Shema Yisrael or Allahu Akbar?
Illustration: Syrian ISIS Fighter Reads Quran by William Proby [Public Domain] via Flickr
When I was a kid in Brooklyn, I was fortunate to live across the street from a softball field. The advantages are plain. However, there was one danger in living so close to the action, and that was that foul balls would often fly over the fence like incoming artillery rounds.
We would alarmingly warn each other with “Heads up!" I always thought it should be “Heads down," but tradition is tradition. We would then chase the trophy as it bounced and rolled, sometimes into the sewer. I had quite a nice collection of foul-smelling balls in the garage.
I am reminded of these childhood memories and the "Heads up" alarm as we are panicked by a different warning today: “Allahu Akbar! (Allah is greatest)"
Yes, it is the holy month of Ramadan again and Allahu Akbar is all around us here in Israel.
On Fridays this month, half of Jerusalem shuts down and the police are massively mobilized and on a war footing, ready for the “holiness” to make its presence felt.
This Jerusalem Day, Jews will be forbidden from visiting the holiest place in the Jewish world — the Temple Mount. This is because Islam, the “religion of love,” cannot be expected to refrain from harming Jews. Muslims work themselves up into a frenzy before murder, rape, and pillage by exclaiming “Allah is greatest.”
If Allahu Akbar is the core of Islam, then Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel) is the core of Judaism. Shema Yisrael is a Jew's expression of faith, said three times a day and the last words a Jews says on this earth. It is not a call to murder and rape — vive la difference.
However, this core expression is not said only in daily prayers and when returning one's soul. The Shema and its assertion that G-d is our Lord and is One and all powerful is the opening prayer and exhortation for Jewish warriors before confronting our enemies. It was used in ancient times, and again as recently as this summer by commanders leading our troops to fight terrorists in Gaza.
"Shema Yisrael!" Hear O Israel! This is the way the mashuach milchama, the priest who was ordained to lead the Jews into battle, would begin his speech to the Jewish army preparing to go into battle:
Hear O Israel! You are coming near this day to the battle against your enemies. Let your heart not be faint; do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not be broken before them. For the Lord your G-d is the One who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you. (Deut. 20:3-4)
When the enemies of the Jewish people from time immemorial plan our destruction, they do battle with G-d. This has always been a sub-conscious or more likely a conscious choice. It is then totally appropriate to recite the Shema when confronting evil. Indeed, G-d is great and He has miraculously kept His People safe despite all odds, and has thus preserved all of humanity.
Allahu Akbar is the opposite. It takes G-d's pure name in vain; it is the tyrannical call of the slaver declaring, “All must submit,” for after all, the word “Islam” means “submission.”
As that call rings ever louder from mosque loudspeakers around the world, the Shema prayer will have to begin to take its rightful place to save humanity again.
Contact Shalom Pollack, veteran licensed tour guide, for upcoming tours at Shalom Pollack Tours: Personalized Tours in Israel. Click here to read more of this writer’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.