Badaliya: Muslims and Christians Come Together in Prayer in Cambridge Monthly

Badaliya is an Arabic word that means to take the place of or substitute for another. It is a spiritual term that lies at the heart of the Christian faith experience and refers to the mystery of the image of God as Jesus sacrificing his life for all of humanity. To be a follower of Christ is to offer oneself out of love for the well-being of others.

Louis Massignon,who was Catholic, and Mary Kahil established the Badaliya prayer group in Cairo in 1934. At that time Christians in Egypt were increasingly marginalized as Islam became the dominant religion in the region. The Badaliya was a way to open themselves to befriending and praying with and for their Muslim neighbors. It embraced Massignon’s own understanding that by learning the language, and experiencing the traditions and culture of those of other religions our own faith life is enhanced. The Badaliya prayer was a testimony to the universal love of Christ. A Badaliya prayer group formed in Paris joining the one in Cairo, and eventually Badaliya prayer groups arose in many other cities around the world. They met monthly and many individual lay persons and members of religious communities joined this prayer movement in spirit as well. For more information, see the article “A Model of Hope: Louis Massignon’s Badaliya”.

In 2003 the Badaliya prayer movement was re-created in the United States. Letters are sent via email to members gathering in Boston and Washington, DC as well as a growing list of people praying in solidarity around the U.S. and in other countries. The following monthly letters include inspirational material for the prayer and invitations to the gatherings.

Prayer Gathering for Sunday, February 21, 2021

Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent for Christians around the world. Very much like our Muslim friend’s experience of Ramadan, we are called to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is always a time to enter into a quiet, solitary place within each of us to reflect more deeply on the spiritual and psychological path we are on in this life-journey. We call it a desert experience. Due to the continued need to remain socially distanced from family, friends and our usual Lenten communal ritual gatherings, this second year of entering into Lent during a pandemic has once again posed a new challenge. Many may feel that they have been living in a kind-of desert of solitude for the whole year. Yet, the Lenten invitation is also an opportunity to listen carefully to where we are being led on our journey to Easter this particular year.

The foundations for all three Abrahamic faith traditions were lived and experienced by nomadic tribes of Arabs and Israelites living in arid desert communities in the Middle East. The forty-year spiritual journey of the Israelites wandering in the desert toward, the “promised land”, is an apt metaphor for the Lenten invitation to enter into the desert in order to recognize our dependence on, and acceptance of, our own covenant with God, our “promised land”. John the Baptist went out into the desert where those who would hear his message of repentance would have to leave Jerusalem or the surrounding towns to follow him. Before his active ministry Jesus too was called into the desert for forty days and nights to encounter Satan, or the demons that would attempt to challenge his authenticity as the anointed one of God. Although prayer is meant to lead us, through our relationship with the Divine, to community and compassion and care for one another, it begins in the deserts of our own individual soul journeys. Just as the scripture tells us that Jesus often went alone to a solitary place to pray, so Mohammad retreated to an isolated place where he received the sacred words that became the Holy Qur’an of Islam.

Many of us are city dwellers that have very little experience of the vast expanse of the desert, or can easily associate our own religious experience to the desert climate and environment of its Middle Eastern foundations. Despite what we may imagine, underneath the surface, the desert is teeming with life. It is that metaphor that may guide our reflections today.

In Islam, despite the negative portrayal of the desert as a “place” of ignorance, and the reality that the tribes in the Arabian desert resisted the unifying Qur’anic message of the One God, the desert is also a part of God’s creation of the earth and the universe. The Qur’anic story of Hagar, sent into the desert with her son Ishmael, is about how God provides her with the precious water to survive. In the Qur’an, we read that after Mary conceived she “retired to a remote place. And the pangs of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree: She cried, (in her anguish) ‘Ah, would that I had died before this, and become a thing forgotten and out of sight.’ But a voice called to her from below: ‘Grieve not; our Lord has provided a rivulet beneath you. Shake toward yourself the trunk of the palm tree.

It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you. Eat and drink, and cool your eye.” (Qur’an, Surah 19 Maryam verse 22-26. Trans. Abdullah Yusef Ali)

The month of February has been named, Black History Month. Taking the time to read and reflect on the painful reality of the way in which Black participation in the founding of this nation has been left out of our history books, our classrooms and our public discourse lends itself very well to this six week Lenten journey. Just as the word, Islam means to submit to the will of God, it is perhaps the primary challenge for all of us today, as we pray together and learn to accept the reality of another unusual experience of the Lenten spiritual journey. Let us enter willingly into the desert to hear God’s voice more clearly.

May the following quotations inspire and encourage us in our listening and in our response.

“An individual has not started to live until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all of humanity.” (by Martin Luther King Jr. famous quotations)

“There’s a poem in Boston’s Copley Square

where protest chants

tear through the air

like sheets of rain,

where love of the many

swallows hatred of the few.” (by Amanda Gorman. from: In this Place: An American Lyric)

Peace to you,


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

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