What does Allahu Akbar mean?

In recent times, Allahu Akbar has become one of the widely recognised terms worldwide, thanks to the media. But what does Allahu Akbar really mean? Is it a war-cry? Does it simply mean God is Great or God is the Greatest? It’s a phrase that we, Muslims, hear at least 30 times every day during the call for prayer (Adhan).

Meaning of Allahu Akbar

Let me share something that I recently found out during one of my Arabic class sessions and it truly blew my mind! (pun intended). I came across a simple concept of measurement (where you measure one thing against the another) called Thameez (تمييز) which made me truly appreciate the richness of the language. According to this Arabic Grammar concept, “Allahu Akbar” is not considered to be a complete sentence [when you use superlatives, Ism Thafdheel (اسم التفضيل), with Thameez]. In fact, if someone has studied high-level Arabic Grammar known as Balagah (Rhetoric) and you tell them “Allahu Akbar,” they could be waiting for you to finish the sentence.

Yes, most people simply take it to mean God is Great or God is the Greatest. But when you study the deeper sciences of Arabic Grammar you realise that the word “Akbar” in Arabic could be better translated as being “Greater” instead of “Greatest”. Usually, you’re expected to finish a similar sentence with greater than … (something). For example, you could say, I’m greater (Akbar) than him in age. But in Balagah (Rhetoric), for Allahu Akbar, you don’t complete the sentence.


In other words, when we hear the call to prayer (Adhan) 5 times a day, Allah is telling each one of us, whatever it is that you’re doing, Allah is Greater than that! You could be a great Doctor doing noble work, but when you hear the Adhan, it’s a reminder that there is someone Greater than everything in this world! Isn’t that beautiful? Allah doesn’t disregard whatever it is that you’re doing, He acknowledges that you could be a great person involved in a great action, but He reminds you that He is Greater than everything, so take a break from whatever it is that you’re doing and come to Glorify Allah as He deserves to be Glorified (SubhanAllah!).

Have you seen our post on understanding Bismillah?

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