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The Takbīr (تَكْبِير, Arabic pronunciation: [tækˈbiːr])[a] is the Arabic phrase Allāhu akbar (الله أكبر), usually translated as "God is [the] greatest".[1][2] It is a common Islamic Arabic expression, used in various contexts by Muslims; in formal prayer, in the call for prayer (adhān),[3] 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.[4][5] The form akbar is the elative of the adjective kabīr, meaning "great", from the Semitic root k-b-r. As used in the Takbīr it is usually translated as "greatest", but some authors prefer "greater".[6][7][8] The phrase is often transliterated less accurately as Allah akbar. The term Takbīr itself is the stem II verbal noun (tafʿīlun) of the triliteral root k-b-r, meaning "great", from which akbar "greater" is derived.

In the non-Muslim world, mainly western countries, the phrase is well known for its common use in Muslim protests, and as a battle cry in Islamic extremism and Islamic terrorism.[9][10][11]


The takbīr in nastaʿlīq
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).

In prayer

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.[3]

In times of distress

The phrase is sometimes used during distress.

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.[12][13]

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.[14][15]

As a multi-purpose phrase, it is sometimes used by Arab football commentators as an expression of amazement.[16]

Following births and deaths

The phrase is used after the birth of a child as a means of praising God.[17]

In the hadith, Muhammad is reported to have spoken the Takbīr after a funeral.[18]

During the Eid Festival and the Hajj

During the festival of Eid al-Adha and the days preceding it, Muslims recite the Takbīr. This is particularly the case on the Day of Arafah.[19][19]

In warfare and politics

Allāhu akbar in a memorial, Desouk, Egypt
"Allāhu akbar" in Arabic calligraphy seen on Imam Ali Mosque architecture (center of the Iwan), 1994

In history

It has been used historically as a battle cry during war.[20] 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) [21]

Iranian usage

During the Iranian Revolution of 1979, it was shouted from rooftops in Iran during the evenings as a form of protest. This practice returned in the 2009 Iranian presidential election protests,[22][23] which protested the election results.[24] Many people shouted it from 22:00–22:30 every night after the 2009 Iranian election to protest the result.

In Syrian and Iraqi insurgency

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.[25]

During the Iraqi insurgency (2011–13), Islamist fighters were seen and heard shouting "takbīr" and "Allāhu akbar".

Jihadist and the Islamic extremist videos have also shown its fighters making takbīr with the index finger up.

Radical fundamentalist usage

The phrase is well-known among Western non-Muslims for its common use as a battle cry in Islamist extremism and Islamist terrorism.[9][10][11]

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.[26][27][28][29]

When in March 2002 Maryam Mohammad Yousif Farhat of Hamas, popularized as "Umm Nidal" (and subsequently elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council),[30] learned that her 17-year-old son had died during a suicide attack in which he killed five students of a pre-military school, she celebrated by proclaiming "Allāhu akbar" and giving out boxes of halva and chocolates.[31][32] Imam Samudra, who was sentenced to death for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, chanted the phrase upon hearing his sentence.[33][34][35][36][37]

In the video of Nick Berg being beheaded in Iraq in 2004, the perpetrators can be heard shouting "Allāhu akbar".[38] And in the 2007 Fort Dix attack plot, a group of radical Islamists who were convicted of plotting an attack on the Fort Dix military base in New Jersey had videotaped themselves shooting weapons and shouting "Allāhu akbar".[39][40][41] In 2008, Aafia Siddiqui is alleged to have fired at US interrogators while yelling "Allāhu akbar".[42][43][44][45]

During the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, witnesses reported that gunman Nidal Malik Hasan shouted "Allāhu akbar" before opening fire, killing 13 people and wounding 30 others.[46] Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad smiled and said "Allāhu akbar" after receiving a life sentence in 2010 for his attempted bombing.[47][48]

During the incident aboard American Airlines Flight 1561 in 2011, the person attempting to bash his way into the cockpit was heard shouting "Allāhu akbar".[49] Mohammed Merah recorded himself shouting "Allahu akbar" as he killed three French paratroopers in the 2012 Midi-Pyrénées shootings.[50] In the 2014 Jerusalem synagogue attack witnesses reported that the perpetrators screamed "Allāhu akbar" as they axed and shot at the worshippers.[51][52] The killers in the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris shouted "Allāhu akbar" during their attack.[53] During the November 2015 Paris attacks, witnesses reported hearing gunmen shouting "Allāhu akbar" before opening fire in the Bataclan theatre, killing 89 people.[54]

When Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was assassinated on 19 December 2016 at Ankara, the capital of Turkey, after shooting the ambassador the shooter shouted "Allāhu akbar" and "Do not forget Aleppo", referring to Russia helping the Syrian government conquer the eastern part of the city of Aleppo only a few days prior to the assassination.

Following the 2017 Barcelona attacks, the mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, has said that anyone shouting "Allāhu akbar" in St Mark's Square will be shot by snipers within a few paces.[55][56][57]

On flags

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)[58] to Iraq's flag to boost his secular regime's religious credentials, casting himself as the leader of an Islamic army.[59][60] Hussein described the flag as "the banner of jihad and monotheism".[61]

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.[59][62] 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.[63][64] 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 phrase Allāhu akbar is written on the flag of Iran, as called for by Article 18 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.[65] The phrase appears 22 times on the flag.[66]


The Afghan constitution that came into force on January 4, 2004, required that Allāhu akbar be inscribed on Afghanistan's national flag.[67]


A resistance movement that fought British rule in Waziristan, Pakistan, in the 1930s used a red flag bearing Allāhu akbar in white letters.[68]


One of the variants of the flag of Pashtunistan features the takbir.

See also


  1. ^ Also transliterated as Tækbir, Takbiir, Takbîr, or Takbeer.


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External links