September 25, 2022.

Dear Friends,

Due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic we will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday September 25, 2022 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm. 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, especially in the Holy Land and an end to the war in the Ukraine.

During these final three months of celebrating the 20th anniversary year of the establishment of the Badaliya USA, we will continue to reflect on the vision and meaning of the original Badaliya prayer movement that inspired us to re-create it for our time and place.

As we enter into a new semester in our Universities and schools and anticipate the Autumn season, the church invites us to reflect on our faith faced with the tragedies of our time. I have chosen to use the readings taken from the liturgy for next weekend, October 2nd as they speak to the feeling of this moment so well. The first reading is written between the year 605 and 597 BCE when the Northern Kingdom of Judah was threatened with Babylonian exile. Crying out to the Lord, the prophet voices what many of us today might cry out today:

“How long O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin? Why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are ever before me. There is strife and clamorous discord. Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write down the vision, clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it. It will surely come, it will not be late.” (1 Habbakkuk 1:2-3.2:2-4)

Despite the graphic description of very much of our own experience in our world today, the prophetic voice hears the Lord promising the fulfillment of the Divine Creative Vision calling us to have faith in it making our Psalm response for the day most relevant:

“If today you hear his voice harden not your hearts.” (Psalm 95:8-9) In the Gospel according to Luke (17:5-10) a collection of remembered sayings attributed to Jesus includes one answering the Apostles’ request to increase their faith:

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this Sycamore, ‘Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea’ and it would obey you.”

Faith grows out of experience as we have seen in the examples of so many of those named by the Church as canonized saints and so many others, un-named, whose lives witness to the message of Divine Love in our world. During the coming month of October, beginning with the October 1st celebration of the well-known saint and Doctor of the Church, St. Thérèse de Lisieux, the Church celebrates St. Francis of Assisi, saint and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila and a number of other canonized witnesses to God’s Love in the world. We might want to include our own reverence for the life and legacy of Louis Massignon whose scholarship and spiritual legacy continues to inspire many scholars and spiritual seekers in our time. His own spirituality was nourished and greatly influenced by the legacy of St. Francis and of course by his friend and mentor, St. Charles de Foucauld. His vision of the Three Abrahamic faith traditions as intimately connected to one another inspired the Badaliya prayer movement in 1934 when the world was taking a breath between two devastating World Wars.

The Zionist movement in Europe had begun in the late 19th century. After World War II it would lead to the establishment of the modern State of Israel and the displacement that we know today of Palestinians living for 70 years in refugee camps in and around Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and thousands of others dispersed all over the world. Massignon lived through both World Wars and his faith led him to actively confront what he feared was happening through his lectures and publications and engagement with the religious leaders of all faith traditions as well as the political leaders in his time. Prophets raise their voices at often great peril and persons of faith are called to be peacemakers.

The influences on his spiritual journey were many from that vast communion of saints, both living and deceased. His early introduction to the Middle East, Islam and the 10th century mystic/martyr Husayn Ibn Mansur, known as al-Hallaj, not only contributed to his love affair with Christ, but expanded it to a love affair with Islam that lasted a lifetime and informed the establishment of the Badaliya prayer movement. Massignon experienced Hallaj as a spiritual intercessor and guide in his life. He spent fifty years researching the life, legends and legacy of the saint from resources all over the world.

Living in Basra, Iraq, Hallaj was influenced by the Hellenistic culture and exposed to the heated issues of social justice in his time. It was here that he felt the divisions within his own Muslim tradition that would inspire his later passionate desire for a unified Muslim community that would ultimately lead to his own martyrdom. That word, martyr, raises an image of sacrifice for one’s beliefs that haunts us today. The Church lexicon of saints is filled with martyrs from those early centuries when those known at the time as “People of the Way” were persecuted by the Roman Empire. Today every Muslim Palestinian freedom fighter identified as “terrorists” by Israel shouts out “martyr”. Even those who legitimately terrorize others in the name if Islam, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS, or Daesh as it is locally named) or members of al-Queda, when targeted and killed, are called “martyrs”. Confusing at best to modern ears and alarming to realize that what martyr means is that this person has sacrificed their life for what they believe even if it is a destructive distortion of their own religion, or religion used as a political power grab. Seemingly the term martyrdom has both positive and negative connotations. How then to experience honoring these early Christian martyrs, or Hallaj, without a gnawing sense of doubt and uncertainty?

Martydom has led to the spread of religious ideologies, or the spread of causes for racial equity by a “martyr” like Martin Luther King Jr. Hallaj became revered as one of the world’s greatest love-mystics of all time. He was so enamored of Allah that his witness and public preaching threatened the religious leaders in Baghdad. Why? Because in ecstasy he declared “Ana al -Haq”, (I am truth! Or God!), so immersed in Divine Love that he could not contain his joy. In imprisoning him for nine years and ultimately killing him by crucifixion and dismemberment, his message of unity in the Divine Lover spread throughout the world until today, just as the sacrifice of Jesus has. There is no violent retaliation or desire to destroy others in either the story of Hallaj or Jesus but rather compassion and mercy. Massignon experienced the passion of Hallaj as another crucified martyr for the sake of the unity of Divine Love in the world. From the very beginning of Massignon’s spiritual journey Christianity and Islam were intimately connected and that desire for unity in the magnificent diversity of the Divine vision inspired the establishment of the Badaliya in Cairo, Egypt in 1934.

Perhaps we need to return to our first reading to remember what sustains our Badaliya and Peace Islands faith-sharing gatherings and allows our faith to guide us faced with the polarization and conflicts in the world today:

“For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it. It will surely come, it will not be late.” (1 Habbakkuk 1:2-3.2:2-4)

In the past two weeks the world has witnessed what has been named “an end of an era” with the passing into eternal life of Queen Elizabeth II after a long 70 year reign on the English throne. Guiding the Commonwealth through the many changes in the world during her lifetime, she represented a sense of continuity and stability in rapidly changing times. At St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle where she is laid to rest one of the scriptural passages read from the Book of Revelations is an apt reminder of the Divine vision, “See, I am doing something new.”
May we enter this new era with renewed hope and love for one another.

Peace to you,

Reference: Buck. Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Massignon, chapter Three: "Voicing the inexpressible: Saint Thérèse de Lisieux and Al-Hallaj" KNP Publications, London, NY 2002. Quotation: p. 891.

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