Within hours of the recent ISIS-inspired truck-ramming attack in lower Manhattan -- which left eight innocent people dead and more than a dozen others wounded -- much of the media began to divert attention away from the plight of the victims and focus instead on defending Islam. A common thread in the coverage of the mass murder was an accompanying analysis of the Arabic phrase "Allahu Akbar," which the terrorist, Sayfullo Saipov, shouted when he exited his vehicle and continued his rampage on foot.
Sayfullo Saipov shouted the Arabic phrase "Allahu Akbar" when he exited the truck with which he murdered eight people and wounded more than a dozen others, during his October 31 terrorist attack in Manhattan. (Image source: Gh9449/Wikimedia Commons)
The New York Times, for example, prefaced the tweet of an article about the use of the phrase, by saying: "'Allahu akbar' has somehow become inextricably intertwined with terrorism. Its real meaning is far more innocent."
The Times, like Shariah law apologist and Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, played down the definition of "Allahu Akbar," by insisting that it simply means is "God is great."
The Huffington Post, meanwhile, said that the phrase actually means "God is greater." This is also the translation used by Imam Omar Suleiman, founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and an adjunct professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University, in an op-ed on CNN's website. Suleiman said that "Allahu Akbar... should be known as a celebration of life, not death and destruction."
What the phrase "Allahu Akbar" actually means, however, is that "Allah is greater" than any other god. When recited, it empowers Muslims, making them feel superior to the rest of mankind. "Allahu Akbar" has, in fact, been a jihadist tool since the early years of Islam. According to the Sahih Muslim, a highly acclaimed collection of hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammed), Allah's messenger (Muhammed) launched a raid against the Jews living in Khaybar, 90 miles north of Medina, with the battle cry: "Allahu Akbar, Khaybar shall face destruction."
This is not to say that "Allahu Akbar" is always uttered in a violent context. Muslims do use it in various benign situations, as well. When it is shouted publicly as an expression of rage, however, particularly during an attack on others, it is intended to intimidate or threaten; its purpose is to emphasize that the assault is being committed on behalf of Allah -- submitting to his command to kill enemies -- and in the expectation of the reward of eternal paradise.
When mainstream media outlets in the West whitewash a key tenet of Islam – jihad in the name of Allah – they are unwittingly aiding and abetting the killing of innocents. In so doing, these "fellow travelers" are both enabling the problem and obstructing its solution.
A.Z. Mohamed is a Muslim born and raised in the Middle East.