The meaning of "God is great"
How does a person become religious "literate"? Reading beautifully written articles like this one by Mehreen Kasana is a great place to begin. Kasana discusses her relationship with takbir-- the Muslim devotional phrase "Allahu Akbar", translated as "God is great". Using delicate imagery and moving descriptions, she illustrates the varied ways in which takbir is invoked in her family's lives, and in the lives of Muslims throughout the world.
The beauty of this article is the light it shines on individual lived experiences of Islam. Kasana describes the harm that is done by painting Islam with a broad brush stroke, identifying millions of diverse believers with shreds of misinformation published with regularity. Rather than understanding the nuanced ways in which takbir is uttered in Muslim lives, Kasana writes that-- in popular culture, "It’s code for “we’re implementing sharia here,” according to astute Republicans who can’t pronounce Iran or Iraq without butchering it (figuratively and literally) but are adamant on presenting a singular, restricted and unimaginative interpretation of an expression millions of Muslims use in millions of ways."
Kasana ends her article with numerous thought-provoking reflections, encouraging readers to consider an alternative "truth" to the one they read in headlines. It is worth quoting from at length:
"I try not to think about takbir in the mouths of men and women who can’t see beyond tropes. I try not to think of it in predominantly English newspapers that suffer ahistorical analysis but also a dearth of linguistic diversity. I try not to think of anti-Muslim animus when I think of takbir. Above all, these days, I try not to think of Bissonnette possibly yelling “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire on dozens of Muslims mid-prayer.
Isn’t it strange how two words have been mercilessly mangled in society’s comprehension simply because someone was too paralyzed with fear to understand their meaning and usage? Isn’t it also fascinating how two words can summon the breathtaking extent of human emotions?
When I think of takbir, I think of that night with my parents in Muzdalifah five years ago. They brought me for Hajj to thank God for giving them a daughter after eight shattering losses. Eight heartbreaking attempts. I think of my mother handing bottles of fresh water to pilgrims as they marched on. I think of her warm face, her tired eyes. And I think of my father gently crushing dried mud between his index and thumb, handing me the smoothest of pebbles and praying under the blanket of a benevolent sky."
Read the article here.