Allahu akbar is probably the best known and least understood phrase in Islam, at least by Westerners that like to pretend they are partners with the “religion of peace.” Most people seem to think that it is religious praise or the equivalent of “thank God”. Senator John McCain said as much while criticizing Fox News in the 2013 clip below:
Senator McCain is perhaps the poster child for this ignorance of equating Allahu Akbar with simple praise. However, the phrase in Islam for thanking Allah is Al-ḥamdu lillāh (Arabic: الحمد لله). Al is the definite article “the”. Hamdu means the “feeling of gratitude.” Li-l-lāh means belonging to Allah.
Alternately, Allahu Akbar has a very different meaning. If it was simply Allah is great, the word would be Kebir which means great. Instead, Allahu Akbar means Allah is greater. When put together it means that Allah, the god of Islam, is greater. The term does not originate in the Koran but instead comes from hadith’s dealing with the defeat and surrender of the Jews of Khaybar and was used as a battle cry:
“So, when the day dawned, the Jews came out with their bags and spades. When they saw the Prophet; they said, “Muhammad and his army!” The Prophet said, Allahu–Akbar! and Khaibar is ruined, for whenever we approach a nation (i.e. enemy to fight) then it will be a miserable morning for those who have been warned.” Sahih Bukhari 4:52:195
The biography of Mohammed known as the Sira states that after a siege, the Jews of Khaybar surrendered and were allowed to become dhimmis. In this “battle” Mohammed managed to defeat and enslave a city with numbers over 5 times his own band of jihadists. So, the term Allahu Akbar is not a simple praise. It is a boast of conquest. Its not “thank God” its “our god Allah is greater than… insert people, religion, etc. here. That’s why it’s a favorite cry of Islamists in activities such as beheading hostages or other acts of violence.