June 24th marked the 800th anniversary of a very important encounter — that between Francis of Assisi and Egypt’s Sultan Malik al-Kamil during the Fifth Crusade. In this op-ed, scholar Paul Moses (author of the book The Saint and the Sultan) writes about how important the anniversary has been to the Muslim and Christian world. Moses served as a consultant for the Unity Productions Foundation’s docudrama The Sultan and the Saint which aired on PBS in 2016. Moses says “the film has raised Muslims’ awareness of this encounter and its significance.”
Moses writes how the Pope “set the tone” this year with trips to Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, noting that the Pope presented the Crown Prince of the UAE with a framed medallion of the Saint and the Sultan embracing. Furthermore, the Pope spoke of the encounter on March 30 during his visit to Morocco, declaring: “That prophetic event shows that the courage to encounter one another and extend a hand of friendship is a pathway of peace and harmony for humanity, whereas extremism and hatred cause division and destruction.”
Last month, Moses took part in a commemoration in Istanbul called The Order of Friars Minor Special Commission on Dialogue with Islam . Moses recalled that it’s been ten years since the publishing of his book and says that the conference gave him “a chance to consider how our knowledge of the meeting has developed in the last decade, and how it is being used as a model for easing Christian-Muslim tensions.” Rev. Joseph Victor Edwin, a Jesuit from India, says he aired the docu-drama before dozens of groups to improve relations among Muslims, Hindus, and Christians.
Moses writes that the encounter contains many lessons.”… the Sultan listened to Francis; it is recorded that he permitted the Friar to preach in his camp for several days during a lull in the fighting of the Fifth Crusade. The story depicts Francis crossing a battlefield to reach out to his enemy. And, given the courtesy of the encounter, it shows the possibility of building relationships to transcend differences. Father Edwin said he’s found time and again that the story of this encounter opens minds and hearts but, he acknowledged, it is difficult to overcome prejudice when it is based in ideology.”
Moses closes with the keen observation: “As I learned from Franciscans living in such predominantly Muslim countries as Morocco and Pakistan, there simply has to be Christian-Muslim dialogue.”