Allahu-Akbar. Allah is the greatest.
These are the first words a Muslim child hears after entering this world. The father
makes the call to prayer in his or her ears as the welcome-to-this-world message. The same
call is heard wherever there are Muslims, five times a day. The prayers also begin with
this pronouncement. Certainly this is the emblem of the Islamic faith. There is no power
in the world equal to the power of the One God. Allah is the greatest.
This has been the Islamic message right from the beginning. The very first surah or
chapter to be revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, was surah
Mudathir. And it contains the command: "And Thy Lord, do thou magnify." The
Arabic word is kabbir. Declare Allahu-Akbar. Announce that Allah is the greatest.
The pagans of Arabia did not like it. The Jews and Christians were not happy with it
either. The irony is that at the same time all of them professed belief in the statement.
The pagans believed in many gods, but did believe in the Supreme God too. They claimed
authority for their smaller gods, but did not claim them to be bigger than Allah. Jews and
Christians clearly believed in God, the Creator and Lord of the universe. With the
exception of a small group of atheists, that remains valid till today, as the U.S. dollar
bill announces to the whole world: "In God we trust." The question is, then, why
should anyone have problem with Allahu-Akbar. Why feel uneasy with it or feel threatened
by it? Is it not saying the same thing that they already agree with? The answer lies in
the Islamic concept of God.
In the western literature, God is presented as a wise man. (To the feminists He is
increasingly a She). To the mathematician-philosopher, He may be a super mathematician or
even a differential-equation. To the scientist, He is the First cause, that jump started
the automobile of this universe that is now running on its own. To all of them, He is a
good subject for a hobby but is irrelevant to our day to day affairs. As one scientist
puts it: "I subscribe to Einstein's religion. It's an oceanic feeling; there's that
great big thing out there that's pretty marvelous." Thing?
Einstein, who reportedly considered himself spiritual but not religious, said: "I
want to know how God created this world." The implication is that He did it once. I
am studying and conquering His universe now. But for intellectual curiosity it will be
good to learn a little more about Him. "He may have created the laws of nature but
since creation He has left them pretty much alone. He does not come in and tweak them any
A people's concept of God is the first place to look for, to get an idea of the
corruption that their religion has gone through. Now let's compare the above confusions
with Islam's declaration of an All Knowing, All Powerful God who created the Universe and
who is running it every second. His attributes are best described in the well-known
ayatul-kursi. Look at this marvelously profound declaration, that is beyond any human's
capacity to declare but within everyone's ability to feel:
"Allah! There is no god but He, the Living, the Eternal, Supporter of
all. Neither slumber nor sleep can seize Him. His are all things in the heavens and on
earth. Who is he that intercedes with Him except by His leave? He knows that which is in
front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge
except what He wills. His throne extends over the heavens and the earth and He is never
weary of preserving them. He is the Most High, the Supreme." [Al-Baqarah 2:255]
What a tremendously empowering creed! From the smallest to the largest, everything in
the universe depends on Him. He depends on none. All other powers are illusory. His is the
only real Power. When He is on our side, we need not fear anyone. If He is not pleased
with us, the support of the whole world for us will be for naught. Worldly powers try to
manipulate people by telling them what they can do for them and what they can do to them.
But a person informed by Allahu-Akbar will not be tempted by the first or intimidated by
the second. The power of "world powers" evaporates before the shouts of
Allahu-Akbar. In fact there is no empowerment outside this belief, and no enslavement to
other humans with it! We can see why the claimants to power in this world may be
threatened by it.
What a tremendously liberating creed! It liberates us from slavery to our own desires
also. His knowledge is unlimited. Ours is extremely limited. What can we do except follow
His commands? He is watching us all the time. We cannot get away with disobedience because
of His oversight. He will judge us and no one will be able to intercede on our behalf
except with His permission. We can see why those who are afraid of accountability may be
threatened by it.
What a tremendously humbling creed! It reminds us of our humble station in life with
respect to God. As the Qur'an says at another place,
"Those who dispute about the Signs of Allah without any authority
bestowed on them, there is nothing in their breasts except the quest of greatness, which
they will never attain..." [Mumin, 40:56].
We can see why those with arrogance may be threatened by it.
This includes the arrogance of science. We see it in the scientist who declares that
there is no need to invoke a spiritual hand of God since everything has a rational basis.
Or the medical doctor who thinks that he can control the biological processes. (Look at
all the pronouncements of the genetic engineering pundits, euthanasia advocates, and
population control gurus). On the other hand, a scientist free of such sickness looks at
the workings of this universe; the great design in it; the tremendous purpose in every
creation; and he finds himself compelled to say: Subhan-Allah.
Allahu-Akbar. Glory be to Allah. Allah is the greatest. Similarly a medical doctor
constantly finds the Hand of God in the life and death struggles of his patients; some
succumb to minor problems, others survive major ones. Allahu-Akbar!
Allahu-Akbar is the weapon that gives us the courage to challenge all subjugation,
political or intellectual. It makes us turn our attention to the Creator and ignore other
creations like ourselves. In the jihads in Afghanistan, Kashmir, or Bosnia, as elsewhere,
the power of this weapon has been felt by people on both sides of the conflict. In every
conflict the shouts of Allahu-Akbar instilled fear in the hearts of the oppressors. It
boasted the morale of the mujahideen with new levels of hope and courage. And that is the
way it should be. Because Allah is the Greatest.