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“Allaahu Akbar” – A brief study of its meanings

“Allaahu Akbar” – A brief study of its meanings – By Aboo Unays

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم، الحمد لله رب العالمين، والصلاة والسلام على نبينا محمد وعلى آله وأصحابه وأتباعه بإحسان إلى يوم الدين، أما بعد:

Allaah subhaanahu said:

(وَرَبَّكَ فَكَبِّرْ ﴿٣

“And magnify your Lord.” [Soorah al-Mudaththir, Verse 3].

The term takbeer is often used in reference to saying the blessed phrase Allaahu akbar.

Allaahu akbar is often translated as “Allaah is the greatest.” This translation may not be entirely accurate. Perhaps a more accurate translation is “Allaah is greater.”

The takbeer is composed of two words: (The Sanctified Name) Allaah and akbar.

Ism tafdeel

The word “akbar” is an ism tafdeel.

Ism tafdeel as a concept exists in the English language. In English, adjectives (a word that describes a noun) can be structured to be either comparative or superlative. Comparatives and superlatives are special forms of adjectives that are used to compare more than one noun (or objects/things). For example, for the adjective “smart,” the comparative is “smarter,” and the superlative is “smartest.” Applying this structure to other adjectives produces comparatives like bigger, faster and stronger, or (it produces) superlatives like biggest, fastest and strongest.

Comparative adjectives mean more. They commonly end in -er. Examples – bigger, faster and stronger.

Superlatives mean utmost. They commonly end in -est. Examples – biggest, fastest and strongest.

In Arabic, both comparative and superlative are termed ism tafdeel.

Akbar is an ism tafdeel

Akbar linguistically comes from the trilateral root kaaf-baa-raa which denotes a meaning of greatness. This corresponds with one of the Names of Allaah Al-Kabeer.

Because akbar is an ism tafdeel it can be translated as greater or greatest depending on its word construction and context. The word “akbar” in the takbeer (Allaahu akbar), however, takes the comparative meaning which is “greater.”

Allaahu akbar is thus translated as “Allaah is greater.”

The takbeer is open-ended

The saying “Allaah is greater” literally is an incomplete sentence. It begs the question, “Greater than what? What is Allaah greater than?”

The object which Allaah subhaanahu is greater than is omitted and therefore the takbeer is left open-ended.

The open-endedness (or incompleteness) of this phrase is primarily completed by the context in which it is said or heard. For example, when the mu’adhdhin (caller to prayer) is heard saying, “Allaahu akbar! Allaahu akbar!” (Allah is greater! Allaah is greater!), the one who is engaged in business and trade immediately remembers and acknowledges that Allaah is greater than his business and trade, and therefore flees to his Rabb answering the azaan and establishing the prayer for His remembrance. Similarly, the one who is engaged in a social activity (such as spending time with beloved ones) immediately remembers and acknowledges that Allaah is greater than his social activity (and beloved ones), and therefore flees to Allaah. He flees from the lesser to the greater.

A more common example is the takbeer which occurs in the salaah. The takbeeraat[1] give meaning and life to the strict rulings governing the prayer. In the prayer, one is not allowed to say anything other than the Words and Praises of Allaah because of Allaahu akbar (i.e. the Speech of Allaah is greater than the speech of others). In the prayer, one is not allowed to turn his body away from his Rabb subhaanahu because of Allaahu akbar (i.e. Allaah is greater than anything which is turned to).

This is why the first takbeer is called takbeerah al-ihraam (the takbeer of inviolability or prohibition). In other words, by way of this takbeer, that which was permissible like eating and drinking becomes prohibited during the prayer because of Allaahu akbar (i.e. Allaah is greater than all of that and therefore focus all attention and efforts on Him). The takbeer is legislated in almost every movement of the prayer. It serves as a means by which to draw oneself out of heedlessness as it is possible for the mind to dwell in other matters during the prayer, and therefore, when it is said “Allaahu akbar,” the heart is brought back to Allaah jalla jalaaluhu because He is greater than whatever the mind was dwelling in. The believer is taken from the remembrance of the lesser to the remembrance of the greater.

Takbeer and Al-Kabeer

Al-Kabeer (The Most Great) is a Name from the Names of Allaah jalla wa ‘alaa. The takbeer syncs beautifully with this Name. It is a Name, when truly understood, brings tranquillity and confidence to every person who is overwhelmed. It is a Name that reminds us of our priorities, of where true greatness lies and who is ultimately in control.

This Name connotes many subtle meanings and attributes – all included in what is termed greatness – like Al-Haq (The Truth), Al-A’alaa (The Most High), Al-Ghaniyy (The Rich and Self-Sufficient), Al-’Azeez (The Mighty), Al-Ajall (The Most Exalted, Noble and Beautiful), Al-A’alam (The Most Knowledgeable), Al-Ahkam (The Most Wise), etc.

People incline and are drawn to these attributes and thus the takbeer serves to affirm them wholly and perfectly for Allaah alone. Consequently, the takbeer is heard and said in the azaan and salaah because many neglect the prayer in an attempt to acquire these attributes.

So if the slave seeks provision and riches then let him realize that Al-Kabeer is Al-Ghaniyy, if seeks ‘izzah or he fears what others may do or think then let him realize that Al-Kabeer is Al-Qadeer Al-’Azeez.

The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam would hasten to the prayer when difficulties arose, seeking counsel and refuge through these Attributes.

Implications of the takbeer

Allaahu Akbar is the provision of the believer by which he seeks strength, courage and hope; it expels fear and anxiety from his heart. This is perhaps why the Mujaahideen when engaging the enemy say the takbeer – for the enemy with all its artillery, wealth and numbers – despite all of that the Mujaahideen know there is a Being (Allaah) greater than them and the power amassed by their artillery, wealth and numbers;[2] He is truly Al-Mawlaa Al-’Azeez Al-Qawiyy Al-Mateen. Perhaps this is why the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

اللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ خَرِبَتْ خَيْبَرُ

“Allaahu Akbar! May Khaybar be destroyed!” [Ahmad].

Allaahu Akbar is the provision of the believer by which he seeks difficulties to be lightened and made easy. Allaah subhaanahu said:

وَاسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ ۚ وَإِنَّهَا لَكَبِيرَةٌ إِلَّا عَلَى الْخَاشِعِينَ

“And seek assistance with patience and salaah (the prayer), and truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for al-khaashi`een (those who are fearful and in awe of Him).”

[Soorah al-Baqarah, Verse 45].

Khusho`o is achieved through the takbeer; acknowledging with certainty, and an active and conscious heart and mind that Allaah is akbar than every other thing.

Allaahu Akbar is the provision of the believer by which he purifies his eemaan in Allaah subhaanahu. By way of the takbeer he affirms the Name Al-Kabeer. Understanding that the utmost greatness is for Allaah alone will remove from his heart and mind soo’ al-dhann of Him (unbefitting and evil assumptions) and shirk. That is because Allaah is greater than needing any assistance or partner. By way of the takbeer he affirms Absolute Greatness for Allaah jalla thanaa’uhu in His Essence, Names, Attributes and Actions – a Greatness free from any shortcoming, deficiency and blasphemy, a Greatness that is unique and specific to Him alone. Because of the takbeer, there is laa ilaaha illa Allaah, Subhaan Allaah, Alhamdulillaah, etc.[3] Because of Allaahu akbar He subhaanahu exemplified His greatness, saying:

وَلِلَّـهِ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَىٰ… ﴿١٨٠﴾

“And to Him belong the most beautiful Names…” [Soorah al-A`araaf, Verse 180].

هَلْ تَعْلَمُ لَهُ سَمِيًّا ﴿٦٥﴾ …

“… Do you know any similar to Him?” [Soorah Maryam, Verse 65].

لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ …﴿١١﴾ …

“… There is nothing like Him…” [Soorah al-Shooraa, Verse 65].

والحمد لله رب العالمين

وصلى الله وسلم على نبينا محمد

[1] Plural of takbeer.

[2] Therefore, the open-endedness of the takbeer is competed by the context which in this case is the enemy, i.e. Allaah is greater than the enemy and all that they amass of strength and strategy.

[3] These blessed phrases are explained in other articles by this author.