A few months ago a white British MP described Islam as ‘’one of the world’s great religions’’ and I wondered if he meant large or admirable. He might well have welcomed the ambiguity and would never have said ‘’Islam is great’’ or the same about any religion, a topic they avoid because faith or lack of it is not a factor in how Britons vote. He could have said ‘’one of the world’s major religions’’ but perhaps wanted to flatter Muslim voters.
Great and grand must originally have meant large or significant but later have come to also mean admirable or worthy or spectacular. The Great Vowel Shift, the Grand Canyon, the Great Pretender, it’s a grand place is Blackpool - we had a great time there, the Rio Grande, The Great Gatsby, the great and the good, what Frosties are, a Grand Tour of Europe, the Grand Panjandrum, Great Britain, and so on.
Some of those may have been assigned the ‘’wrong’’ meaning by contemporary folk. What would you say people take ‘’the great religions’’ to mean nowadays?
Many Muslims recite Allahu Akbar in their daily lives to remind themselves of God’s vastness and power. Islam’s 1.6 billion followers say it in every occasion and it has a multitude of meanings. It is repeated in times of distress, as an expression of joy, following births and deaths and during Islamic festivals such as Eid as a declaration to Allah. Arab football commentators are known to have shouted this multi-purpose phrase as an expression of amazement.