Likely you have heard this phrase in the news and you might wonder what it means. In the older edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam J.A. Wensinck wrote that the phrase Allāhu Akbar is " the briefest expression of the absolute superiority of the One God [i.e. Allah of Islam], is used in Muslim life in different circumstances, in which the idea of God [Allah], His greatness and goodness is suggested."
What does this phrase come from?
In Arabic one can say that something is big by using a word like kibeer [key beer].
Notice the letters k-b-r. Now look at the word Akbar and you will see the letters k-b-r as well. In technical terms the word akbar is a something like a super-superlative of big. Thus it does not just mean Allah of Islam is big, or that he is greater, it means he is simply greater than.....
This phrase is also known as the Takbīr and you might call it the Islamic worldview on a dime, although the other "T" word, called Tawhid or the absolute Oneness of Allah of Islam is also very important to know....and then there is tahrif or the tampering with the Scriptures, and before you know it we will have the 4 "T's" of Islam.
A Muslim theologian expresses the thinking behind this phrase:
A famous Muslim scholar, Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari who died in 935 AD said this about Allah of Islam:
.......agree that God is one; these is nothing like him. Hearing, seeing, he is not a body, not a form, not flesh and blood, not an individual, not substance nor attribute; he has no colour, taste, smell, no heat, cold, moisture, nor dryncss. no length, breadth, not depth, no joining together nor separation, no movement, rest or division...no place comprehends him, no line passes over him... .. not begetting nor begotten ... he is not comparable with men and does not resemble creatures in any respect... he is unlike whatever occurs to the mind or is pictured in the imagination ... he is ceaselessly knowing, powerful, living, and will not cease to be so; eyes do not see him, sight does not attain him, imagination does not comprehend him; he is not heard by hearing; (he is) a thing not as the things, knowing, powerful, living, not as (men are) knowing, powerful, living; he is eternal alone, and there is no eternal except him, no deity apart from him; he has no partner in his rule, no vizier (sharing) in his authority, no assistant in producing what he produced and creating what he created ... he may not experience benefit or harm, joy or gladness, hurt or pain ... he may not cease to exist nor become weak or lacking; he is too holy to be touched by women or to have consort or children.
And why is this important to know?
For the Muslim this means Allah of Islam is greater than a whole lot of things, including greater than the ruling and reigning Lord Jesus Christ. It also means that he is greater than the incomparable YHWH of the Old Testament.
Think of these Old Testament verses and you will see the challenge as to who is incomparable:
- 'Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? ' (Exodus 15:11)
- ‘There is none like you, and there is no god besides you’ (2 Samuel 7: 22).
- ‘You are the LORD, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. To all of them you give life, and the host of heaven worships you’ (Nehemiah 9:6).
- ‘I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me’ (Isaiah 46: 9).
A thought for the day:
As much as the term Allāhu Akbar might be invoked by a Muslim to assert that his deity is "greater than..." the reality is that YHWH is a God who delivers what he promises and promises what he delivers. YHWH and the Triune God of the Bible also swears on his own name (Amos 8:7; Hebrews 6:13) that what He says is true. Allah of Islam who is supposed to be greater somehow, swears 27x in the Qur'an but never on his own name. Is this not a cause for great compassion and concern for your Muslim neighbor who puts his/her eternal destiny on the words of a deity who says he is greater, but will not commit his own name to ensuring that the words are true?
Not only that, whereas the Triune God of the Bible today says to his followers "I will never leave you or forsake you" and is "God with us", al-Ash'ari tells us that Allah of Islam is the "Eternal Alone" and thus your Muslim neighbor can never say that he/she has any sense of Allah being with them. May this give you compassion for them.