‘God is greater’ and fanaticism is not

Paris Terror Attacks, November 13th 2016 - Islamic State claims responsibility for a series of mass shootings and suicide bombings that killed 128 people at least, in Le Bataclan Theatre, Le Stade de France and other locations. President Hollande declared a state of emergency – dvdbash.com
  • The spirit of Islam

On the November 17, police shot a man who sparked a terror alert near Spain’s border with France by shouting Allah u Akbar at a checkpoint. The man, believed to be a Frenchman of North African origin, began to shout in Arabic when the vehicle he was traveling in was intercepted at a motorway toll. Officers ordered him out of the car, after seeing he had a ‘suspicious object’ by his waist. He reportedly began shouting in Arabic, yelling the words Allah u Akbar, before getting back into the vehicle. The suspect, who did not suffer life threatening injuries, is now believed to have been acting under the influence of drugs and the incident is not being probed as that of terrorism.

On the 1st day of the same month, US Federal authorities charged a 29 year old Uzbek immigrant with providing support to a terrorist organisation, after he plowed a rented truck on a New York City bike path, killing eight. Saifullo Saipov shouted Allah u Akbar, after he got out of the truck. Investigators found a stun gun on the floor of his truck and three knives in a black bag he was carrying.

On August 21, Barcelona police shot dead a man who went on the run after killing 14 people. While wearing a fake suicide belt, the 22 year old Moroccan reportedly shouted Allah u Akbar as he was challenged by officers, leading to fears that he was about to launch a bomb attack.

Although the meaning of the Arabic phrase Allah u Akbar frequently repeated in Muslim prayers and any other occasion of importance is now translated and known to the non Muslims, being ‘God is greater’, the belief still widely held in the West is that this phrase is some sort of a Muslim battle cry and is meant to be shouted before a terrorist activity. Thus any person doubted remotely of a suspicious activity, is surely believed to be a terrorist once he exclaims Allah u Akbar.

On August 21, Barcelona police shot dead a man who went on the run after killing 14 people. While wearing a fake suicide belt, the 22 year old Moroccan reportedly shouted Allah u Akbar as he was challenged by officers, leading to fears that he was about to launch a bomb attack

Following the New York truck attack, US Republican Michael McCaul was quoted saying  “I believe when an individual yells out, Allah u Akbar, all the indicators and hallmarks of an act of terror and, I think, yeah, that’s true in this case.” Similarly, soon after the killing spree in Barcelona, Venice’s right-wing mayor Luigi Brugnaro ordered cops to shoot anyone who shouts Allah u Akbar rather than risk a terrorist attack, deciding that it’s an unacceptable phrase to be shouted in the city’s St Marks Square.

Islam’s 1.6 billion followers around the world say Allah u Akbar on every occasion and it has a multitude of meanings. This religious term serves as a reminder to Muslims, that no matter the situation or emotion, God is always greater than any real or imaginary entity. It is repeated in times of distress, as an expression of joy, following births and deaths and during Islamic festivals. The call to prayer begins with four repetitions of Allah u Akbar. Allah u Akbar appears in the prayers as well. Muslims can use Allah u Akbar to express general approval, or even as an exclamation of surprise.

In the early days of Islam, Umar bin al Khattab was one of the fiercest enemies of Islam and of Muhammad, the Messenger of God, and was a great tormentor of the Muslims. But when he accepted Islam, the Holy Prophet peace be upon him raised the cry of Allah u Akbar so loudly that all the companions present in the house came to know that Umar had converted. Umar would later be one of the four rightly guided caliphs of Islam.

When Muslims exclaim Allah u Akbar, in any celebratory moment, the purpose is to praise the greatness of Allah, to proclaim that there is no power in this universe greater than Him and it is His very greatness that bestows us with all blessings. Even when said during war, the aim is not to terrorise the enemy, but to gain strength from His majestic power and transfer the spirit in fellow warriors.

While certainly this holy phrase of the Muslims which is used during almost all occasions, whether religious or common, is misunderstood and wrongly associated with violence, it is the irresponsible act of the Muslims themselves that has made it synonymous with terrorist attacks. When certain Muslims, reacting to some racist policies in the west or aiming to ‘cleanse’ the society of evils use violence, they believe that they are serving a good cause in the name of religion and earning their place in heaven. While using violent or rather terrorist activities for these purposes is against the spirit of Islam as believed by most moderate Muslims, invoking the name of their deity Allah during such acts, is in my opinion, sacrilege.

Attacking innocent pedestrians is not a service to Islam. Ramming vehicles on footpaths is not an Islamic way of attaining justice. Using force to convey a message, or enforcing one’s opinion on another about who belongs to the true faith is not a Muslim way. Refusing to follow laws and regulations in a non-Muslim country and forcing non-Muslims to follow Islamic way of life in Muslim countries is itself not the Islamic way of life. Refusing to cooperate with local police authorities by terrorising them using words in a language foreign to them is not a holy act in Islam.

In 1095, Pope Urban II made perhaps the most influential speech of the Middle Ages, giving rise to the Crusades by calling all Christians in Europe to war against Muslims in order to reclaim the Holy Land, with a cry of Deus volt or “God wills it”! The impulse to call on God to justify violence is very old, and is a universal human failing. Where violence is condemned in all religions, God’s name is invoked by almost all of its followers to legitimise their actions and gain support from those weak in faith. Repeating sacred words at wrong occasions maligns the name of our deity and surely, God does not will it.