I cannot in any way claim to know what people are thinking or meaning on the ground, but for centuries, 'Allahu Akbar' has been in the Muslim world a battlefield of meaning and ultimately of political legitimacy. They are five syllables pregnant in meaning, mutability and richness, not simply a ritualistic or fundamentalist dogmatic trope. Nor is 'Allahu Akbar' simply a prayer. In fact, despite all its negative, violent connotations in the West, 'Allahu Akbar' has been uttered by Muslims throughout history as a cry against oppression, against kings and monarchs, against tyrannical and despotic rule, reminding people that in the end, the disposer of affairs and ultimate holder of legitimacy is not any man, not any king or queen, not even any supreme leader, but ultimately a divine force out and above directing, caring and fighting for a more peaceful, rule-based, just and free world for people to live in. God is the one who is greatest, above each and every mortal human being whose station it is to pass away.
The fact that 'Allahu Akbar' is echoing through the Iranian night is not only an indication of the longing of people there to find a peaceful and just solution to this crisis. It also points to how deep the erosion of legitimacy is in whosoever acts against the will of the people, in whosoever claims to act on God's behalf to oppress his fellow human, including in this case some of the 'supreme' Islamic jurists themselves. This all goes to show that Islam, far from being merely an abode of repression and retrogression, has the capacity of being a fundamentally restorative and democratic force in human affairs. In the end, so it seems, at least in the Iranian context, 'Allahu Akbar', God is greatest, is a most profoundly democratic of political slogans. So deep is this call, that what is determined out of this liminal moment may very well set the terms for (or against) a lived, democratic Islamic reality for decades to come.
from Nicholas - a reader at Nico Pitney "live-blogging the uprising" at HuffPo. (post: 3.40PM ET, 6/18/09, titled Allah 0 Akbar!)