November 17, 2013

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Islands of Peace Institute Faith Sharing on Sunday, November 17, 2013 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Pauls Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we encourage Interfaith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.

During this month of November the Catholic Christian community honors one of the earliest traditions in the history of the Christian Church. November 1st is a day of remembrance for all those holy men and women who have been officially recognized by the Church for their lives of service to others, as well as those many others whose faithful witness is known only to God. All Saints Day is followed by All Souls Day on November 2nd and for the rest of the month we pray for the souls of all who have gone before us. This tradition is grounded in the belief that we share life in communion forever with both the living and those who have returned to God. We call living out of this awareness of connection, the Communion of Saints.

Louis Massignon lived his life in increasing awareness of the Communion of Saints and the role, in what we call "salvation history", of suffering and compassion, atonement, sacrifice, and even martyrdom, for ones faith in God. In his fifty years of researching the life and spiritual legacy of the 10th century mystic and martyr of Islam known as al-Hallaj, he was drawn to the traditions found in both Sufism and Shi'a Islam of making pilgrimages to the tombs of Muslim Saints to venerate them and ask for their intercession. He made pilgrimages to the land of the Prophets found in all three Abrahamic traditions and to the holiest shrines in Christianity in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. His devotion to the Virgin Mary, (Maryam in Islam) and Mary Magdalen led him to Ephesus in modern day Turkey to the House of the Virgin Mary and to the cave of the Seven Sleepers, a story found in Eastern Christian tradtions and in the XVIIIth Sura in the Qur'an. Massignon died fifty-one years ago on October 31, 1962, on the vigil, or eve of All Saints Day.

All branches of Islam call Muslims who are able, to make a once in a lifetime pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca. Many choose to visit the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad and the lesser pilgrimage to Medina along with the tradtional honoring of the Ka'ba, the trials of Hagar and Ishmael in the desert, and to Mt. Arafat. Both Sunni and Shi'a Muslims honor a feast called Ashura this month. The traditions for this first ten days in the month of Muharram vary in the two communities although the first day is a common celebration of the New Year and the tenth day is a day of fasting. For Shi'a Muslims, it commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala in the year 61 AH (AD 680), and is a day for mourning. He was the third Imam and Shi'a Muslims, who make up about 15% of the Muslim community worldwide, consider him to be the rightful successor of the Prophet Muhammad.

According to the Muslim tradition, Muhammad fasted on this day in Mecca and it is recommended for Sunni Muslims today. Ashura honors many events in Islamic tradition including the deliverance of Noah from the flood, the saving of Abraham from Nimrod's fire, the healing of Jacob's blindness and his being brought to Joseph, the healing of Job and the saving of Moses from Pharaoh's army. It also remembers the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Some Muslims prepare Noah's Pudding at this time, a tradition that relates that the people gathered on Noah's Ark during the time of the flood survived by gathering all the grains and morsels of food available and making a great Pudding for everyone to share.

Let us offer the following prayer used in the earliest days of Islam and still used today at Muslim funerals, for all those who have gone home to God before us, especially Louis Massignon and all who have tragically lost their lives due to the violence continuing in the conflicts in the Middle East and the lands we call Holy:

"O God, forgive the living among us and those of us who have died; those present and those absent; the small and the great among us; our women and our men. O God, make alive with grateful surrender (the meaning of islam) whomever among us you cause to remain alive; and cause to die in the faith whoever you cause to die. O God, do not keep us from the reward awaiting the deceased, and do not make life hard for us with this passing."

(J. Renard.In the Footsteps of Muhammad, p.145-146. Paulist Press 1992. note 32. trans. A.H. Farid. Prayers of Muhammad, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf. Lahore, 1974. p. 185)

Peace to you.