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What Does “Allahu Akbar” Mean?

What Does “Allahu Akbar” Mean?

Date Published: 
Thursday, 15 August, 2019
Summary: 

Why is it that the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Guardian, when they bother to english it at all, continue to translate “Allahu akbar” as  “God is great”? Why does the BBC stick with “God is greatest”? And why can’t the Western media that, with “God is greater,” come the closest to what the phrase means, convey the proper meaning by adding a few words: “Our God is greater than your God”? It could reflect ignorance: they just don’t know what the phrase, when used by jihadis, means. Or it could reflect a deliberate desire not to convey the true meaning of the phrase, with its obvious supremacism that can only harden hearts and minds against Muslims. And that, of course, would never do.

Now  supposing some intelligent journalists — even at the Times, even at the Post — are willing to concede that the best way to translate the phrase “Allahu akbar” is “Our God is greater than your God.” But they are faced with doubters, who insist that that translation is too long and too unwieldy  for a newspaper article. Just think, they say, of how it would read: “Mert Ney shouted ‘Allahu akbar’ (‘Our God is greater than your God’) as he stabbed random people in Sydney.” Or imagine someone on the radio saying it: “Said Kouachi shouted ‘Allahu akbar’ (‘Our God is greater than your God’) as he ran from the office of Charlie Hebdo.” It could be rejected for its length alone. There is a simple way to convey the meaning of “Allahu akbar,” without having to add all those  words. That is to begin with the possessive pronoun: “Our God is greater.” The “Our” is in obvious opposition to the unstated “Your.” And the triumphalist essence of “Allahu akbar,” when a jihadi uses  the phrase — “Our God is greater than Your God” — is properly conveyed.