In light of some of the recent national conversation about Muslims, their books and their buildings, I was interested to read about Francis of Assisi’s meeting with the Sultan of Egypt during the Crusades. This is an excerpt from a longer article in Leadership journal called “What Would St. Francis Say Today?” by Gordon McDonald. If nothing else, this story gives us a “St. Francis way” to engage our Muslim neighbors.
Though it might offend the politics of some, I can hear Francis raising the topic of peacemaking and wondering why many modern Christians have so little to say about it. “Ought this not be an essential piece of your faith?” he might ask me.
Francis’s hatred of conflict had an origin. In his younger years he had gone merrily off to war expecting honor and booty and ended up a POW in a hell-hole. There he came face to face with cruelty and disease and discovered that combat was not a game. From that point forward he repudiated war and embraced peacemaking.
Thus, it was not surprising that, when the “Christian movement” of his time (the Crusaders) marched off to the Middle East in hopes of annihilating Muslims, Francis traveled there himself, passed through enemy lines and introduced himself to Malik-al-Kamil, the Muslim sultan of Egypt. While there, the two men spoke extensively of matters of faith and peace and became friends.
Francis’s host listened carefully to the Christian message Francis shared with him. And, not surprisingly, Francis returned the favor by listening to the Sultan’s Muslim convictions, something I don’t ever remember being taught to do when I was younger.
Francis was not successful in his effort to make peace, and he did not convert the Sultan, and, as a result, the Crusaders got their war. But that he tried to avert bloodshed says something significant. At least Francis was known as a peacemaker, the kind of person Jesus praised in the Sermon on the Mount.
Gordon MacDonald is editor at large of Leadership and lives in New Hampshire.