Louis Massignon was a Catholic orientalist and author of works on Islamic history and mysticism. Born in Nogent-sur-Marne (Seine), France, Massignon was interested from an early age in Arab and Oriental studies. His contact with the writings of the ninth-century Muslim mystic al-Hallaj, on whom he wrote his doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne, was decisive. In 1919 he became a professor at the prestigious Collège de France in Paris. On an archaeological mission in Iraq, he was thrown into prison on suspicion of being a spy. At a moment of utter despondency he was saved from his despair by a mysterious visitor on the night of May 2, 1908. There he formulated his first prayer; that night remained for him the night of his conversion. He also felt a special call to intercessory prayer, which led to his formulation of a spirituality of “substitution” (in Arabic, Badaliyya). At Damietta, Egypt, in February 1934, he founded, together with Mary Kahil, an order devoted to prayer and named Badaliyya.
In the awareness that through his contacts with Muslims he had found the way back to his own Christian faith, Massignon desired to live this faith in a spiritual sharing and exchange with Muslims. The spirituality of the Badaliyya is nourished by this desire of communion in the fullness of truth and grace that has become manifest in Christ. A Catholic priest of the Byzantine rite, Massignon died in Paris where he was a professor at the Collège de France.
Arij Roest Crollius
La Passion de Hallaj, martyr mystique de l’Islam, 4 vols. (1975) is Massignon’s main work. His L’hospitalité sacrée contains a biography by J. Keryell, and also a selection of texts on the Badaliyya. Y. Moubarac, L’œuvre de Louis Massignon (1972-1973) contains his complete bibliography.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.