Attacks on Christian churches in Syria and eastern Turkey, and an important correction


Allahu akbar


The Takbir in Roman letters


I’m deeply concerned about the treatment of Christian minorities in certain Islamic countries, and this interview mentions some of the reasons that engage my concern:


However, I badly need to correct one statement from the interview:


Allahu Akbar is Islam’s most original and distinct war cry, it is always shouted out when Islam scores a victory, most often, a military victory, such as, in this case, shooting missiles at a church.  It literally means “my god [Allah] is greater” than your god (hence why shouted in the context of military victory). And hence why it is disgraceful for John McCain to compare it to Christians saying “thank God.”  He elevates the war cry of Islam to the level of the evcharistia – the Greek word for “thanksgiving” — and thus implicitly equate the Holy Eucharist with 1,400 years of jihad against Christianity.


I’ll pass over the cheap shot of casually mentioning “shooting missiles at a church” as an example of an Islamic military victory.  (I expect that the great Salah al-Din, victor over the Crusaders at the Horns of Hattin in 1187 AD, would have rounded up the cowards who fired those missiles at the church and executed them.  He certainly wouldn’t have considered their act a great military triumph.)


No, I want to address something else in this passage.


Saying Allahu akbar (الله أكبر) – which, in Arabic, is called the takbir (تَكْبِير) — is, yes, an Islamic war cry.  But it’s much, much more than that, and it’s used in many other circumstances.  Furthermore, it doesn’t merely mean “Allah is greater (e.g., than your God).”  In fact, I’m not sure that it ever means that at all.  It’s typically translated as “God is greatest,” or “God is most great.”


Moreover, Allah is simply the Arabic equivalent of English God.  Thus, saying Allah is greater [than your God] would scarcely work against Christians . . . for the simple but sufficient fact that the God of Arabic-speaking Christianity, the God referred to in the Arabic Bible, is also called Allah.


Saying Allahu akbar is required in each of the obligatory five daily salat prayers, as well as during whatever optional du‘a prayers a Muslim may offer up.  The muezzin, who calls faithful Muslims to prayer five times a day from the minaret of a mosque, says Allahu akbar several times during each prescribed call.  Devout Muslims also pronounce the takbir during important annual religious holy days.


It’s sometimes used as a kind of applause, when something has been particularly good.  In that respect, as in others, it can indeed be an expression of thanks.


When a baby is born or a person has survived something that might have killed him or her — e.g., a disease or an accident — happy well-wishers will often say Allahu akbar, very much as a way of thanking God for a blessing.  It can also be taken as a cry of amazement.


It’s used, sometimes, when somebody has achieved something very impressive, partly as a reminder to be humble before God and to acknowledge divine help in all human achievement.  Humility before God is perhaps the central Islamic virtue — the word Islam itself means “submission [to God]” — and such humility is expressed in a multitude of ways, including the posture of salat prayer, in which the worshiper prostrates himself or herself and touches his or her head to the ground as a token of absolute submission to the divine will.  (The verb “to prostrate oneself” is sajada, and the English word mosque is a badly corrupted form of the Arabic masjid, which means “place of prostration.”)


The five-time daily “salat” prayer


Examples of such humble submission are omnipresent in Arab and Islamic culture.  When you’re asked how you’re doing, for instance, the proper response is al-hamdu li-llah (الحمد لله‎), or “praise be to God.”  If you decide to provide more specific detail, you might reply “I’m well, al-hamdu li-llah.”  But you would also, if appropriate, reply “I’ve been sick, al-hamdu li-llah.”


If you’re congratulated on something, you should humbly respond al-hamdu li-llah.


When you say that you’ll be at such and such a place at ten o’clock tomorrow, you should also say in sha’a Allah (إن شاء الله‎; “if God wills”).  Not to do so is arrogance.  (Compare the Epistle of James [4:13-15] , in the New Testament:  “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”)


At the mention of an appreciated event or a person, Muslims commonly say ما شاء الله (ma sha’a Allah, or “what God willed”).


Allahu akbar is often said when death is imminent, and perhaps this is the real point of its use in battle — not as a declaration of belligerent supremacy but as an expression of humble resignation to the will of God.  Thus, for example, when a Garuda Airlines plane crashed in Indonesia in 1997, killing all aboard, the last words from the pilot, who had been speaking English until that point, were Allahu akbar!


Has the takbir become a feature of attacks by Islamic extremists?  Yes.  But that’s only one more by now redundant illustration of their mangling and misappropriation of mainstream Islam.  There’s a long list.


I’m not a particular fan of John McCain.  But his apparent equation of Allahu akbar with the Christian expression “Thank God!” is neither incorrect nor “disgraceful.”


And, while I’m at it, Mr. Ibrahim’s mention of “1400 years of jihad against Christianity” ought to be counterbalanced by recognition of such historical Christian events as the Inquisition (which was aimed, at least partially, against Andalusian Muslims), the Spanish Reconquista, the Crusades, the French mission civilisatrice in North Africa, and the Bosnian genocide against Muslims.



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  • John P

    I think historically from a time of widespread idolatry and polytheism, “Allah is greatest” was a push for monotheism and diminishing the stature of other gods.

    • DanielPeterson

      I certainly think that was an important factor.

  • LancePeters

    And I’m deeply concerned about the way Mormons attacks Ex-Mormons, Anti-Mormons, and Disaffected Mormons. When Christianity/Mormonism comes to the table with “clean hands” it is THEN that you have the right to complain about “attacks”.

    • DanielPeterson

      You make an excellent point, Lance Peters. Unless and until Mormons stop torching the places where anti-Mormons meet and halt the practice of firing missiles into them, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will lack the moral standing to complain when members of al-Qa‘ida and the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafist groups do something that’s merely metaphorically similar to Christian churches. (That was a deft touch above, contrasting real Mormon attacks with Islamist “attacks.” I hope that other readers also notice your rhetorical subtlety.)

      • LancePeters

        No, no, you lack the moral standing to complain about any group/religion/organization that commits atrocities against another group/religion/organization since the organization that you support and sustain (LDS inc.) commits and committed atrocities against groups/religions/organizations. I’m not sure why you are complaining about the Muslim’s actions when Mormons would do the same thing, and have done similar things, in the past .. or were the Mormon’s actions justified and Muslim’s actions unjustified? I don’t get it … is this because you believe in the “correct god”. If Mormonism were allowed to grow and progress for 2000 more years then I’m fairly certain that Mormonism would look and feel no different to modern day Islam.

        For the record, I don’t support any religious organization, I’m merely pointing out that your argument in favor of Christians NOT being persecuted is in direct contradiction to what Mormonism has done in the past and will likely do in the future, if given the opportunity. Remember the blood oaths? Aren’t you suppose to be killing government officials to avenge the blood of Joseph Smith? Are there not religions who hate Joseph Smith? Is it not true that if those same “blood oath” policies had remained in mainstream Mormonism that you’d be doing the same things the Muslims are doing? You’d be killing Christians, Jews, Muslims, LGBT folks, and government officials, or anyone else who spoke ill of of good ol’ Joseph Smith.

        I thoroughly enjoy that you don’t understand that your religion
        would do and has done the same things that the Muslims are doing and
        have done. Perhaps they feel threatened just like the Mormons were
        threatened in the 1800s.

        Your precious Mormonism is nothing more than a revamped, new-age form of Jesus-based Islamic-like extremism.

        So, you are correct, you can’t complain about Christian persecution since doing so is in direct contradiction to what your religion did, does, and will do, Thank you.

        • utex

          “Aren’t you suppose to be killing government officials to avenge the blood of Joseph Smith?”

          Lance, thank you for including that phrase. Up to that point, I thought your comments were quite incredible and made you look foolish.

          • LancePeters

            “Oath of vengeance”1

            The oath of vengeance was an addition made to the Nauvoo Endowment under the direction of Brigham Young by 1845 in the Nauvoo Temple, soon after the 1844 death of Joseph Smith, Jr..[1] Participants agreed to be bound by the following oath:

            “You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will pray and never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that you will teach the same to your children and to your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.”

            The prophets” referred to Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith, who were killed in 1844 by a mob while in jail in Carthage, Illinois. “This nation” referred to the United States.2


            2. Buerger, David John (2002), The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship (2nd ed.), Salt Lake City: Signature Books, ISBN 1-56085-176-7

          • kgbudge

            Even if we take this at face value: There’s a considerable difference between calling on God for justice, and taking it into our own hands.

          • LancePeters

            True, there is a difference, however, the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and Mormon History would suggest that when a prophet “feels” that God has “called for justice” then God neither sent bolts of lightening or fire from down from heaven (yes, in a few circumstances, and as the Bible mythology reads, God did send down heavenly destruction upon a prophets enemies); instead, God “fortifies” His righteous soldiers/people to exact justice on His enemies.

          • brotheroflogan

            You have conveniently not given any specific reference. In the Book of Mormon, the Nephites were condemned and left helpless when they were the aggressors. It even highlights the righteousness of one group that gave up its weapons and would rather die than take the life of others, even their blood thirsty enemies. Mr. Peters, I do not think that you are trying to be fair or honest regarding Mormonism. But I see Mr. Peterson bending over backwards to be fair and honest about Islam and courteous towards you.

          • Anyotheruser

            The above suggests you’ve never actually read the Book of Mormon properly: “Vengence is Mine, I will repay” (Mormon 3:15) – the Nephites are in fact destroyed for taking vengeance into their own hands (which as people have noted above, the reference to prayer doesn’t do that)

            Of course, since your posting history shows you wishing an antichrist would exist so you could follow him, I’m not sure you’re in the right place for a rational assessment of ‘atrocities’ or any other topic.

          • DanielPeterson

            How interesting that you and GW2 should bring up precisely the same (at best, marginally relevant) issue on the same day.

            Is this yet another of your pseudonyms, LP? I confess that I remember only a few of them.

          • LancePeters

            No, I’m not GW2, my “online personalities” always include both a first and last name; for example:

            Jamison Leadberry
            Lance Peters
            Tiffany Spencer
            Jamison Peters


            Marginally relevant? Yes, I suppose you mean, “well, true, blood oaths did exist, but that’s in our past … we’ve done away with blood oaths and therefore blood oaths are no longer relevant”; however, I’d argue that the same belief structure and foundation that Mormonism was founded on is the same belief structure and foundation that Mormonism believes in today, AND if the foundations of Mormonism are capable of producing the idea of “blood oaths” through prophetic revelation (yes, the blood oaths were issued by prophetic revelation, the same revelatory gift that President Monson makes claim to), then what prevents both current and future Mormon Prophets and Apostles from receiving supposed “prophetic revelations” making the claim that Mormons must “Avenge the blood of XXXX or XXXX”?

            Mormonism is akin to the Religion of Islam in it’s potential to produce misguided belief systems.

          • DanielPeterson

            And yet, clearly, Mormonism hasn’t actually produced a doctrine of “jihad” and hasn’t fostered a Salafist movement, and you’re left to argue a future hypothetical.

          • kiwi57

            Mr Peters,
            In your eagerness to fling the “Blood Atonement libel” at us (which is comparable to the anti-Semitic “Blood libel” only more cowardly) you have failed to read your sources. The long-removed “oath” was a promise to pray, not to take matters into our own hands.

            It was in nowise a “blood oath,” and calling it that is egregiously dishonest.

        • DanielPeterson

          What a farrago of nonsense, Lance Peters.

          • LancePeters

            Your inability to understand the connection between Islamic extremism and Mormonism is telling. Your denial is fascinating.

          • DanielPeterson

            Thanks, Lance Peters, for eschewing obscenities and threats in your most recent comments on my blog!

          • LancePeters

            Not a problem, Dr. Peterson!

  • Doug Ealy

    Great insight! Thank you. We need to work harder at building bridges…

    BTW, this is completely off topic, but I think you will like this video:

  • ClintonKing

    Didn’t Brigham Young say something to the effect that God raised up Mohammed to lead his (Mohammed’s) people away from the worship of idols?

    • LancePeters

      Elder Smith assured his audience that Muhammad “was no doubt raised up by God on purpose to scourge the world for their idolatry.”

      George A. Smith in Journal of Discourses 3:32

  • Alexander

    “If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a Mormon, I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination, who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.” – Joseph Smith, 1843