Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX | Part XXXI| Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV
I was in high school reviewing for exams when I received a text message from my aunt. The text message read, “When you have a problem, don’t ever say ‘O God, I have a big problem.’ Rather say, ‘HEY problem! I have a big God!’ and everything will be ok.” And what immediately came to mind was, “Allahu akbar“(Allah is greater).
Allah’s Name al-Kabeer (the Most Great) is a Name that we all need to get acquainted with. Not only do we refer to this attribute everyday, but, when truly understood, it is a Name that brings tranquility and confidence to every person who is overwhelmed. It is a Name that reminds us of our priorities, of where true greatness lies and who is ultimately in control.
“Kabeer” in regular parlance is used to describe something that is great or big physically. You would say “al-baytu kabeer” (the house is big). But when it comes to Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), as Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi states, His greatness is in the fact that He “is far Exalted above being confined by a certain place, space or volume; but He is All-Great from the perspective of mental conception.” Al-Kabeer was mentioned in the Qur’an 3 times, with His Name al-Aliyy (the Most-High). Allah says in the Qur’an:
“That is because Allah is the Truth, and that which they call upon other than Him is falsehood, and because Allah is the Most High, the Grand (al-Kabeer)” (Qur’an 22:62).
Another Name from the same root is al-Akbar (the One who is Greater). Al-Akbar simply calls us to understand that Allah is greater than whatever we can imagine. So it is no coincidence that the words used to call us to prayer are “Allahu akbar“—basically telling us to drop whatever it is we are doing because God is greater. We are told to come to what really gives us success (hayya ala al-falaah). Allahu akbar. The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) tells us that one of the most beloved deeds to God is to pray on time.
Because we are prioritizing: God is greater.
We also start the prayer with those very words: God is bigger. He is greater. So leave the dunya (physical universe) behind. Pour your heart out to Him. Let Him know your worries. God is indeed greater. Every time you get distracted, then know that God is Greater than what you are thinking about. Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi also says that the reason why we say Allahu akbar between every change in prayer is because every time we contemplate on the greatness of God, we have to remember: He is greater even than what we imagine.
Al-Kabeer, al-Akbar and al-Mutakabbir (all from the same root) teach us where to look. We sometimes see things as huge, and impossible to surmount. We feel broken by our worries. We might be oppressed, and viewing our oppressor as great and strong. But we remind ourselves: Anything that seems big or great, Allahu Akbar. He is greater. This should fill us with strength and calm. It should remove any fear we have. The companion Abdullah bin Hathafa truly internalized this. He was captured by the Romans and enticed by the emperor with wealth and power to leave Islam. But he knew that God was greater than the emperor, and what God has is greater than anything anyone could offer him. So he refused. Then the emperor threatened to kill him. And his response? With the utmost calm, he responded that the king could do what he wanted. This is the confidence in the face of pressure that comes with an understanding of al-Kabeer.
So what does it mean to truly live with al-Kabeer?
Allah is al-Mutakabbir. He is the only One who possesses rights and attributes that are above anyone else’s. That’s why this Name is exclusive to Allah (swt), and if used for a human, it has the negative connotation of arrogance. An arrogant person is one who sees that they have rights or attributes above other people, and so they disdain others because of that. If ever you find yourself looking down on others because of your achievements, luck or even things you were born with, remember the ultimate source of those things. And remember that the only One who is above us all is Allah.
Umar bin Al-Khattab radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) was carrying a heavy water container on his back when he was the caliph. One of the companions saw him and exclaimed that he shouldn’t be carrying that because he was the Caliph. But Umar (ra) replied that a delegation had visited Madina and of course, dealt with him with the respect and subservience that is given to leaders. Because of that, he felt some pride enter his heart, and he wanted to destroy it.
I always feel a sense of calm when I hear or say “Allahu akbar”. That’s because nothing is too great for God. Nothing is too difficult. He is greater than our circumstances. Work hard, because Allah is greater than the obstacles. Be strong, because with al-Kabeer with you, you can do many, many things.
Knowing that Allah is al-Kabeer and that He is Greater should teach us to prioritize. If I have two things to choose from, I remember that God is greater. So I choose that with which He would pleased. If I am messing around on the laptop and I hear the athan (call to prayer), reminding me that Allah (swt) is greater, then I get up and pray.
4—Be devoted in your prayers
Because we pray five times a day, everyday, we sometimes treat it as a chore. But we start the prayer with “Allahu akbar”, remembering that what we are doing now is greater. We should be focused on this now.