Spiritual Journeys of Christians and Muslims that Intersect at Holy Week and Ramadan

The author, Dorothy Buck is the USA coordinator for the Badilya Prayer Movement. 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 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.

Today Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday, often referred to as Passion Sunday. We are coming to the end of a six-week Lenten journey of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving that invited us to step into the ancient land of Galilee and journey with Jesus as his disciples on the way to Jerusalem. We have gone with Jesus into the desert, been tempted by our hunger, as he was after forty days of fasting, to turn the stones into bread, and listened to his response to the tempter, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. We have found ourselves atop a parapet of the Temple being challenged as Jesus as if he is indeed the Son of God, to throw ourselves down with him and trust the angels to prevent him from harm, to which he quotes the Book of Deuteronomy with “It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord your God.” And finally we are there with him on the mountain overlooking “all the kingdoms of the world” that Jesus is promised if he bows down to this one called, Satan. We recognize that all-too-tempting desire for wealth and power over earthly kingdoms that has enticed so many to this day and we cling to Jesus’ response, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”

If we have taken the journey seriously, we have walked with Jesus throughout the villages in Galilee and witnessed the healing power of Divine Love healing the deaf, the blind, the lepers, and welcoming the outcasts, the prostitutes, and tax collectors. We have even gone with Peter, James, and John up Mt. Tabor and experienced a glimpse of a transfigured Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah only to redescend into the desert to continue the journey to Jerusalem, hardly willing to hear the many times he warns us that the Son of Man will be arrested by the Scribes and Pharisees, turned over to the Roman authorities, condemned and scourged and crucified as a common criminal.

On this Palm Sunday, we wave our palms with the crowds as they shout hosannas around this popular Rabbi/teacher called Jesus as he descends from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem mounted on a lowly beast of burden to celebrate the Feast of Passover with his disciples. And we hear with fear and trembling the story of what lies ahead in this week we call Holy.

This year, in the midst of this spiritual and physical journey for those of us, baptized into the Life of Christ, our Muslim friends have begun their own spiritual journey of Ramadan. As in our Christian six weeks of Lent, the Ramadan fast and dedication to prayer and almsgiving has many lessons for Muslim believers. The self-discipline required to get through a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset every day is challenging yet carries within it vital life lessons. Meant to be undertaken in order to focus our attention on Allah, God alone, fasting and feeling hunger and thirst is a means to overcoming the habits that enslave us rather than experiencing ourselves as first and foremost believers in Allah. At the same time, it reminds us of those who fast out of no choice of their own due to poverty, displacement due to war and violence or devastating natural events like the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria leaving millions homeless. Out of fasting comes compassion and empathy for those in need which leads to charity, kindness, and generosity.

It was in Medina, in the second year of the Hijrah, the migration of the followers of the Prophet to Medina from Mecca, that the Ramadan fast and the struggle to overcome the many temptations that can lead us astray as humans were established. The struggle against temptations to evil in ourselves, in our society and in the world is called Jihad.

Through daily prayers and reading and reflecting on passages from the Qur’an, our devotional life is renewed and deepened. It was in this month that while fasting and praying the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation that became the Qur’an. Both fasting and prayer are a means to open one’s heart to the ability to hear the holy words of God and allow them to shape how we live our lives individually and in the community. Identifying with the larger worldwide Muslim community, called the Ummah, strengthens our faith and the values of goodness, moral life, and a deeper sense of the Divine in our lives and in the world.

Zakat is the word for almsgiving. The sharing of the breaking of the fast, or Iftar, with friends and family every evening is community building as well as an offering of help to those in need. Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi summarizes the moral and spiritual gifts of Ramadan as “Taqwa, the sum total of Islamic life. It is the highest of all virtues in the Islamic scheme of things. It means God-consciousness, piety, fear and awe of Allah and total commitment to all that is good and rejection of all that is evil and bad.”

Ramadan is not only a time for fasting and struggle but is also a time of thanksgiving to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe for the gift of life, and all of creation.

The lessons of Lent have led Christians into this Holy Week to experience the dramatic events that have taught thousands of years of Christians about how power structures are threatened by the prophetic voices calling for transformation, social justice, all-inclusive love, and equity and have sacrificed their lives that others may live. By fully experiencing this Holy Week, and by our Muslim friends fully experiencing this month of Ramadan, both faith communities will also learn that Divine Love always has the last word.

Fasting in Ramadan: Lessons & Moralities by Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi Islamonline.net
For all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands See www.dcbuck.com

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