The phrase literally means, “Allah is greater”, but can be generalized to mean “God is Greater”. As a call to action, it is a consistent part of daily Muslim prayers.
When talking to CNN, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva had this to say about her sons’ deaths: “My oldest one is killed, I don’t care. I don’t care if my youngest one is going to be killed today. I want the world to hear this. And I don’t care if I am to get killed too, okay? And I will say Allāhu Akbar!”
The public condemned this statement. How could a mother be so callous about her children’s lives? Is she even human? Is this not proof that Islam is a religion of pieces, rather than a religion of peace? (This stupid pun follows in the grand intellectual footsteps of “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”) My problem with these questions is not their sentiment, but the hypocrisy that their context reveals. The vaguely racist, forced connections from immigration to religion that underscore this discussion are violent, and ignorant. Religion is the ally of child sacrifice. The religious doctrines of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all applaud child sacrifice.
Genesis, Chapter 22, beginning at Verse 1 (KJV): “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Aside from that fact that God is said to be tempting, and not testing, (which makes him something less than perfect or good), this incitement of murder is pointless and evil. God recognizes Abraham’s love for his son before demanding the child’s death. This immoral mockery is wholly undeserving of praise. Abraham asks no questions, and Isaac’s only concern seems to be that he can’t seem to find the animal of sacrifice. His father ties him to the altar. Isaac offers no protest. Abraham shows no reservation. The most chilling line of Genesis, save for the floods and violently wicked exultations and bursts of anger from a ‘perfectly just and merciful’ God, is verse ten of the same chapter. “And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.” God chooses this moment to put down the popcorn and intervene. After egotistically claiming that his only desire was to ensure the fear of his subjects, (I can feel Job wincing), God kindly releases Abraham from the devout act of killing his only child. Unrealistically, the son in question abstains from flipping the capricious deity the bird. The Quran takes the story even further, claiming that the boy’s hands, (almost definitely referring to Isaac), did not need to be bound and that he chose sacrifice willingly. This version of the story is more toxic. The idea of child sacrifice ought to be abhorrent to both parent and child, but the willing sacrifice of a child that goes undisputed by his parent is evil. To advocate this view is to champion inhuman cruelty and vilify familial loyalty.
Temptation, fear, and apathy define the God of Genesis. Orwell taught us the perverseness of being forced to love someone that you fear. Child sacrifice is evil. Those who condone it are immoral. The Christians who claim that Abraham’s faith in God was so great that he believed that his son would be brought back from death are being impossibly revisionist. I default to Christopher Hitchens for the final word on the subject. Speaking about his children, he says: “If I was told to sacrifice them to prove my devotion to God, if I was told to do what all monotheists are told to do, and admire the man who said, ‘Yes, I’ll gut my kid to show my love of God’, I’d say, ‘No, fuck you.’”
The proud outrage of the religious at Zubeidat Tsarnaeva’s pitiless piety is hollow. Her insistence that her sons are innocent and not terrorists is made irrelevant by her defiant exultation of “Allāhu Akbar!” Her ideas are loyal to a vile principle present in all three major monotheisms. As a human being and an American, I’ve had enough of à la Carte religion and the baseless moral condescension of the faithful. Allāhu Akbar is an abdication of responsibility. The final reminders given to the 9/11 hijackers included “Shout ‘Allāhu Akbar’ because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers”. The Iranian flag has the phrase “Allāhu Akbar” written on it twenty-two times. Maryam Mohammad Yousif Farhat screamed “Allāhu Akbar!” and handed out candy upon hearing that her son had killed five people as a suicide bomber. Nidal Malik Hasan screamed “Allāhu Akbar!” before opening fire at Fort Hood. This deadly idiocy is the battle cry of piety. Their love of God is just as dangerous as their fear of him. It empowers disembodied tyrants while cheapening the lives and intellects of human beings. No mother should value her faith above her sons. God is not greater than family. God is not greater than humanity.