St. Francis meets Sultan Malik al-Kamil


Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

St. Francis di Bernadone, born in 1182 in Northern Italy, is popularly known and loved as the poor, generous, traveling friar who talked with birds, tamed wild beasts and sang the “Canticle of Creation.”  But Francis was once also an inter-religious emissary of peace and nonviolence.

Francis lived in the political turmoil of the 13th Century “Holy Roman Empire,” locked in a culture of war, fought both within the empire as city fought city and without, as the empire united in a series of Crusades against Moslems, Jews and “heretics.” It was during the fifth crusade, in 1219, that Francis began an amazing journey that directly opposed this culture of war and enmity. Christians in his time viewed The Crusades as holy; a complete reversal of the first 300 years of Christianity when disciples of Jesus would not participate in any killing.

In response, the Sultan of Egypt had decreed that anyone who brought him the head of a Christian should be rewarded with a Byzantine gold piece.

Francis began his prophetic resistance to the violence of the Crusades by meeting first with his own religious leaders, begging Cardinal Pelagius, the Christian commander, to stop the fighting. Pelagius refused.

Francis then took a companion, Brother Illuminatus, and set out, unarmed and filled with love for his “enemy” brother, to visit the Sultan of Egypt, Malik-al-Kamil, the nephew of Saladin. The men of the Sultan’s army captured Francis and Illuminatus and dragged them, beaten and exhausted, before the Sultan – just as Francis had wished.

The Sultan was receptive to these two unarmed messengers from the enemy camp. St. Bonaventure, in his Major Life of St. Francis, described the event, “The sultan asked them by whom and why and in what capacity they had been sent, and how they got there; but Francis replied that they had been sent by God, not by men, to show him and his subjects the way of salvation and proclaim the truth of the Gospel message. When the sultan saw his enthusiasm and courage, he listened to him willingly and pressed him to stay with him.”

Francis’ enthusiastic desire to share his “good news” with the Sultan, without insulting Islam or refuting Mohammed, was unique and disarming.

In the encounter between them, both Francis and the Sultan were changed. When Francis finally left to return to Italy, the Sultan showered him with many gifts and treasures. Because he had no interest in worldly wealth, Francis refused them all, except one special gift: an ivory horn used by the muezzin to call the faithful to prayer. On his return, Francis used it to call people for prayer or for preaching.

Francis also shared with his community his new and deep respect for his Moslem brothers and sisters, breaking down the cycle of enmity and misunderstanding that fueled the Crusades. Francis was especially struck by the Moslem five times daily prayer, and the practice of prostrations in worship of God; his letters urged Christians to adopt a similar practice: To make prayer a part of everyday life, in effect to remember God in everything you do, as in the Sufi zekr.

Stories of the time told about the change in the Sultan after his encounter with Francis. He placed Francis under his personal security and provided safe-conduct through Muslim states. From then on, several accounts relate that he treated Christian prisoners of war with unprecedented kindness and generosity.

Francis lives out the core of the Christian mandate: to love one’s enemies, to reach out in respect to those of other religions and cultures.

Meeting the sultan confirmed to Francis that we are all brothers and sisters. Neither converted the other and yet they met each other as men of God.

And their meeting appears to have changed more than Francis and the sultan.

Almost immediately we see some iconography in the eastern world showing these two men. One of the sultan’s own spiritual counselors (a Sufi), it was said, had engraved on his tomb that what changed his life was the meeting between a Christian monk and the sultan in his tent.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Joyous Kwanza to all :)

Ya Haqq!

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22 Responses to St. Francis meets Sultan Malik al-Kamil

  1. farizfansuri says:

    Assalamualaikum.may i link your website to my blog?syukran.and i ask permission to copy some of your posting to copy to my blog..

  2. darvish says:

    Salaam Brother:

    Thank you for the kind offer :) Of course you may link here, and copy posts to your blog. Just link back here to the original post when you do :)

    Ya Haqq!

  3. Maithri says:

    Dearest brother,

    You are truly a carrier of the light.

    I had not read this beautiful story before and I thank you for sharing it here.

    I always think of this time as a celebration of the birth of love…

    As servants of love, i feel that we are called to participate in that birthing process… To usher in a spirit of inclusiveness and all embracing kindness.

    I thank you for all that you mean to this world.

    You are aflame with spirit.

    The world is blessed to feel your light and to listen to your words.

    With love to you and all those whom you touch, Maithri

  4. naeem says:

    AA- Br. Irving,

    What an awesome story! And to think that it took place in the midst of the Crusades… Subhan’Allah!

    Let us pray that similar stories take place in our lifetime.

  5. frieda says:

    “Francis lives out the core of the Christian mandate seldom seen so concretely in Christian history”

    Dear friend, I was surprised by the word “seldom” that you have wrote here. History is full of Christians saints and where Christians have walked the same walk as Jesus.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family. May God continue to bless you.

  6. Achelois says:

    Salaam dear brother Irving,

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story with us. You fill me with love every time I read your inspirational words. http://www.darvish.wordpress.com is a happy place. It is a place where people find love.

    Our virtual meeting has also changed a lot in me, more than you know. Your words have brought peace in my life. Thank you!

  7. Irving says:

    Salaam Dear Brothers and Sisters:

    Thank you all for the very kind comments :) And Sister Frieda, you are right, of course, many Christian saints and mystics have trod the path of peace and understanding, much more than is widely known. I have rewritten the post :).

    Ya Haqq!

  8. Alhamdulillah! Thank you, brother. I have learned something new about my favorite saint and about peace.

  9. krishna.n.c. says:

    Beloved Papa Irving,
    Alhamdullilah :)) An excellent post!! I never knew about the blessed meeting of St.Francis and Sultan Malik!!
    History has been so full of evidences of the love and respect that all these blessed souls had for each other and their religions :)
    My heart blooms everytime i read about them and can so clearly see His Glory and Oneness :))
    Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and a wonderful Kwanza to you to sweetheart :)
    You are truly The most Beautiful Rose of Allah’s Garden papa..And May your fragrance forever spread His Love among all those souls who come across your blessed path :))
    Love you lots :)

  10. Shahrzad says:

    Beautiful post..
    Merry christmas and happy new year to you dear brother.. :)

  11. Umm Bilal says:

    Assalamu alaikum,
    A wonderful account of the true essence of love, also illuminates hope for such respect and understanding to return across the globe and across all boundaries, Insha’Allah.
    Wassalamu alaikum

  12. UTP says:

    you are knowledgable sir…THATS FOR SURE!!!

  13. Brij says:

    Vey good article.

    St. Francis did handle very well in India when he was preaching and converting Indian poors back in 12th century.

  14. daliah says:

    assalamu alaykum,this is the best site where i could find everything i needed for my homework,thank u so muchh,u helped me ,may God help u!!!

  15. Irving says:

    Salaam and Greetings of Peace Dear Sisters and Brothers:

    Thank you all for the comments :) And Daliah, I am happy that you were able to find help with your homework :) Inshallah, you will get excellent grades :)

    Ya Haqq!

  16. Jayasri Hart says:

    Brother Irving,

    I am curious as to where you found this story since it is not widely known outside of Franciscan circles. I looked in translations of contemporary chronicles in Arabic and found nothing definitive.

  17. Jayasri Hart says:

    BTW, Brij, you have the wrong Francis. That Francis was St. Francis Xavier–his remains are in the Bom Jesu Cathedral in Panaji, I believe. This one is St. Francis of Assisi.

  18. Irving says:

    Brother Jayasri, I do not remember the exact website I first read it on, but a quick Google search shows it mentioned in quite a few sources, and may have originally come from the book, The Saint and the Sultan, by Paul Moses. Here is a link to his page, where you can find discussions, places to buy the book, etc:

    http://www.saintandthesultan.com/default.html

    Ya Haqq!

  19. Jayasri says:

    Thank you, Brother Irving!
    What a small world this is! I asked because I am working with Franciscan Communications on a DVD based on that story which will aid interfaith dialogue. It will also be used with Just Faith Ministries’ curriculum “In the Spirit of Francis and the Sultan.” Paul Moses helped us a great deal with our initial research and I have a copy of his book. Here’s our website http://www.damiettaproject.org/
    With best wishes,
    Your sister Jayasri

  20. Mario Oliveira says:

    Salam to all of you, I love this spirit of Francis of Assisi and peace building. I have read that he was brave to cross the enemy line in the period of fifth crusade. He met Al Kamil who was a very kind adversary to his enemy the crusaders. I admire the personality of Al Kamil and Francis of Assisi. It gives me an inspiration so much that am now taking this topic of encounter to be my THESIS. It is very-very actual and needed to our world specially peace between religion in Asia and in the world commonly.

  21. Abdul Hadi says:

    A beautiful story – as relevant and necessary then as it is today. With peace and joy, Abdul Hadi

  22. Sam says:

    This brought tears to my eyes (although I knew the story of Francis and Malik Al-Kamil already.) Would that the two sides, a thousand years later, could meet again with the same love, understanding, and respect: and come away just as changed. Both were clearly very remarkable men.

    Pace e bene, as Francis always said.

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