Monday, November 2, 2015

A short (but pithy and instructive, I hope) lesson in Arabic - Sally Zahav

by Sally Zahav

If you were thinking that Allah refers to the same God that you worship, and you are not a Muslim, forget that.

By now, everyone has heard, either in person or in the media, Muslims declaring “Allahu Akbar”. It is called reverently during prayer as well as passionately at times of triumph, war or adversity.

Many have translated the phrase as “God is great”, which is a marginally reasonable rendering, but falls short of a true translation, and leaves the reader or listener with a sense that the phrase is innocuous and essentially non-threatening, if it is not in the context of a terror attack.

As a translator myself, I am very much aware that in many cases there is no “true” translation of some words or phrases. There are several reasons for this, including the complex, cultural references that are embedded in certain words. Another, simpler reason is that though a word may have a direct equivalent in both the source and destination languages, there are often nuances in one or each language that may skew the meaning one way or another. You go for the closest match, sometimes adding or subtracting a word or two to sharpen the intended meaning.

In the case of “Allahu Akbar”, there are two main problems with translating the phrase as “God is great”. First is that “Allah” is not the equivalent of our English word “God”, since Allah refers specifically to the god worshiped by Muslims. (And if you still believe that Allah is identical to the God worshiped by other faiths, I recommend doing a comparison between Allah’s expectations of humanity and, for example, the Judeo-Christian God’s expectations of humanity.) 

Back to the matter at hand: an awkward, but more accurate rendering of “Allah” is actually “the god named Allah”. So if you were thinking that Allah refers to the same God that you worship, and you are not a Muslim, forget that. In fact, the Malaysian court ruled in 2013 that Malaysian Christians may not use the word Allah to mean God.

The other problem is that in Arabic, there is but one word for both “greater” and “greatest”. The word for “great” is “kabir”, the root being  ر ب  ك. If the intention was to say that “God is great”, the phrase would be “Allahu kabir”, but that is not their call. 

In Arabic, in general, for the comparative or superlative (which would be the equivalent of “more” or “most” in English), one adds an alif - أ  (‘a’) in the beginning of the word, and the vowels within the word change slightly. For our current purposes, both “greater” and “greatest” would yield “akbar” or أكبر. The context would provide the understanding of whether comparative or superlative was intended. 

From here, it may not be so important to specify whether the intent is “greater” or “greatest”, because we have already shown that Allah is not your god, if you are a Christian, Jew, or a member of any other religion besides Islam, because “Allah is greater”(according to Muslims) than your god, ipso facto. Therefore, since he is greater than all other gods – he is greatest. 

However, the intent is definitely to say that “Allah is the greatest”, which can also be proven by means of the structure of the Arabic language: If I wanted to say, in Arabic, my house is bigger than your house, it would be:
 بيتي هو أكبر من بيتك     (Bayti hua akbar min baytika)

And if I wanted to say my house is the biggest, it would be
 بيتي هو أكبر     (Bayti hua akbar)

The word is akbar in both cases, whether more or most is intended.

Conclusion: Yes, I know that most Muslims are peace-loving, productive members of whatever society the live in. But there are millions, yes millions, who clamor for Islamic supremacy the world over, and are ready to lie, deceive, rape, murder and pillage in order to promote that goal. Listen to what they say, unfiltered through PC news media. Get your news from a reliable source, translated directly from Arabic, such as MEMRI (

The cry “Allahu Akbar” is the simple Arabic assertion that their god and their way is supreme, and for them, there is no room for any valid alternative concept of what God is or how He wants us humans to live and to treat each other.

Sally Zahav

Source: Middle East and Terrorism

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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