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Extremists distort powerful meaning of ‘Allahu Akbar’ in acts of terrorism

By DR. ZAINAB CHAUDRY, For Daily News , On 06 November 2017, Read Original

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Allahu Akbar.

It's one of the most frequently spoken pentasyllabic phrases in the Arabic language.

It is recited by millions of Muslims and Arab Christians every day.

And, at least in the West, it has become wrongly linked to terrorism.

Known as the takbir in Arabic, the phrase literally translates to "God is the greatest."

American-Muslims like myself are reclaiming it — from both the misguided extremists who have misappropriated it, and the pundits who've supported their agenda by deliberately or inadvertently endorsing its weaponization.

This phrase is used in a multitude of ways: in worship or prayer; in moments of happiness or relief; to glorify and reflect on God's majesty; to express joy and dismay; in appreciation of something that resonates with us.Known as the takbir in Arabic, the phrase literally translates to "God is the greatest."

American-Muslims like myself are reclaiming it — from both the misguided extremists who have misappropriated it, and the pundits who've supported their agenda by deliberately or inadvertently endorsing its weaponization.

This phrase is used in a multitude of ways: in worship or prayer; in moments of happiness or relief; to glorify and reflect on God's majesty; to express joy and dismay; in appreciation of something that resonates with us. Agriculture is a taxing industry, heavily reliant on Mother Nature. And she was not always cooperative.

Summers in Pakistan are often brutal, with temperatures rising well into the triple digits.

The dry heat can suffocate the land like a heavy blanket, which is disastrous for crops not receiving adequate rain.

During a dry spell, at the first sign of rain clouds gathering, the field workers would jubilantly shout "Allahu Akbar!" A good harvest meant food on the table to feed their families.

This saying is also used to respond to tragic or alarming news.

A friend reacted with this exclamation when her parents had to evacuate the California fires recently.

It is a powerful expression that can also lend strength and fortitude in difficult times. In his final days, before succumbing to the cancer that lent us nineteen years with him, my father often invoked the words.

In the midst of enduring unimaginable pain, we'd find him calmly and quietly reciting "Allahu Akbar. Sabr aur shukr."

God is the Greatest. Be patient, be grateful.

One of the most memorable lessons from my childhood is that we can't control everything that happens around us, but we can control our reaction to it. Personally, to me, this expression evokes a measured sense of balance in an imperfect, increasingly chaotic world.

It serves as an important reminder that no matter how complicated, toxic, or stressful times become, Allah, or God, is in control. Stay humble, and don't despair.

Unfortunately, the copious amounts of misinformation that exists about Islam and Muslims makes some Americans more inclined to believe the worst. Islamophobes capitalize on this to exploit terrorist acts involving Muslims as being falsely reflective of Islam. Understanding appropriate context and consulting legitimate sources is crucial when contemplating religion partly because it can help prevent fear, anger and hatred.

Recently, in a despicable and cowardly attack, the man accused of killing eight people after plowing a Home Depot truck onto a bike path in Manhattan reportedly uttered Allahu Akbar after the incident.

He joins a list of others who've reportedly said these words after brutal acts of violence

But don't be deceived by extremists who use this phrase while waging discord and wreaking terror. In a recent CNN op-ed, the Founder of Yaqeen Institute, Imam Omar Sulaiman, emphasized that these words are a celebration of life, not death and destruction. Indeed, evil acts targeting innocent people are not sanctioned by Islam or any other major world religion.

“Allahu Akbar is a confession of humility, mercy, thanks and poverty to God, not power, pain and coercion,” says Imam Suhaib Webb, Resident Scholar at the Islamic Center of NYU.

“Invoking Allahu Akbar while using wanton violence is the utmost form of theological insult because it illustrates the person's loss of hope and belief in God's real power over all affairs including our outward perceptions of momentary injustice,” reflects Professor Hatem Bazian, Provost and Co-Founder of Zaytuna College, the first accredited Muslim Liberal Arts college in America. “Indeed, God is greater than all of our temporal limitations, distortion and attempts to prayer wrong-headed and criminal revenge.”

As CAIR Florida Executive Director Hassan Shibley elaborated after the Manhattan attack, “shouting God's glorious name when committing the worst crime against him is the biggest act of heresy.” So the next time you hear Allahu Akbar — whether it's in a media report, on an airplane, or in a shopping mall, remember that the phrase used by millions of Muslims and Christians daily to praise God regardless of their circumstances, can never be justified for use when harming His creation.

Dr. Zainab Chaudry, Pharm.D. is a spokeswman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties organization.