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 nonbelievers."

The phrase was also used with political undertones during Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, as Iranians took to their roofs and shouted "Allahu Akbar" in defiance of the shah's regime. Iranians returned to the ritual in the aftermath of the fraudulent presidential election of June 2009.

Common Misspellings: Allah Akbar