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The Saint and the Sultan

This Sunday, November 5th, we celebrate All Saints Day. We will likely hear about great Saints and Jesus’ little ones, all blessed because of our Saviour’s love.

In our Gospel from Matthew, Chapter 5, we will hear our Lord proclaim: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

As war in the Holy Land rages, and we witness daily the gruesome images of wounded and dying children, we also give thanks to God for Jesus, who through the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to love our enemies and choose the way of peace. We, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, are all daughters and sons of Sarah and Abraham. We pray that, through Christ, God will continue to bless all nations through our beloved Mother, Sarah, our Father, Abraham, and our Lord, Jesus.

We pray that God will continue to raise up among us great peacemakers like Francis of Assisi. While most of us know about Francis’ love of the poor and animals, there is also a beautiful chapter of his life and mission where he seeks peace in the Holy Land. I have written a brief description of Francis’ encounter with Sultan Malik during the Crusades. I hope you find it as inspiring and hopeful as I do.

The Saint and the Sultan

In the year 1219, during the Fifth Crusade, Francis of Assisi walked faithfully and fearlessly through the battlefield and into the war camp of the most powerful Muslim leader in the world, the Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt, and proclaimed, "May the Lord Give You Peace." It was Francis' heartfelt desire to preach the Gospel of Christ to convert the Muslims and bring an end to the wars and violence which he abhorred and condemned.

The pious Sultan graciously invited Francis to preach in his court. There were no conversions. The Sultan's response to the Gospel was, "Inhsha'allah," or "According to God's Will." As Francis departed, al-Kamil offered him riches of silver, gold, and silk. Francis declined but requested a feast and shared Jesus' table fellowship with his Muslim friends, the so-called "enemies" of Christendom.

When Francis returned to Europe, he urged his friars in Muslim lands to submit to the rule of their Sultan, avoid martyrdom, and bear witness to the Gospel through their peaceful, generous, and Christ-like actions. At a time when taking up the cross meant bearing the red Crusaders' cross to serve the Pope, Francis urged the Kings of Europe to make peace with the Muslims.

As the Fifth Crusade raged on, Francis composed one of his last poems, influenced by the Muslim practice of reciting the 99 names of Allah, and included "a heartfelt prayer for God to protect his friend Sultan al-Kamil and bring him peace." Sadly, we do not have a record of the dialogue between Francis and Malik al-Kamil. We do know, however, that during the famous meeting between the Saint and the Sultan there was a desire for peace, table fellowship, and friendship between these pious sons of Abraham. In the midst of war and violence, this truly must have been pleasing to God, who seeks and calls for a blessing for all nations when He forms the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12. 3.

If you would like to read more about Francis and the Sultan, see:

Paul Moses, The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (London: Doubleday Religion, 2009), pp.105-184

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