A Muslim raises both of his hands to recite the Takbīr in prayer.
The Takbīr or Tekbir (تَكْبِير) is the Arabic term for the phrase Allāhu Akbar (الله أكبر). It is usually translated as "God is [the] greatest," or "God is great". It is a common Islamic Arabic expression, used in various contexts by Muslims; in formal prayer, in the call for prayer (adhān), as an informal expression of faith, in times of distress, to express celebration or victory, or to express resolute determination or defiance.
The form Allāhu is the nominative of Allah, meaning "God". The form akbar is the elative of the adjective kabīr, meaning "great", from the root k-b-r. As used in the Takbīr it is usually translated as "greatest", but some authors prefer "greater".
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. In the Islamic world, instead of applause, often someone will shout "Takbīr" and the crowd will respond "Allahu Akbar" in response.
Just before a GarudaAirbusA300B-4 crashed into the jungle near Medan, Indonesia, the pilot screamed "Aaaaaah! Allahu 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 this Arabic phrase as the plane crashed on September 26, 1997, killing all 235 people aboard in Indonesia's deadliest crash. It was suspected that the crash may have been due to either disorientation or engine failure caused by local dense smog resulting from forest fires.
After a failed attempt to climb the world's second highest peak, K2, according to Greg Mortenson's book, he was greeted by his porter with the phrase, "Allah Akbar! Blessings to Allah you're alive!"
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 Allahu Akbar to express their joy and gratitude that she had survived.
As a multi-purpose phrase, it is sometimes used by Arab football commentators as an expression of amazement.
Following births and deaths
The phrase is used after the birth of a child as a means of praising God.
After 9/11, the FBI released a letter reportedly handwritten by the hijackers and found in three separate locations on September 11, 2001 — 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, 'Allahu 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 to be reciting the Takbīr repeatedly as the plane plummeted toward the ground and the passengers attempted to retake control of the plane.
During the incident aboard American Airlines Flight 1561, the person attempting to bash his way into the cockpit was heard shouting "Allahu Akbar". Mohammed Merah recorded himself shouting Allahu Akbar as he killed three French paratroopers in the 2012 Midi-Pyrénées shootings.
In warfare and politics
It has been used historically as a battle cry during war.
The phrase "Allahu 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 Shahadah in the flag of Afghanistan in white script on the central red background as determined by the 2004 draft constitution.
During the Persian Gulf war in January 1991, Saddam Hussein held a meeting with top military commanders, where it was decided to add the words Allahu Akbar (described as the Islamic battle cry) to Iraq's flag to boost his secular regime's religious credentials, casting himself as the leader of an Islamic army. Hussein described the flag as "the banner of jihad and monotheism".
In 2004, Iraq's U.S.-picked Governing Council approved a new flag for Iraq that abandoned symbols of Hussein's regime, such as the words Allahu Akbar. 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 Allahu Akbar, which had been a copy of Saddam's handwriting, to a Kufic script.
The phrase Allahu Akbar is written on the Iranian flag, as called for by Article 18 of Iran's constitution. The phrase appears 22 times on the flag.
The Afghan constitution that came into force on January 4, 2004, required that Allahu Akbar be inscribed on Afghanistan's national flag.
1930s Waziristan (Pakistan) resistance movement
A resistance movement that fought British rule in Waziristan, Pakistan, in the 1930s used a red flag bearing Allahu Akbar in white letters.
^E. W. Lane, Arabic English Lexicon, 1893, gives for kabir: "greater, and greatest, in body, or corporeal substance, and in estimation or rank or dignity, and more, or most, advanced in age, older, and oldest" (p. 2587). The translator[who?] of Ibn Qayyim's The Way to Patience and Gratitude into English opts for "Allah is Greater". In the Second Edition on page 463, an explanation is given: "...I preferred using 'the Greater' to 'the Greatest', as it is commonly used. Allahu Akbar literally means, "Allah is Greater" with the comparative mode. Yet, this does not mean that He (Glory be to Him) is not the Greatest, nor does it mean that there is anything that is put in comparison with Him. This is because when the Muslim says it, he means He is "Greater" than anything else, which, consequently, means He is the Greatest. This use gives more influence. This may be why it is used in Arabic this way, otherwise it should have been used as "Allahu al-Akbar", in the superlative mode. Surely, Allah knows best."
^[ McCarthy, Andrew C., "Cold Comfort on Islam and Apostasy; No one who’s actually read the Afghan constitution should be surprised by the Abdul Rahman case", National Review, March 27, 2006, accessed February 11, 2010]