December 20, 2015.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, December 20, 2015 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.

As Christians complete their Advent prayers and reflections this week in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, called the Nativity or Christmas, it seems appropriate to wonder together about the role of women in both Christianity and Islam. The emphasis on the Virgin Mary during this time of Advent invites us to look at how she informs both of our traditions and to share our own experience of her image and person. Perhaps we will be led to look at other significant women in our two faith traditions.

During these four weeks of preparation for the celebration of the Birth of Christ we hear an impressive list of four women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba who were all significant women in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the genealogy of Jesus found in the Gospel according to Matthew. Today we are invited to reflect on the deeper meaning of the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth who is in her sixth month of pregnancy, miraculously in her old age. It is Elizabeth who recognizes the holy child in the womb of Mary and both women proclaim some of the most well-known verses from the Hebrew Tradition expressing their awe and amazement that they, simple and ordinary women, have been chosen to be the bearer’s of these two holy children and witnesses to the miraculous powers of God in the world.

These Scriptural passages invite us to wonder about the miracle of birth, the wonder and innocence of childhood and our own ability to accept the gifts of God with humility and patience. Elizabeth’s child grows up to be John the Baptist who heralds the coming of God into the world in the person of Jesus Christ for Christians and is acclaimed as a major prophet in Islam. There are more details about Mary, or Maryam, found in the Qur’an than in the Christian Scriptures and she holds a special place of devotion among many Muslims.

In the genealogy of Islam we find that women held, and continue to hold, a unique place. A successful business woman named Khadija was the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad. She was his first Muslim follower, encouraging her husband when he was overwhelmed by the messages he was receiving in his prayer. Married for twenty years until Khadija died, their youngest daughter, Fatima (c.608 - 633CE) is also universally venerated in Islam. Fatima was one of four daughters of the Prophet Muhammad and his wife Khadija. Favored by the Prophet she married his nephew, Ali abi Talib, and bore two sons, Hasan and Husayn. Conflict over succession to the caliphate after the death of the Prophet led to the establishment of the Shi’ite tradition in Islam. Fatima died shortly after her father and is revered as a holy woman in this tradition. Massignon envisioned a correspondence with her to the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal. He saw her as a pre-figuring of Mary for the second coming of Jesus at the final judgment just as he envisioned Esther in the Hebrew tradition as a pre-figuring of Mary for the first coming of Jesus. Finally we must speak of Aisha (c. 612 – 678 CE) who was the daughter of the Prophet’s closest friend Abu Bakr. She married the Prophet after the death of his first wife, Khadija. Outliving the Prophet by many years, she is known to have reported as many as two thousand sayings, or hadith, of the Prophet and taught others to understand the Qur’anic message. She is revered as the “Mother of the Faithful”.

From the very earliest days of Islam the advent of Islamic mysticism known as Sufism, gave rise to as many women “friends of God”, or saints, as men. One of the most famous of these is Rabi’a Al-Adwiyya (c. 717 – 801 CE), known for her piety and poetry.

         “The true knower looks for a heart that comes from God alone.
          As soon as it is given to him, he gives it back again
          So that God can hold it hidden in His Mystery,
          Safe from the tampering of human hands.”
(Camille Adams Helminski, Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure. Shambala, Boston & London 2003. p. 32)

These holy women have inspired generations of Christians and Muslims throughout the history of our faith traditions to seek spiritual truths more intently and find solace and comfort by embracing them. Here is a message from Massignon for this time of Advent and the holy Christmas season as we wait with our Muslim friends for the coming of the Mahdi, the one who will redeem Islam and rid the world of evil and whose coming will coincide with the second coming of Jesus.

“We Christians claim that he is called “Jesus, Son of Mary,” for he must carry the predestined name of the only perfect Hostess, a Virgin “mother of God”. An entire Muslim tradition going back through Shâfi’î  to Hasan Basrî, thinks that there is no mahdî but Jesus, whose Spirit continues to inspire mystic saints from age to age, who live in Jesus through their Rule. . .  But an immense majority of Muslims (especially women) await the mahdî as a son of Fâtima. For many Muslim women, Fâtima , this unrecognized, ever prayerful humiliated woman, prefigures the intercession of Mary beside her Son, the Judge at the Day of Judgment. It is therefore with the greatest respect that our prayer, going back through generations of Muslims to the very first, recapitulates through them the desires, originating in the masses, for a Fatimid mahdî who would fraternally bring back the son of Mary to Jerusalem for the Judgment. There are so many traditions which express this desire: let us therefore substitute ourselves with this desire for a mahdî ‘who will fill the world with justice, as it was filled with iniquity’.”
(Louis Massignon, Badaliya: au nom de l’autre, presenté et annoté par Maurice Borrmans et Françoise Jacquin. Les Éditions du Cerf, 2011)

Peace to you in this holy season.

(See all past Badaliya USA letters posted at