What is the essence of the Shahada to me?
The Shahada is such a simple, clear delineation of the Islamic faith tradition - a foundational reference point around which to draw the mind and heart. It is the linchpin that holds Islam in place. Like the physical Kaaba, this foundational faith statement, offers a spiritual centre toward which one can turn the soul, aligning it to the source of divine consolation in the same way one aliens the prayer rug towards Mecca. In an often fractious, divided world, when our spirits our challenged to stay whole and restful, the Shahada offers a place of rest and wholeness for Muslims. Its beauty is in its spareness, its seeming simplicity, that yet, holds all the Quran and the Sunnah and the rich history of the Islamic faith.
What statement of faith is foundational to the Christian faith? To begin, a statement from the Jewish tradition.
I can never think of the Christian faith as being seperate from the Jewish faith, thinking, rather, of the Judeo-Christian tradition. There is so much I love in the Hebrew scriptures. But without a doubt, The Shema is the foundational statement of of faith from The Tanakh. The first two lines I would take as a foundational statement of faith, the last part if instruction as to what to do with that faith.
Sh'ma Yisra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One
V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha b'khol l'vav'kha uv'khol naf'sh'kha uv'khol m'odekha.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
V'hayu had'varim ha'eileh asher anokhi m'tzav'kha hayom al l'vavekha.
And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.
V'shinan'tam l'vanekha v'dibar'ta bam
And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them
b'shiv't'kha b'veitekha uv'lekh't'kha vaderekh uv'shakh'b'kha uv'kumekha
when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
Uk'shar'tam l'ot al yadekha v'hayu l'totafot bein einekha.
And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
Ukh'tav'tam al m'zuzot beitekha uvish'arekha.
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
I note that the very first statement, "Sh'ma Yisreal Adonai Eloheim Adonai Echad", Listen - Our God is our God. God is one - is the first part of the Shahada. And it too is whispered into the hears of new born children, taught to them as they grow, bound to their hearts as a defining statement of faith. And this too, is a foundational statement as a Christian. There is only one God. God is one. We are all one. We are all bound together in God. If we Listen, we will know this to be so.
The Shema, like the Shahada, is a sacred statement, and as such, it is the custom of the Jewish people to cover their eyes with their right hand when when they say The Shema. (As in all the Abrahamic traditions, the left hand is used for cleaning the private parts of the body, and is therefore thought to be unclean. The right hand is the hand for eating and sacred matters.) Codified in The Talmud, a set of Jewish teachings and commentaries on The Torah, the practice of covering one's eyes when saying The Shema, actually and symbolically cuts the recitation off from the pain and distractions of the earthly world. The focus is to be on matters divine. Again, this speaks to the importance of the statement, as in the Shahada.
And what would be the foundational statement from the Christian scriptures?
From Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke come the two commandments, that, according to Jesus, our fearless leader, hold all the great teachings within them. They are, the Christian Shahada. I like that there are variations of them. Just like there are variations of people. . .
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 22: 34 - 40
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Narrative Christian Version of Shahada
Luke's wonderful telling of a man 'going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,' is the narrative version of our Shahada, our two commandments. I have always thought it embraced what is often overlooked in the Christian tradition as a core teaching for 'people of the way' - that in obedience to both the first and the second commandment, we are called to act at particular moments in time and space, with particular circumstances, and particular people. In order to hear, and do what must be done, one's heart must be tuned completely to God's voice, and drawn by his will. In this there is no sainthood, no doing good or right. There is only the grace that embodies a person, and leads them along a way from which they have no desire or will to turn. Here is my musical version of this theological thought. . .
My Scriptural Personal Shahdas
What grounds me when I am suffering and lost? My breath.
What is gathers me up in embrace and makes sense of all things? The open sky.
And here is a sacred gathering with a scripture alive with life, and a minister, devoted to the embodiment of that scripture, a Shahada that moves and breathes and amazes.
Watch. Listen. And be blessed.
This one astonishingly beautiful gathering, is sacredness to me - the first time I even understood what it meant to be Canadian. A song, composed by our beloved poet laureate Lenard Cohen, a sophisticated Montrealer who actively wrestled with the Jewish faith his whole life, sung by a girl from the wide open prairies, K.D. Lang, a wondrous creature born into the Christian tradition who proceeded to question the questionable while embracing the core of its tenet of love in her own way. That we chose these two people to represent who we are as a country, made me, for the very first time in my life, proud of my Canadian heritage. This is somehow, also, my Shahada, for it is a compilation of the intrinsic beauty of the individual's gifts and the alchemy of the collective, a moving statement of all that we might be, when we risk everything to search out who we are as divine children. And here too, is, contemplation, compassion, and creativity at its finest.