March 19, 2017.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, March 19, 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.

Today we are entering into the third week of Lent. For six weeks Christians prepare their hearts and minds and souls for the coming of the most spiritually significant events in the life of Christ and the Church. As we enter into prayer, fasting and charitable works or alms giving we are invited into ever-deeper reflection on the meaning of our lives, the life of the Church and our relationships to God and one another.

The scriptural readings during these six weeks serve as a guide taking us through the words and actions of Jesus as he continues his healing ministry on the way to the crucial events that will take place when he enters into Jerusalem. In todays reading we hear about a Samaritan woman who has gone at noontime to draw water from the well known as Jacob's well. There she finds Jesus who asks her to give him a drink. On the surface this may not seem like an unusual request, however in the context of the story it is remarkable as the Samaritans were rejected by the Jews of Jerusalem and the woman herself was an outcast in her own community. Knowing that Jews used nothing in common with Samaritans the woman asks Jesus for an explanation. In the dialogue between them she becomes aware that this man who offers her "living water" and reveals himself as the "gift of God" not only knows everything about her past life but tells her that the hour is coming when true worshipers will worship the Father, as Jesus called God, neither in Jerusalem nor on this Samaritan mountain but in "Spirit and Truth, as God is Spirit." The woman knows that the Messiah is coming and in this encounter she not only recognizes Jesus as Prophet but then as Messiah.

There are many aspects of this story that give as ripe opportunities for further reflection. Given that we are living in a time when the dignity, rights and equality of women in every aspect of life has become an issue throughout the world let us focus today on the relationship that Jesus has with women, not only in this story but in many others throughout the Gospel narratives, and also on the many appearances of women in the Qur'an and in the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. From the women who follow and support Jesus throughout his ministry to Mary of Magdala, the first person to recognize the Risen Christ, to the prominent place of Mary the Mother of Jesus we have an abundance of models of women of faith in Christianity both in the Gospels and in the women Saints and Doctors of the Church that followed.

In the Qur'an there are approximately twenty-four female characters. Five of whom serve as "models to the devout Muslim ... Hawaa' (Eve), who is a symbol of equality, Umm-Musa (the Mother of Moses), who exemplifies the nurturing spirit, Biqlis (Queen of Sheba), who is cunning and wise, Hannah (Anne, Mother of Mary), who is of noble birth, and Maryam (Mary), who is the essence of virtue." Each of these women's stories in the Qur'an provides us with insight into how women are perceived in Islam.

The message of equality is clear in the story of Adam and Eve who are created together, tempted by Satan together and expelled from the garden together. Hannah, Anne, Mother of Mary comes from the House of 'Imran' a virtuous lineage. Although she expects to give birth to a male child, she graciously accepts Allah's will for her and "is pleased to discover that she has given birth to a girl despite the fact that in pre-Islamic culture female infanticide was practiced. In addition, although Jewish law at the time forbid women to be devoted to the Temple, Hannah trusted God's promise that Maryam would live a life of service." Both Umm-Musa, Mother of Prophet Moses, and Maryam, the Mother of Jesus "receive wahy (or communication from Allah), thus making them a muhaddas (an individual to whom Allah speaks). Biqlis, Queen of Sheeba, is introduced in the Qur'an as a wealthy pagan ruler, and here gender is not emphasized as a novelty. She opts not to fight, unlike many of her male contemporaries and pursues peace. Despite having only known paganism she accepts Islam and monotheism. Maryam, Mother of Prophet Jesus, "has a special and esteemed placed in the Qur'an and in Islam, where a sura (or chapter in the Qur'an) is named after her and Allah chooses her above all women. As these accounts emphasize, Maryam's virtue, nobility, and devotion is not confined by her gender and she serves as an example for all humankind."

Louis Massignon, the founder of the Badaliya and both a scholar and mystic, reflected deeply on the images of women in both the Gospels and the Qur'an. In the young Jewish girl Mary's, or Maryam's "Yes" to God he saw the bridge to all three Abrahamic traditions. In the depth of her soul, and in that of all of humanity, he saw the very image of God that the Sufi Saint of Islam called "le point vierge", the Virgin Heart, inviting us into the very fullness of life.

Let us conclude with a quote from Seyyedeh Dr. Nahid Angha, a leader in the defense of universal human rights:

"One cannot emphasize enough the influence of the teachings of the Prophet [Mohammad] (swa) and the verses of the Qur'an upon the advancement of civilization. In the history of humankind, none worked so much to protect human rights, especially women's, with such integrity, strength, strategic genius, beauty and divinity, or to honor humanity, by freeing it from the chains of prejudice, manipulations and personal and social injustice."

Let us pray that all men and women, believers and non-believers, hear these accounts with a renewed sense of God's wisdom and justice, and may we live together in mutual respect and in peace.

Peace to you,

Quotations taken from "Women in the Qur'an" by Seyyedeh Sahar Kianfar The following article first appeared in the journal Sufism: An Inquiry. The article is based on a talk presented at the Sufi Women Organization quarterly luncheon.The International Association of Sufism (

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