Last week, religious leaders from both the Muslim and Catholic faiths spoke at a conference entitled “The Sultan and the Saint: The Spiritual Journey of Transformative Encounter.” The event took place at the Catholic University in Washington and commemorated the 800th anniversary of the meeting of St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil during the Fifth Crusade.
Eight centuries ago, St. Francis of Assisi crossed the battlefield between Crusader and Muslim forces at Damietta, Egypt, with the determined goal to meet Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil and preach his faith. Early recountings of the meeting describe al-Kamil as a gracious host and receptive to St Francis. And most importantly, both men were said to have come away with a new respect for one another and each other’s faith. In fact, Pope Francis has repeatedly referred to the meeting as a symbol of interfaith unity.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre spoke at the conference and said that the dialogue that emerged between a poor Christian and a Muslim leader can serve as an example of the fraternity of humanity. “We know the history, but we have a tendency to forget about that” he said. “Francis came not as an ideologue, but as a missionary with a message of peace.”
Imam Mohamed Bashar Arafat, president of the Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, also spoke at the event and said that it’s unlikely St. Francis could have predicted his visit “would have been so inspirational to the people of today.” He continued, “To me St. Francis’ mission was a sacred mission for every Muslim, every Christian, every human being, religious or nonreligious. It is a story of reaching out to the other for the sake of peace, reconciliation and harmony.”
For more on this little known historical story, be sure to stream Unity Productions Foundation’s docudrama The Sultan and the Saint which takes you into the lives of these two extraordinary men.