January 17, 2016.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, January 17, 2016 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.

Pope Francis recently wrote that the most powerful message that Jesus brought to the world is the message of God’s infinite mercy. Therefore, the pope designated a Jubilee of Mercy for this liturgical year to begin on December 8, 2015. The declaration of a Jubilee year has an ancient history that can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures in the book of Leviticus. Every seven years the land was to remain fallow calling the people to trust in faith that God would provide for them and quite realistically allowing the land to rejuvenate. This fallow year was called the Sabbath year. After seven Sabbath years the fiftieth year was declared a Jubilee year calling the people to a year of atonement, forgiveness of debts and releasing of those imprisoned or enslaved. We have an opportunity to reflect deeply on the significance of God’s merciful love for all of us and the very real challenge of living a year of true compassion and mercy towards one another, even in the face of the horrific threat of terrorism, civil wars and the refugee crises created by these human failures and choices.

“Pope Francis wisely and lovingly urges encounter and dialogue with other Christians and with those of other religions, including Judaism and Islam—even in spaces and situations of disagreement, struggle or outright conflict. With the declaration of this jubilee, the pope reminds the church that the Holy Spirit can bring unity in the midst of every tension and conflict.” (Tumeinski, Mark Reviving an ancient biblical practice for the Year of Mercy in America Magazine, December 7-14, 2015 issue)

Today in this interfaith gathering we are invited to explore together the ways that God’s merciful love has impacted our individual lives and what our faith traditions teach us and demand of us as believers. In our gatherings we have traditionally begun by reciting together the First Surah of the Qur’an, called The Opening, in it’s original Arabic. It is said that the Fâtiha is called The Mother of the Qur’an because it is the first or foundation and it is called Complete because it is always recited in its entirety, unlike other Surah. It is called Sufficient because it is sufficient to recite it without adding other Surah in order to accomplish one’s prayer and it is sometimes named the Immense Qur’an because it is the equivalent of the entire Qur’an since it represents a remarkable synthesis of the whole in seven lines. This Surah is recited at least seventeen times a day by those who practice the Muslim cycles of prayer five times a day. It begins with the Basmallah, or “in the name of God the Most Compassionate, the All Merciful”, which is pronounced at the beginning of each chapter of the Qur’an except the 9th.

“Only Divine Light can pull us out of our darkness. Only God’s power can remedy our weakness. “In the Name of God” thus signifies that I can do nothing without Him.”

God’s own Name “Allah” in the Basmallah is followed by two valuable descriptive names; Ar-Rahmân, Ar-Rahîm that come from the same root, rahma or merciful. The first, ar-Rahmân, indicates that God is compassionate in His essence. He posseses this supreme quality independent of His creation. The second, ar-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”.

Just like God’s own name, Allah, the word Rahmân (compassion) is exclusively reserved for the Creator. We cannot use it for any creature because compassion is the essence of Allah. The word rahîm, to the contrary, is used as qualitative for describing created beings. There are many divine names such as the King, Infinite Wisdom, the Creator, the All Powerful etc. but it is interesting to observe here that these two names that God has chosen to mention in the Basmallah to accompany His own name are both connected to the theme of Mercy. This signifies that the essential quality that connects the human being to God is Mercy. The rahma contains the idea of compassion, love, gentleness and protection.

The Prophet said, “Allah has made the rahma (mercy) into one hundred parts. He has kept ninety-nine parts next to him and made one part descend to earth: from there comes the compassion creatures have for one another, to the point that the mare lifts her hoof for fear of hurting her foal”.

“Now God wished to call us back, and this is what the Fâtiha underlines, that the most essential bond that ties us to Him, before justice, and before the power and authority He has over us, remains Mercy.”

(Ramadan, Hani. Commentaire de la Sourate Al-Fâtiha Imprimé (printed in) UA Éditions Tawhid 2002 p.21 my translation)

Mercy is an apt description of the Mystery of God for Christians as well. If God is Love and we are created in God’s image then just as God is All Merciful in relation to each of us so we too must act mercifully towards one another in all of our personal relationships, in our communities and between nations. It is clearly a challenge to come to see as God sees, and our pope has invited us to do just that. Here is a short Interfaith YouTube video presentation from Pope Francis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nq7us5Lf5IU&sns=em

Peace to you in the New Year.

(See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)