Reading The New York Times online today, as I do daily, I came across yet another cultural blunder by the United States military forces in Afghanistan. They had, according to The Times, dropped leaflets over a province showing a “lion, representing the U.S.-led coalition forces, chasing a dog, an animal seen as dirty in Islamic tradition, wrapped in the Taliban flag.”

Problem is, the Taliban flag contains “the text most sacred to Muslims: the Shahada, the foundational declaration of faith” in one God and in Muhammad as His prophet. In my 25 years in corporate public relations for a huge multinational corporation, I was aware of cultural blunders we had made (fortunately not in one of my projects) in Hong Kong and in Saudi Arabia, but this one was more important — committed by a military presence and against a government religion. Sad enough, but something else caught my attention.

The Taliban flag

I was, of course, familiar with the words of the Shahada: “There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.” But I don’t remember seeing that prayer called the “Shahada.” The word reminded me of the Shema, which is also a “foundational declaration of faith” in one God, this time the god of Judaism, my childhood religion.

The words of the Shema: “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” That prayer is central to every Jewish religious service and is contained within the mezuzah pendants Jews often wear on chains around their necks and place on their door frames.

A friend mentioned recently how interesting is was, she said, that Hebrew is the only language read right to left. I corrected her, pointing out that Arabic, too, is read right to left. Now I find the similarities between the Shahada and the Shema even more striking in their similarity. Even the words both mean “hear, listen, pay attention.”

So here’s my prayer: Listen, O peoples of the world, to what we have in common. We are one.

Peace. Salaam. Shalom.

Note: I am usually not the best at catching my typos, but today I may be especially bad at it. I am working with one “fixed” eye and the other awaiting laser surgery next week. So if you find typos, at least this time I have an excuse. Feel free to point them out to me. –MHP

— Mel Pine (Urgyen Jigme)

Copyright 2017 © Mel Harkrader Pine

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