National Catholic Reporter

The Independent News Source

Pope Francis evokes memories of St. Francis' Muslim outreach

 |  NCR Today

Dr. Akbar Ahmed was named by the BBC as the world's foremost Islamic scholar a few years ago. Although I'm sure there are other contenders for that honor in the Muslim world, he is surely one of the best. He is also an internationally recognized leader in interfaith relations.

Dr. Ahmed is on the board of "Interfaith Voices." I've known and respected him for years. This spring, after Pope Francis was elected and spent a couple months in office, I asked Dr. Ahmed what he thought of the new pope.

"Oh, Maureen," he said, "I knew I would like him from the first because he chose the name Francis, after Francis of Assisi. You see, Francis befriended a sultan in the medieval Muslim world at the time of the Crusades."

"Not an easy thing to do," I responded.

"No, not at all," he said, "but Francis of Assisi can be numbered among the world's early interfaith leaders."

rectangular-logo.jpgVisit our new website, Global Sisters Report!

Recently, Dr. Ahmed co-authored an op-ed column for The Washington Post praising Pope Francis' outreach to Muslims. Among other things, he recounted this story about St. Francis. I suspect it's a story not widely known among Catholics and worth the retelling:

Saint Francis of Assisi in the 13th century left the camp of the Christian Crusaders besieging Damietta, the walled Egyptian city, to seek out Malik al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt, then the most powerful ruler in the entire region. He did not seek confrontation, and instead encouraged his followers to "not engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to (serve) every human creature for God's sake.

The meeting between Catholic priest and Muslim Sultan is one of those remarkable encounters in history which has reverberations over time. It is not fully clear as to what Saint Francis was doing in the holy land. There are accounts that claim he had set out to convert the Muslim leader to Christianity. Whatever the intentions of Saint Francis, the meeting changed him. The Sultan was hospitable to his guest, allowing him to remain in his court for several days and saw that he was escorted back safely by his armed guard to the Christian army. Saint Francis saw a ruler already patronizing serious Muslim-Christian dialogue and he saw large Christian communities living amidst Muslims. Saint Francis returned to Italy fully committed to promoting better relations and dialogue with Muslims.

Here is the link to the entire op-ed.

NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at Disqus.com/verify.
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.

 

Feature-flag_GSR_start-reading.jpg

NCR Email Alerts

 

In This Issue

September 12-25, 2014

09-12-2014.jpg

Not all of our content is online. Subscribe to receive all the news and features you won't find anywhere else.