Invitation to the Study of Religion Chapter 2: Where to start?
Question: How can I begin to learn about religion?
Answer - A good place to begin is this statement: “The Lord is One.”
This is a good place to start, because this statement is the foundation of all three great western religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
But what about non-western religions? No disrespect to non-western religions, but we have to start SOMEWHERE and here we are in the west, so, we might as well begin with: “The Lord is One.”
For Jewish people – the Shema or Sh’ma:
By tradition, Jewish men are expected to recite the prayer known as the Shema every morning and every night; Jewish women also recite it. This prayer begins with two verses from Deuteronomy:
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד
Deuteronomy 6:4 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
(A:vi, S: v) 4 “Sh’ma, Yisra’el! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad
In English: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Followed by Deuteronomy 6:5 and, putting the two verses together :
Adonai our God, Adonai is one; and you are to love Adonai your God with all your heart, all your being and all your resources.
If you want to hear a modern rendition of the Shema, go on YouTube and search for “Shema by Anna Brooks,” it’s beautiful.
This YouTube video of two women singing the Shema is also beautiful:
SHEMA | A Prayer for Israel (Hebrew and English) by Misha Goetz and Shae Wilbur
In the second video, the gentle head bobbing motion of the woman on the left is called “davening” (verb, to daven). Orthodox Jews sometimes use this gentle rocking motion while praying. It looks odd (to me at least) when they do it in silence – but it makes perfect sense when you see it done in time to music. I’m going to guess that “davening” started as an accompaniment to musical prayer and then somehow carried over to silent prayer, but I don’t really know if this is true.
For Christians – The Great Commandment
Mark 12:28-30 New International Version (NIV)
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God,
the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b]
Most scholars believe that, although Jesus spoke Aramaic Greek in daily life, he recited the Great Commandment in Hebrew because Jesus was an Orthodox Jew and therefore he would naturally say the Shema in Hebrew.
Jesus went on to add, “Love you neighbor as yourself.”
Many Christians speak of Jesus’s complete answer as Great Commandment. Putting the verses together, the Great Commandment goes like this:
29 “The most important (commandment) is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Comment: I find it strange that Christians call this The Great Commandment, since it is actually two different commandments. What is the problem here, can’t Christians count?
For Muslims – The Shahada
The Shahada (Arabic: الشهادة aš-šahādah [aʃ.ʃaˈhaːda] "the testimony") is an Islamic creed declaring belief in the oneness of God (tawhid) and the acceptance of Muhammad as God's prophet. The declaration, in its shortest form, reads (right to left in Arabic):
لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا ٱلله مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ ٱلله
In transliteration: Ashadu an la ilaha illa illa-ilah, wa ashadu anna muhammadan rasul ullah.
In English: There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.
Recitation of the Shahadah is the most important of the Five Pillars of Islam for Muslims and is performed daily as part of the Salat. If you want to learn how to say it correctly in Arabic, YouTube will help you. Look for this video:
Shahada Step By Step Lesson (How To Convert To Islam)
If you say the Shahada four times in the presence of witnesses and sincerely believe it to be true, congratulations, you have become a Muslim!
From Wikipedia, the source of much truth and a few errors, this comparison of the Shema and the Muslim Sura 112:
The words used in the Shema prayer are similar to the words of Sura 112 (Al-Tawhid or Monotheism) in Quran. The words "أَحَدٌ" in Arabic is identical to the word "אֶחָד" in Hebrew.
Arabic: قُلْ هُوَ اللَّهُ أَحَدٌ - Qul Huwa 'Llāhu ʾAḥad ("Say, He is Allah the One")
Hebrew: :שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יהוה אֶחָד - Sh'ma Yisra'el YHVH Eloheinu YHVH Eḥad
The resemblance between the Shema and the Shahada isn’t accidental. Islam was born in the 7th century in a region of the Middle East where there were many Jews, and Islam incorporates many ideas and teachings of Judaism. Then why do the Muslims and Jews in the Middle East have so much trouble getting along? The bitterest fights are family fights!
But back to the study of religion. The statement, “The Lord is One” is the foundation statement for all three of the great western religions. So if you want to study religion, this statement is a good place to start.
What does this statement mean? Go to Chapter 3!