December 17, 2017.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, December 17, 2017 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Paul Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.

On this third Sunday in Advent, in expectation and hope, Christians await a very ordinary event that is often experienced by new parents as a miracle, the birth of a child. The destiny of this child, born in Bethlehem, Palestine more than 2000 years ago, in the lowliest of circumstances, proved to be a miracle that changed the course of human history. The readings for today begin with the Prophet Isaiah describing the spirit of the Lord bringing "glad tidings to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives, releasing prisoners ... wrapping the human soul in a mantle of justice". Truly a cause for rejoicing! St. Paul continues appealing to the community at Thessalonica "not to quench the Spirit." The reading from the Gospel according to John reminds us of the mission of John the Baptist who leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth in recognition of the Christ child, Jesus on the arrival in Bethany of the pregnant Virgin Mary. It was John who was "sent by God to testify to the light but was not the light" but rather "the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord."

These two scenes bind together the season of Advent where we await the birth of Jesus with hope and expectation, and the subsequent ministry of Jesus, the one who John the Baptist calls "the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie." We are invited to see the miracle that God has given us as we both marvel at the joy we experience at the birth of this child, forever being reborn in our world, and simultaneously see in it the joy of eternal life that we are offered through him in his ministry, passion, death and ultimate resurrection.

Because Muslims believe in Jesus, his life and the Gospels there are wonderful episodes in the Qur'an describing the birth of Mary, her upbringing in the temple under the protection of her uncle, Zechariah and of the birth of Jesus and his miraculous words spoken as an infant. The prophet John the Baptist is called Yahya in the Qur'an. He is the son of the Prophet Zechariah who was granted his prayer to Allah in his old age for a son and who is the uncle and protector of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

"Thereupon, the angels called out unto him" O Zachariah! We bring thee glad tidings of the birth of a son whose name shall be John [And God says] Never have we given this name to anyone before him" (Qur'an 19:7)

The Qur'an understands Yahya, or John, as a Prophet who led Muslims to the Way of Allah, like all other prophets including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. The Qur'an does not mention baptism in the river Jordan but baptism itself is thought to be related to the ritual washing required of all Muslims before entering the Mosque for the Friday prayers. (

The spiritual significance of the Nativity is quite different for Christians than it is for Muslims. Jesus is a revered prophet in Islam but he is not the incarnate image of God entering into our human experience as God's son so that we would come to know God in the fullness of his Love for humanity. We understand that for the Divine to adopt the fullness of what it is to be human is an extreme demonstration of God's infinite love for us.

Through his own fervent devotion as a Christian and his passion for Islam and his Muslim friends, Louis Massignon found in his years of prayer and study of Islam, and especially of the mystical tradition called Sufism, a means for Muslims to find the fullness of Life in Christ within Islam itself. When we love someone truly, we want the whole world to love them too. Massignon had profound respect for Islam and understood the distinctions among all three Abrahamic faith traditions. It is this, coupled with his recognition of the Spirit of God in the depth of the soul of every human being, that allowed him to be a true pioneer in interfaith relations and to enact Isaiah's message of "proclaiming liberty to the captives, releasing prisoners and wrapping the human soul in a mantle of justice" through his concrete social action for peace with justice in the France and the world of his time. The spirituality of substitutionary prayer that lies at the heart of the Badaliya prayer movement was a means of living out the Gospel message as Massignon envisioned it. Perhaps a subject for a future gathering as we take this time to reflect deeply on the multiple meanings of the birth of Jesus and the Incarnation in Christianity that is not a part of the Muslim experience of Islam. In Massignon's view it is through the mystic's desire for, and achievement, of union with God that the saint is led to transformation and participation in the divine nature," (Vol 1 Passion p 123) The coming celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, marks the advent, or beginning of that potential experience for all Christians and as Massignon envisioned, one day for Muslims as well.

Our prayers and communion with one another and focus on the Love of God for all of humanity that is the true message the Christmas season are needed more than ever given the events of recent days that have caused so much pain and anger in the Holy Land, the Arab world and beyond. Let us pray that the Spirit of the Christmas season brings blessings to you, and peace with justice in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East.

Peace to you,

(See for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)