First, they came for “jihad.”
Then they took “Sharia.”
But, by God, they’re not getting “Allahu akbar.”
That’s the feeling behind a flurry of writings by US Muslims snatching back their most repeated of exaltations — “God is greatest” — from Islamist extremists and Muslim-bashers who’ve twisted it for their own purposes.
The outpouring to reclaim the phrase was prompted by the deadly attack in New York City in which authorities said the suspect, an Uzbek national, shouted, “Allahu akbar,” after rampaging down a bike trail in a truck. Within hours, the Arabic words appeared in national headlines, splayed most prominently on conservative sites with a clear anti-Islam bias.
And, just as quickly, Muslims rushed to defend the phrase in tweets, blog posts, and essays. This certainly wasn’t the first time Muslims have issued reminders about the many contexts for “Allahu akbar,” but the force of the response reflects the urgency of defending Islam at this moment, as it’s exploited by extremists on one side and bigots on another. There are widespread fears that one major attack is all it would take for the Trump administration to come up with a collective punishment for the nation’s 3.3 million Muslims.
Indeed, President Donald Trump condemned the New York attack, called the suspect an “animal,” and urged the death penalty for him, all while the investigation was ongoing. Trump offers no such hang-'em-high posturing when the suspects are white extremists or non-Muslim shooters.
The majority of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims invoke “Allahu akbar” in nonviolent, celebratory ways, such as at the birth of a baby or upon passing an exam.
Muslim writers noted that discrepancy, a phenomenon that lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar called “the Allahu akbar double standard of terrorism.” Dallas-based Muslim cleric Omar Suleiman, writing on CNN.com, warned against allowing “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.”
Others pointed out that the majority of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims invoke “Allahu akbar” in nonviolent, celebratory ways, such as at the birth of a baby or upon passing an exam. In a New York Times op-ed, “I Want Allahu Akbar Back,” the writer Wajahat Ali said he’d recently used “Allahu akbar” more than 100 times, including while tasting a delicious kebab.
CNN’s Jake Tapper got caught up in the “Allahu akbar” debate, saying on air that it could be used “under the most beautiful of circumstances, and too often we hear it being said in moments like this,” referring to the New York attack. Fox News and DailyCaller.com suggested Tapper was praising the beauty of “Allah akbar,” but later walked back the implications. Still, anti-Muslim viewers, including former senior White House aide Sebastian Gorka, persisted in misquoting Tapper, while Muslims rushed to defend Tapper’s statements as accurate.