December 3, 2023.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday December 3, 2023 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm. Please join us on Zoom, or in spirit, as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, especially in Israel and Palestine, due to the escalating violence and war in Gaza, and for an end to the war in the Ukraine. Our prayers are on-going for all the victims of the three devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria and the recent earthquake victims in Morocco and Afghanistan and Nepal.

Although all of us live in a secular world where the year begins on January 1st and ends on the last day of December, Christians, like Jews and Muslims, organize our spiritual lives around what we call the "liturgical year." Our year begins today as the first Sunday in Advent. For the next 4 weeks we are invited to pray, reflect and wait. With Mary, the mother of Jesus, we wait for a child to be born into our world of division, war and conflict who will be the manifestation of Divine Love inviting us to embrace a new world transformed by that Love. This ritual of Advent is not just a remembrance of an event more than 2000 years ago in a backwater town in Palestine called Bethlehem but rather an experience of allowing the creative power of Divine love to impregnate the depth of our being. We wait with hope and expectation and finally suffer the labor pains of giving birth to the only remedy to the cycle of fear and hatred, violence and revenge that has, and continues to plague our world today.

The geographical foundation of Christianity, along with Judaism and Islam, was the Middle East, ancient Palestine and Israel, with the city of Jerusalem a central holy city of peace and Nazareth, the Galilean home of the young Jewish Mary and place of her encounter with the angel of God. It was here that Jesus is said to have lived his childhood and it was here that Charles de Foucauld spent three years discerning his vocational perception of following the "poor man Jesus", son of a carpenter, living in a small working class village. December 1st is the memorial of the brutal death of Foucauld in 1916 in the midst of World War I. He was destined to become a saint, first in the heart and mind of Louis Massignon who called him a mentor, friend and "older brother". And this year, recognized as a canonized Saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

Foucauld dedicated his life, first to Christ then, in Christ, to the Berber, Muslim Touareg tribal people in Tamanrasset in the Saharan desert of Algeria. The relationship and correspondence between Massignon and Foucauld formed the foundation of Massignon's vision of Badaliya. The land we call Holy was central in the formation and spirituality of both these spiritual friends. Jerusalem, the holy city for all three Abrahamic faith traditions, is this "Holy Land" promised in ancient biblical texts to the Israelite people and the birthplace of Christianity. Here too is the glorious Dome of the Rock on the Haram al Sharif, built to commemorate the Night Journey of Muhammad to the highest Heavens. The spiritual richness attached to this Holy Land could be a gift to all of humanity, a witness to the ability of human beings to live together in peace, with justice and equity for everyone. In the midst of the unimaginable death and destruction we are witnessing today in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank we do well to remember what those ancient biblical texts were saying and add to them the beautiful verses from the Qur'an.

"Now if you obey me completely and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, though all the earth is mine." (Exodus 19:3-6)

The requirement is to adhere to the covenant that includes love of God first and foremost, and love of neighbor. These are the two that Jesus identifies as the commandments that are the fulfillment of all of the Books of the Law and prophets. It is in the very first Book of Genesis in the Hebrew scriptures that we are introduced to the story of creation describing human beings as made in the image and likeness of God. Placed in a sumptuous garden they were given stewardship over all the land on earth that is overflowing with life. The beauty and abundance of a lush garden, preceded by the creation of all the land by the hand of the Divine, makes clear that all of the land on earth, and every creature on it, belongs to the one who offers it to us as pure gift. We are meant to be care takers for the Divine of this precious land. The key is grateful recognition of where the gift comes from.

In Islam, sacred geography are significant points of connection between the divine and human. These places are "sanctuaries which should be free of all forms of violence and strife". These sacred places include the Ka'aba in Mecca and the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock on Haram al sharif in Jerusalem.

"All that is in the heavens and on earth belongs to Allah" (Qur'an, An Nisa 4: 126 & 134)

"It is He that made the earth manageable for you so traverse you through its tracts and enjoy of the sustenance which he furnishes, but unto Him is the resurrection." (Qur'an, al-Mulk 67:15)

"From the above ayat (Qur'anic verses), land, among other things, is not the result or end product of anybody's labor, but a precious gift from Allah in which every member of the community has equal rights of possession and use." (see related readings below)

As we can see so clearly right now, our human structures and elaborate homes and monumental buildings, even Cathedrals, Mosques and Synagogues, are easily destroyed by natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes and human-made disasters like the on-going wars in the Ukraine and Gaza. As a long history of fallen Empires and changing national boundaries make clear, our claims to "the land" and all that we build upon it does not last forever. What is long-lasting and eternal is the gift of Life, the human spirit sustained by the power of Divine Love. Thus our Bother Charles who desired to be a "universal brother" wrote:

"The more and more your heart enlarges, the more and more you will love, not only God alone, but first God and then all his creatures for him..."

In our present moment, we come together to remember that any needless loss of life due to natural disasters or by human design is a loss of a child made in the image and likeness of Divine Love, creator of our Universe and our beautiful planet, author of all life on it. May we be strengthened in our resolve to work for an end to all war and violence as a solution to conflict and for peace with justice and equity for all people in every land on earth.

Peace to you,

Related readings:
  1. Maria Masse Dakake, Sacred Land in the Qur'an and the Hadith and its Symbolic and Eschatological Significance, The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, August 2011. link
  2. Malinumbay, Salasal, et al., The concept of land ownership: Islamic perspective, Buletin Geoinformasi, December 1998. link
  3. Buck, Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Massignon, chapter two, "The call of the divine: Louis Massignon and Charles de Foucauld". 2002, KNP Publications, London, NY. p. 88.

See for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands