The Takbīr (تَكْبِير, Arabic pronunciation: [tækˈbiːr])[a] is the Arabic phrase Allāhu akbar (الله أكبر), usually translated as "God is [the] greatest". It is a common Islamic Arabic expression, used in various contexts by Muslims; in formal prayer, in the call for prayer (adhān), as an informal expression of faith, in times of distress or joy, or to express resolute determination or defiance.
The form Allāhu is the nominative of Allah, meaning "God". In the context of Islam, it is the proper name of the Abrahamic god. The form akbar is the elative of the adjective kabīr, meaning "great", from the Semiticrootk-b-r. As used in the Takbīr it is usually translated as "greatest", but some authors prefer "greater". The phrase is often transliterated less accurately as Allah akbar. The term Takbīr itself is the stem II verbal noun (tafʿīlun) of the triliteral rootk-b-r, meaning "great", from which akbar "greater" is derived.
A Muslim raises both of his hands to recite the Takbīr in prayer.
This phrase is recited by Muslims in many different situations. For example, when they are very happy, to express approval, to prevent a Muslim from becoming prideful by reminding them that Allah is their source of success, or as a battle cry, during times of extreme stress. The phrase is not found in the Quran, which does not refer to God as akbar, but uses the name al-Kabīr "The Great" or Kabīr "Great", commonly translated as "Most Great" (13:9, 31:30, 22:62, 34:23, 40:12, 4:34).
The phrase is said during each stage of both salah (obligatory prayers, performed five times a day), and nafl (supererogatory prayers performed at will). The Muslim call to prayer (adhan) by the muezzin and to commence prayer (iqama) also contains the phrase.
Just before Garuda Indonesia Flight 152 crashed into the jungle near Medan, Indonesia, the pilot screamed "Aaaaaaah! Allāhu akbar" into his radio. According to a radio communication transcript, the pilot's conversation with the air controller had been in English, but his last words were the takbir as the plane crashed on September 26, 1997, killing all 234 people aboard in Indonesia's deadliest crash. It was suspected that the crash may have been due to either disorientation or turbine engine failure caused by local dense smog resulting from forest fires.
In times of joy and gratitude
When Reshma Begum was discovered alive 17 days after the 2013 Savar building collapse in Bangladesh which killed 1129 people, crowds jubilantly cried "Allāhu akbar" to express their joy and gratitude that she had survived.
As a multi-purpose phrase, it is sometimes used by Arab football commentators as an expression of amazement.
Following births and deaths
The phrase is used after the birth of a child as a means of praising God.
"Allāhu akbar" in Arabic calligraphy seen on Imam Ali Mosque architecture (center of the Iwan), 1994
It has been used historically as a battle cry during war.
Ibn Ishaq's Life of Mohammed narrates at least two incidents in which the phrase was used.
"When the apostle raided a people he waited until the morning. If he heard a call to prayer' he held back; if he did not hear it he attacked. We came to Khaybar by night, and the apostle passed the night there; and when morning came he did not hear the call to prayer,' so he rode and we rode with him, and I rode behind Abii Talba with my foot touching the apostle's foot. We met the workers of Khaybar coming out in the morning with their spades and baskets. When they saw the apostle and the army they cried, `Muhammad with his force,' and turned tail and fled. The apostle said, 'Allah akbar! Khaybar is destroyed. When we arrive in a people's square it is a bad morning for those who have been warned.'" (page 511)
"So he got off his horse and came at him and 'Ali advanced with his shield. `Amr aimed a blow which cut deeply into the shield so that the sword stuck in it and struck his head. But 'Ali gave him a blow on the vein at the base of the neck and he fell to the ground. The dust rose and the apostle heard the cry, 'Allah Akbar' and knew that 'Ali had killed him." (page 456)
In videos released during the course of the Syrian Civil War, Free Syrian Army, Al-Nusra Front, other rebel and Islamist groups and ISIL forces are heard shouting "Takbir" and "Allāhu akbar" in the background while fighting. Even more "secular" groups such as the Free Syrian Army - Operation Southern Storm have been heard yelling the phrase before the firing of heavy weapons.
After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the FBI released a letter reportedly handwritten by the hijackers and found in three separate locations on the day of the attacks—at Dulles International Airport, at the Pennsylvania crash site, and in hijacker Mohamed Atta's suitcase. It included a checklist of final reminders for the 9/11 hijackers. An excerpt reads: "When the confrontation begins, strike like champions who do not want to go back to this world. Shout, 'Allāhu akbar,' because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers." Also, in the cockpit voice recorders found at the crash site of Flight 93, the hijackers are heard reciting the Takbīr repeatedly as the plane plummets toward the ground and the passengers attempt to retake control of the plane.
The phrase Allāhu akbar is written on the center of the flag of Iraq, 22 times along the borders of the central white stripe on the flag of Iran, and beneath the shahada in the flag of Afghanistan in white script on the central red background as determined by the 2004 draft constitution.
During the Gulf War in January 1991, Saddam Hussein held a meeting with top military commanders, where it was decided to add the words Allāhu akbar (described as the Islamic battle cry) to Iraq's flag to boost his secular regime's religious credentials, casting himself as the leader of an Islamic army. Hussein described the flag as "the banner of jihad and monotheism".
In 2004, the US-picked Iraqi Governing Council approved a new flag for Iraq that abandoned symbols of Hussein's regime, such as the words Allāhu akbar. In January 2008, however, Iraq's parliament passed a law to change the flag by leaving in the phrase, but changing the calligraphy of the words Allāhu akbar, which had been a copy of Hussein's handwriting, to a Kufic script. The Iraqi flag under Hussein had each of the two words of the phrase written in one of the spaces between the stars on the central band; the 2008 flag, while leaving the phrase in, removes the stars.
^"The formula, as the briefest expression of the absolute superiority of the One God, is used in Muslim life in different circumstances, in which the idea of God, His greatness and goodness is suggested." Wensinck, A. J. The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition. Brill, 2000. Volume 10, T-U, p. 119, Takbir.
^[ McCarthy, Andrew C., "Cold Comfort on Islam and Apostasy; No one who’s actually read the Afghan constitution should be surprised by the Abdul Rahman case", National Review, March 27, 2006, accessed February 11, 2010]