September 16, 2018.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, September 16, 2018 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.

In the spirit of a new beginning with the start of the academic year we come together once again to share our experiences as Christian and Muslim believers to learn from one another and pray together for peace with justice in our fractured world. It has become our tradition together to pray al-Fâtiha, or opening Surah of the Qur'an, and the Lord's Prayer from the Christian scriptures and liturgy in our gatherings. They both represent the essence of the message of our traditions and are the first prayers that we have learned as children.

The Fâtiha in classical Qur'anic Arabic, and the original language of Aramaic that Jesus would have spoken, are both Semitic Middle Eastern languages and are based on a root system that allows for multiple words and meanings that evolve from three basic root letters. For an Arabic speaker, each word of the Fâtiha recalls multiple layers of meaning and interpretation for reflection and deeper understanding. Around two hundred years before the time of Jesus, Biblical Hebrew had died out and Aramaic was the common spoken language in Palestine when Jesus was born. In all Semitic languages, each word can have multiple meanings and this is also true of the Lord's Prayer as Jesus would have spoken it. In the Middle Eastern tradition, even the sound of the word can present a layer of meaning beyond the literal meaning.

In Islam, the Creator of the Universe traditionally has ninety-nine names and some added to those that are mentioned in the Qur'an and the Sunna, or teachings of the Prophet. Likewise, al-Fâtiha is called many names such as, the Mother of the Qur'an because it is the foundation of the Qur'an, seven repetitions because it is repeated before every prayer cycle and has seven verses, Complete because it is always recited in its entirety and the Immense Qur'an because it contains a remarkable synthesis of the whole. The Bismallah, or opening words of al-Fâtiha, "In the Name of God(Allah) the most compassionate all merciful" is recited at the beginning of each chapter in the Qur'an except the 9th and Muslim believers will pray these words before every action of the day, from eating, to going to work or entering the Mosque. In this way, the light of God and the consciousness of divine truth inspires daily life.

We can explore the Bismallah as an example of a Semitic approach to the words. God's own Name "Allah" in the Bismallah is followed by two valuable descriptive names; Ar-Rahmân and Ar-Rahîm. These two terms have the same root that leads us back to Merciful: rahma. The first, ar-Rahmân, indicates that God is compassionate in His essence. He possesses this supreme quality independent of His creation, therefore Ar-Rahmân, or compassionate, is a quality that belongs only to God. The second, Rahîm, indicates the rapport that connects God with His creatures. The nature of the first is descriptive, the second is active. The Qur'an thus confirms: "And He is all merciful (rahîm) in relation to believers".

In the 4th century when the Greek translation of the Gospels became the official canon of the Church, Aramaic speaking Christians maintained their tradition and today it remains alive in the Gospels written in the Syriac dialect of Aramaic. A direct translation from Aramaic into English rather than from the Greek that we are so familiar with demonstrates the multiple meanings of even the very first words of the Lord's Prayer. "Our Father" in Aramaic might mean "The Breathing Life of All", "Father-Mother of the Cosmos", "Source of Sound", "The Creative Process of Each Moment" and several others. Jesus would have heard, spoken and prayed out of this very mystical way of experiencing Semitic words.

In his original statutes, Louis Massignon, the founder of the Badaliya Prayer movement, invited all those joining in the spirit of the Badaliya to pray the Fâtiha and the Lord's Prayer in Arabic if possible. From his first dramatic encounter with the Divine that led him back to his Catholic Christian roots in 1908 in the midst of the Muslim world, he experienced Arabic as the spiritual language of God. The reason is due to its Semitic foundation as metaphorically rich in multiple layers of meaning. His own spiritual journey, that might even be called "mystical", included receiving the permission of Rome to transfer from the Latin Rite to the Melkite Rite so that he could pray the liturgy in Arabic since the Church in his time celebrated the liturgy only in Latin. In the Holy Lands today, all Arab Christians, both Latin and Eastern Rite, pray the liturgy in Arabic.

May this gathering of friends be enlightened and strengthened with these reflections, and in our prayers for peace with justice for every human being, everywhere.

Peace to you,

The commentary on al-Fâtiha is taken from Hani Ramadan, Commentaire de la Sourate Al-Fâtiha, Éditions Tawid. Lyon, France 2002.

The descriptions of the Semitic languages and the example of the Lord's Prayer are taken from Neil Douglas-Klotz, Original Prayer. Sounds True Inc., Boulder CO, 2000.

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