Imam Omar Suleiman is the founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and an adjunct professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University, and in this op-ed for CNN writes about what Allahu Akbar actually means. As he says:
“Contrary to what many people seem to think, the words “Allahu Akbar” simply mean “God is greater.” It is a powerful declaration used by Muslims on many occasions and in many prayers. It is a celebration of life, the first words fathers whisper in the ears of their newborns. They are used to indicate gratitude when God bestows something upon you that you would have been incapable of attaining were it not for divine benevolence. It is a prayerful phrase that reminds us that, no matter what our concerns may be, God is greater than them.
Worshipers at a mosque in Quebec reportedly heard the phrase “Allahu Akhbar,” the very phrase they recite in morning prayers, uttered by their white supremacist attacker just before he opened fire and killed six Muslims this January. And Muslims at a mosque in Minnesota were reciting “Allahu Akbar” during their morning prayers when their mosque was firebombed this August.
Is “Allahu Akbar” sometimes used as a battle cry? Yes, though as Sen. John McCain has argued on Fox News, that does not make the phrase itself abhorrent. While noting that “moderate Muslims” also say “Allahu Akbar,” McCain said the phrase is no more troubling that a Christian saying “Thank God.”
…. We mustn’t allow terrorists or agendas of fear to own any of the words, concepts, or devotions found in the sacred text of a quarter of the world’s population. That would give them exactly what they want.”