A Christian and Muslim Encounter of Peace

Amid the clash of swords and the fervor of the fifth crusade, an unexpected encounter unfolded between two worlds — that of St. Francis of Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt, Malek al-Kamil, the nephew of the famed Salah-ad-Din.

It was the year 1219, and the Sultan, wearied by the unyielding conflict, sought an end. He issued a chilling decree — a Byzantine gold piece for the head of a Christian. The fierce fighting reached its zenith when the Sultan's armies, defending Damietta, repelled the Crusaders, leaving around 5,000 of them lifeless by August.

During the turmoil of the war, St. Francis and Brother Illuminatus decided to go into the Muslim camp on a peace mission. According to James of Vitry and The Chronicle of Ernoul: “When the Saracen sentinels saw them coming, they thought that they were messengers or perhaps had come to renounce their faith. When they met them, they seized them and led them to the Sultan.

St. Bonaventure, chronicling the encounter, wrote of the Sultan's inquiries. In a surprising echo of Muslim tradition, Francis greeted the Sultan with, “May the Lord give you peace.” Struck by Francis’ holiness, the Sultan engaged in a dialogue on spirituality, reflecting on each other’s traditions.

Francis proclaimed their divine mission, sent not by men but by God to illuminate the path of salvation. The Sultan, moved by Francis' fervor, urged him to stay. 

During his time, Francis observed Muslim practices, notably the call to prayer. His subsequent writings reveal deep admiration for the soldiers who paused, turned towards Mecca, and humbled themselves before God.

The friars, exemplars of peace, spent days in the Muslim camp, leaving only on amicable terms. The Sultan, moved by Francis’ refusal of lavish gifts due to his vow of poverty, found himself in awe of a man who shunned earthly honors. Francis accepted only an ivory horn, now a relic in Assisi.

The Sultan granted safe passage to Francis and his brethren and extended unexpected kindness to Christian prisoners of war. Despite the Sultan's efforts for peace, negotiations failed, leading to a temporary truce in 1221.

This incident has been documented by Paul Moses, a professor emeritus of journalism at Brooklyn College, in his book The Saint and the Sultan.

The historical episode has also been made into a documentary-drama, "The Sultan and the Saint," fostering dialogue across diverse audiences, mirroring the peaceful exchange between St. Francis and Sultan al-Kamil.


  Category: Featured, Highlights, Life & Society
  Topics: Crusades, Interfaith

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