Monday, August 26, 2019

Yigal Carmon, MEMRI: 'Allahu Akbar' – 'Allah Is The Greatest' – A Jihadi Battle Cry

To read the entire item from November 1, 2017 by Yigal Carmon, President of the Middle East Media Research Institute, kindly click on this link:–-allah-greatest-–-jihadi-battle-cry-0

'Allahu Akbar' – 'Allah Is The Greatest' – A Jihadi Battle Cry

In October 2016, MEMRI published an analysis report explaining the phrase Allahu akbar – meaning "Allah is the greatest" – and examining how and why it is routinely mistranslated and misunderstood by Western media.
This was demonstrated most recently following the October 31 attack in Manhattan by Sayfullo Saipov, who according to witnesses shouted "Allahu akbar" as he drove a truck into a crowd of cyclists and pedestrians in Manhattan, killing eight and injuring nearly a dozen – when minutes after the attack was reported CNN's Jake Tapper said: "The Arabic chant Allahu akbar, God is great – sometimes said under the most beautiful of circumstances and too often we hear of it being said at moments like this."[1]
As explained by MEMRI in its analysis, the media's usual rendering of Allahu akbar as "God is great" is misleading and omits the aspect of superiority in the word akbar (which means "greater" or "greatest," not merely "great") and blurs its specific reference to Allah – and not to any other deity. Translating and understanding this phrase as merely "God is great" strips it of its crucial aspect of Allah's supremacy over all other deities. This is why throughout the history of Islam, and to this day, Allahu akbar has been a battle cry shouted out during attacks, including in today's Islamic terror attacks – and Sayfullo Saipov was only the latest attacker to shout it.
Needless to say, when Allahu Akbar is used, for example, by an Arab Christian priest, it is not a jihadi battle cry. But when it is uttered by a Muslim, it is always an assertion of the supremacy of Allah – either in a nonviolent context, or in a violent context.
The following is MEMRI's October 2016 analysis of the call of Allahu akbar explaining how and why it is misunderstood and mistranslated in the West, and presenting many examples of its use.
Translating "Allahu Akbar"
Translating concepts from one language into another is a difficult endeavor. Translating concepts that have no equivalent in the target language is even harder. Translating religious concepts for a culture in which religion has ceased to play a central role in the life of the individual and in society is hardest of all.
Perhaps this is the reason why religious Islamic idioms representing concepts such as Allahu Akbarla ilaha illa Allah, and istishhad are routinely mistranslated in the American media.
The American failure to understand religious concepts does not apply only to Islam. A similar misunderstanding occurred in 1993 between the authorities and fundamentalist Christian David Koresh, who had holed up at a remote complex outside Waco, Texas along with dozens of his followers, including women and children, and an arsenal of weaponry. Besieged by the authorities, who attempted to negotiate with him, Koresh recited Biblical prophecies about the End of Days. Trying to peacefully end the standoff, the authorities urged him, "Let's not discuss religion now." Koresh, immersed in his religious beliefs, could only reply, "But religion is life and death." It was a "dialogue of the deaf," doomed to end as it did, with the loss of many innocent lives.
The problem is not one of linguistic relativity – as comprehensively discussed in the last century by the renowned linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf[2] – since there are ways to convey original meaning in a proper, brief explanation. Instead, it is about the tendency of the media to choose the easiest solution, that is, to translate to what will sound most familiar to readers, even if inaccurate.
The word istishhad denotes a religious act of faith in which a believer strives to kill as many perceived enemies as he can, at the price of his own life,[3] as a means of getting closer to Allah, the prophets, the righteous, and the martyrs[4] in Paradise. The goal of this act of faith, which is considered blessed, is to make Allah's religion supreme on Earth, in what the perpetrator believes to be an imitation of the battles of early formative Islam of the time of the Prophet Muhammad and the four righteous caliphs. This term is often recklessly and inaccurately translated as "suicide," which is an act motivated by personal desperation and is forbidden in Islam, and for which a different word – intihar – is reserved in Arabic.[5]
This is also why Allahu akbar and la ilaha illa Allah – both statements of faith that embody the religious concept of the supremacy of Islam and of Allah – are mistranslated. First it was the struggle to establish the supremacy of the monotheistic Islam over the pagan idols of seventh-century Mecca. Then it was a struggle for supremacy over other religions, including monotheistic ones, in the Arabian Peninsula, resulting in the expulsion of non-Muslims, as related in the compilation of hadiths on behalf of the Prophet Muhammad: "I shall take out the Jews and the Christians from the Peninsula"[6]– a ban that is in force to this day against non-Muslim religious institutions. Later it was a struggle against other religious empires, such as the Persian and the Byzantine. However, the rendering of Allahu akbar in the U.S. media as "God is great" omits the aspect of superiority in the word akbar (which means "greater" or "greatest," not merely "great") and blurs the specific reference to Allah rather than to another deity. In the same vein, la illaha illa Allah is often translated in the U.S. media as "There is no god but God" (rather than "There is no god but Allah"). Omitting the supremacy of Allah over all other deities is a mistranslation, and moreover leads to a logical fallacy – reminiscent of Carrollian nonsense verses.
One of the reasons for such mistranslations is the fact that in the modern Western world the struggle for supremacy among religions has almost completely ceased, and to the extent that it still exists, it is nonviolent. Therefore, statements of religious faith that embody a continuing historical struggle for divine religious supremacy lack a modern religious/cultural conceptual basis through which to be understood in the West, and consequently lack a linguistic equivalent. The American media, facing the risk of not being understood in translating these Islamic concepts, prefer to provide an approximate translation, even though these are inherently misleading.
This is not to say that Allahu akbar is uttered only by jihadis continuing the age-old struggle for the supremacy of Islam and of Allah. Over the centuries it has come to be uttered by non-religious Muslims as well, and even by Christian Arabs. In many cases, it carries a variety of meanings - ranging from admiration for what is perceived as a wonderful act of Allah to an expression of shock and horror in the face of calamity.
A translation should always reflect the context, the speaker, and his intent. But what often happens in the U.S. media is that when Allahu akbar is said by a jihadi, it is translated as if said by a non-religious Muslim or a Christian Arab. This is utterly wrong. And when such mistranslations occur time and again, whether intentional or out of ignorance, it results in a profoundly apologetic misrepresentation of the concept, and its cultural and religious meaning.
So what could be the solution? One school of translation holds to keeping the original term, followed a brief explanation of its meaning, as, for example, the Japanese word kamikaze. In this case, this solution was so effective that the original word no longer required explanation.[7] There is no reason why the same process should not occur with the word istishhad, which over time could become as well known and understood as kamikaze.
The alternative is for the media to adopt a more professional approach, translating these terms in each case according to the specific context, speaker, and intended meaning, and not settling for an approximate but misleading term.
This report aims to elucidate the term Allahu akbar in its original meaning, by providing examples of its usage by jihadis taken from the MEMRI archive, based on years of monitoring the Arab and Muslim media. This is not to claim that MEMRI, in its 18 years of translating tens of thousands of pages of primary source material from the Arab and Muslim media, has not at times fallen for the temptation to prioritize being understood by a non-expert reader. Even in the field of transliteration, we have accepted incorrect transliterations because they were common in the media (for example, "Koran" instead of "Qur'an"). In many cases, we used the word "martyrdom operations" for "istishhad," even though martyrdom is an inaccurate translation, since it is a Christian concept for an individual accepting death rather than forsaking his religious beliefs, while the Islamic concept of istishhad relates in modern times primarily to killing enemies at the price of one's own life.

"Allahu Akbar" – An Expression Of The Supremacy Of Islam
The term Allahu akbar embodies the fight for the supremacy of Islam, Allah, and the true believers: past, present, and future; actual and symbolic; military, cultural, or by means of forces of nature controlled and directed by Allah. It is the battle cry and the anthem of this fight for supremacy. Victory for Muslims is victory for Islam and for monotheism, and it is Allah's victory over false gods. Victory comes from Him and proves His supremacy. This was the main meaning of the term in the early centuries of Islam. Today it is a mark of Islamists and jihadis, as well as all others who wish to restore the ancient grandeur of Islamic empires, where "the crescent must always be on top of the cross," as described by New York-based Muslim Brotherhood activist Ayat Oraby.[8]
It is worth noting that Allahu kbar is uttered by both Sunni jihadis and the Shi'ite leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran (which was established as an "Islamic State" long before ISIS). In every major sermon delivered by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the crowd, comprising thousands and sometimes tens of thousands, chants "Allahu akbar" together with "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." See, for example, MEMRI TV Clips 41545075, and 5011.