Amid claims that the recent New York City attacker uttered “Allahu Akbar” before crushing bike riders on a path in Manhattan, many Muslim activists and scholars have found themselves forced to defend their faith and the term the majority of Muslims use in their everyday-life.
“Contrary to what many people seem to think, the words ‘Allahu Akbar’ simply mean ‘God is greater.’ It is a powerful declaration used by Muslims on many occasions and in many prayers,” imam Omar Suleiman, the Founder and President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, wrote in an opinion article published on CNN on Wednesday.
“It is a celebration of life, the first words fathers whisper in the ears of their newborns. They are used to indicate gratitude when God bestows something upon you that you would have been incapable of attaining were it not for divine benevolence.
“It is a prayerful phrase that reminds us that, no matter what our concerns may be, God is greater than them.”
‘Allahu Akbar’ simply means God is great.
It is the phrase Sayfullo Saipov allegedly yelled when he jumped out of the truck police say he used to mow down more than a dozen people in New York City on Tuesday.
Imam Suleiman’s concern was shared by journalist, writer, and lawyer Wahajat Ali, who wrote an opinion article for the New York Times under the headline, “I Want ‘Allahu Akbar’ Back.”
“I’m 37 years old. In all those years, I, like an overwhelming majority of Muslims, have never uttered “Allahu akbar” before or after committing a violent act. Unfortunately, terrorists like ISIS and Al Qaeda and their sympathizers, who represent a tiny fraction of Muslims, have,” he wrote.
“In the public imagination, this has given the phrase meaning that’s impossible to square with what it represents in my daily life.”
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Reclaiming the Term
Similar concerns were shared by members of the Colorado Muslim Society.
“After terror attacks, we feel like it’s such a cop-out and we honestly cringe when we hear it,” Iman Jodeh with the Colorado Muslim Society told 9News.
“Something that was so beautiful and innocent throughout the 1,400 years of Islam to now terror.”
Jodeh added that she wants to clear up the real meaning behind the phrase.
“It’s incredibly heartfelt and something that we say all the time, all day long,” she said.
“We say it five times a day in our prayers and we say it between prayers as well. You can say it out of frustration. You’re stuck in traffic, Allahu Akbar. It’s nothing that should be linked to any terror, attacks or violence at all.
“What this man did and what others have done in the name of my religion is in fact not Islam,” Jodeh said. “As a nation, we are all mourning as Americans. At the end of the day, we’re all Americans and we all belong to the human race.”
Omar Suleiman blamed the media for demonizing the term.
“The way ‘Allahu Akbar’ often appears in the media seems to serve a nefarious agenda: to instill fear of anyone who utters the phrase and to raise concerns even about Islam itself,” he wrote.
“But a lone terrorist who shouts ‘Allahu Akbar’ while murdering innocent people in the streets of New York does not get to own that term. Nor do those who declare that no further details are needed to determine motive once a man with a Muslim-sounding name perpetrates an attack using those words.”