Islamic History Islamic Practices

Allahu Akbar: A Call to Prayer, Not Terror

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In some recent terrorist attacks, witnesses reported hearing the words ‘Allahu Akbar’ – which literally means Allah is the greatest.

Whether such terrorists actually believed they were doing it for God or witnesses’ testimony was unreliable1, as it often can2  be, all makes for a moot point because Allahu Akbar in any case isn’t a dangerous phrase, and its declaration is something which has been resounding across the world for centuries.

The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, said after the Barcelona attack in August 2017, that anyone shouting Allahu Akbar in the city’s St Mark’s Square would be shot, which may lead people unacquainted with the term to believe it’s some sort of Muslim terrorist slogan – it’s not.

Given the negative portrayal of Islam in the media, people like Luigi Brugnaro (the mayor of Venice) have misunderstood the beautiful meaning of Allahu Akbar.
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Muslims recite Allahu Akbar at least 170 times a day during their formal prayer services so when Mr. Brugnaro said anyone shouting Allahu Akbar in Venice would be shot, he probably didn’t realise the significance of the oft-repeated phrase. Allahu Akbar means ‘Allah is the Greatest’ and Allah is described in the Holy Qur’an as the ‘Lord of all the Worlds’ – not just the God of Muslims, but the Lord of all creation and the One who cares for them all. This is why Arabic-speaking Coptic Christians also recite this phrase to express their joy and gratitude or to praise God for something good that has happened. One can find similar phrases to Allahu Akbar in Psalms which also glorify God in this vein.

It is also a reminder for Muslims that God is Almighty so they must always rely on Him and can trust their Lord to fulfil their needs. It further draws one’s attention towards prayer because unless one maintains that God is great, he won’t feel the need to pray, especially with the conviction, hope and humility which are prerequisites for the acceptance of prayer.

If terrorists actually had any inkling of the meaning of Allahu Akbar, they would never commit their heinous crimes. A truly religious person believing in the omnipotence of God relies on Him to solve all problems and a believer is eternally at peace and contented, barring him from ever having any negative emotion or hatred by which terrorists attack innocents. Attackers commit atrocities because their minds are at unrest which proves that their uttering of Allahu Akbar is merely artificial, for a true believer in Allahu Akbar is always composed, having entrusted all affairs to the great God.

Traditionally in Islam, the adhan, or call to prayer, is pronounced from the minaret with the resounding words of Allahu Akbar.
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The Islamic call to prayer – the adhan – begins with Allahu Akbar and shows that while God is the greatest, He desires His creation to also rise above base instincts and follow the path laid out to Him so he can attain a level of eminence and honour but since Allah is the greatest, true honour can only be achieved through His path alone, as the Qur’an says: ‘all honour belongs to Allah’ 3. The words of the adhan are recited in the ear of every newborn child, not to prepare them for war but to inculcate a love of their true Creator and ready them for a life in search of higher values, devotion to God and service to humanity. The repetition of the phrase signifies that while at first, its recitation is merely a result of mental reasoning, eventually a believer, by acting upon the requirements of faith, practically begins to see and experience the signs of Allah’s overarching omnipotence and control over all affairs thus causing the believer to proclaim Allahu Akbar from within with greater frequency and intensity.

Allah being the greatest above all laws, leaders, kings, managers and authority, only His protection can guarantee safety and success. Muslim students who may have just sat their mock exams and receive favourable results might shout Allahu Akbar or Alhamdulillah which means ‘all praise belongs to Allah’ – again, a expression of gratitude. Students expressing their joy by praising God are clearly not a threat. Similarly, a woman was trapped in a collapsed building in Bangladesh in 2015 where 1000 people were killed. After 17 days in the rubble, onlookers shouted Allahu Akbar as she was rescued in a miraculous story of survival against the odds. This is the appropriate use of the phrase which signifies that God’s grace saved the 18-year-old.

When terrorists do use the phrase as some sort of battle cry, they have been led to believe they are doing it for God. But so-called Muslim clerics today have hijacked religious ideas to further their own interests and thus use religious slogans, verses and phrases to promote political, military or revenge-based motives like ‘punishing’ the West for all the wars in Muslim lands which is why we find impressionable youth in the West who are disenfranchised and frustrated, becoming victims to the perverse messages of corrupt clerics. Having been brainwashed and possessing no true knowledge of their faith they think they’re genuinely performing a praiseworthy act, for God. However, using the holy name of God to commit injustices continues and is not exclusive to Muslims.

The Chief Executive Director of The Council on American-Islamic Relations of Florida summed the entire issue up perfectly4:

‘That is the biggest act of heresy: to shout God’s glorious name when committing the worst crime against God.’

And His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba said in a recent Friday sermon that such people proclaim the name of God but exhibit no signs of the fear of God.

God – the Creator of this beautiful universe – would never instruct for such horrific crimes to be committed as are often witnessed these days.
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God is and always has been the highest authority and epitome of good, and religious values still play a significant part in the lives of most people. And so it’s little surprise when those who wish to justify their misdeeds, do so in the name of God. And while no such justification exists in scripture, claiming to commit an atrocity in the name of good makes it justifiable in the eyes of wrongdoers. And this is a phenomena the Qur’an points out when it says ‘Thus have the doings of the disbelievers been made to seem fair to them.’ For example, the young politician in her prime, Jo Cox, who had built bridges with communities was killed by someone who shouted ‘Britain First, this is for Britain’. In his eyes perhaps it was for Britain or maybe he was using a nationalistic slogan to justify his hate-filled and racist attitudes.

Attacks by right-wing radicals or white supremacists are no different to those who shout Allahu Akbar when committing foul deeds. They are full of hate and rancour.  Whether such attackers cite political, racial or religious slogans makes no difference. We should not pay attention to anything they say for actions speak louder than words. And all across Europe and the world, Muslims take part and contribute to society in wonderful ways and it is they who carry the true spirit of Allahu Akbar.


1. “Is eyewitness testimony too unreliable to trust?”, The Week, 2011,

2. “The problem with eyewitnesses”, BBC News, 2005,

3. The Holy Qur’an, 4:140.

4.“Tampa connection to New York City attack causes pain for Muslims”, WFLA News Channel 8, 2017,