The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisis Mission of Peace by Paul MosesTheres a funny story behind my decision to read this book, so bear with me here. Ive worked in my current job for about five months now, and someone else in my department started working there a couple weeks after I did so were pretty good work-friends as we learn the ropes together. A system-wide email went out about receiving a free book (this one) to read in preparation for a book discussion. We immediately signed up because a) free book! and b) were major book nerds. We thought it was a book discussion that would occur on campus at some point, not realizing that this offer was coming from the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh directly, and that by receiving the book we were invited to join the program in the basement of their mosque to discuss the book.
Basically what we learned is you could open your car door, say We have books! and we would get just get in the car with you. Because we had no idea where this mosque was, if it was even a legit advertisement, or if it was just spam. Thats how little we pay attention when you wave a book in our faces.
Francis of Assisi is fairly well-known in religion (hes the dude that all the animals flock to, like straight out of a Disney movie), but not as much is known about his meeting with the Islamic leader Sultan Malik al-Kamil. The concept that they met during the Crusades exists, but not much is known about the meeting. Moses tells the story to the best of his ability here, detailing how important the mission of peace was to Francis in a time when everyone was way too blood-thirsty and righteous (on all sides) to think of something so piddly as peace.
However, because theres not a great wealth of information about this meeting, or how they communicated considering there would have been a vast language and cultural barrier, I felt the author filled in a lot of the holes with a bunch of supposition. Moses is clearly interested in the topic, and I applaud his effort. My lack of excitement may come from my own lack of knowledge about religion. But I do appreciate the concept of peace, I like the idea of faiths getting together and understanding each other, and not freaking out just because their beliefs are different.
Though I didnt love the book, I did have an experience at the mosque exactly like that. We were welcomed to the space, we shared food with Muslims, we discussed Islam, we were invited to observe one of their traditional prayers. And by we I mean myself, a non-believer, my coworker, a Catholic, several reverends, some rabbis, and at least one Latter Day Saint. We were all welcome, no one tried to convince anyone else that they were right or wrong. It was simply an invitation to share their space, have a mature conversation about what it means to be Muslim, historically and today.
During the prayer, we sat in the back of the hall to observe, which is where the women also do their prayers. It was a good vantage point because I was able to see reverends get down on their knees to perform their own prayers in their own way. And you know what? It was totally okay. No one was offended, no one told them they couldnt pray in any way they chose. No one told me I had to pray, or even cover my head (though I could have borrowed a scarf if I had so chosen). A Muslim woman took time at the end to whisper to us the details of the prayer hall and what the individuals were doing after the formal prayer was finished. It was a beautiful moment - this, coming from a non-believer as myself! Really, though, faith can be a beautiful thing, when people shut the fuck up and let people show their faith how they want.
Let me just pause to say Ive been convinced to convert to every church Ive visited with friends over the years, and yet no one trying to convert me at the mosque. They actually didnt care what I believe or dont believe; they just wanted me to be a part of it if I felt comfortable enough to join them.
The discussions were a little bit about the book, but more about Islam itself, crushing a lot of the myths and misconceptions surrounding it. I was encouraged to listen to the lively conversation, happy to hear Muslims sharing their own concerns about how their religion is portrayed in the media, and the political actions behind the fear-mongering created by the media and other religions. You can be all But ISIS!, but I will be all But Westboro! in return, so you can actually hold your tongue.
I think wed all benefit from experiencing as much as we can, even if it takes us out of our comfort zones. The problem seems to come out of people who are so entrenched in their own religion or beliefs that they cannot understand how someone would choose a different religion or belief. Theres not likely any right answer out there, but it comes down to what is right for you. This doesnt mean its right for your neighbor, and it doesnt mean your neighbor is wrong. Live and let live, right? Its not really that tough.
Also, read some books. Read outside your faith. Read about Islam, learn the history, not just what the media wants us to believe. Get to know your Muslim neighbors. Break some bread with them. Compare your stories and your experiences. Youll find you have a lot more in common than you initially believe.
In conclusion, my experience at the mosque was better than the book itself, but Im grateful to the book for bringing me to that experience.
PBS The Sultan and the Saint teaser
Jump to navigation. While details are scarce about the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt in the 13th century amid the Fifth Crusade, it has become an important symbol of interfaith dialogue and the pursuit of peace, even in the midst of great conflict.
About the Film
The basic story is well-established in the biography of Saint Francis of Assisi — how at the height of the Crusades, he ventured into enemy territory to meet with the Sultan and to preach to him. Some suggest that Francis was seeking martyrdom, though the prevailing thought takes the saint at his word: he wanted to end the wars and felt that converting the Muslims to Christianity was better than trying to kill them all. Beyond that basic summary, the details of the story can vary widely depending on who is telling it. In The Saint and the Sultan , Paul Moses delves deep into the history behind the incident, to try and get at the truth behind the spin. Throughout his lifetime Francis played the role of conscience to the Institutional Catholic Church. And nowhere was this more evident than in his reaction to the Crusades. Moses does a good and thorough job of tracing each version to its origin, picking apart the more dubious claims, and making some solidly educated speculations at the truth.
Look Inside Reading Guide. Reading Guide. Sep 29, ISBN An intriguing examination of the extraordinary—and little known meeting between St. For many of us, St. Francis of Assisi is known as a poor monk and a lover of animals. However, these images are sadly incomplete, because they ignore an equally important and more challenging aspect of his life — his unwavering commitment to seeking peace.
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Set during the terrible time of the Crusades, it speaks with urgency to our present. Two men of faith, one an itinerant Christian preacher, the other the ruler of a Muslim Kingdom, bucked a century of war, distrust, and insidious propaganda in a search for peace. It is the story of Francis of Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt, and their meeting on a bloody battlefield, when one of the largest Crusader armies ever assembled tried to conquer Egypt. This is big history, important history. Not only does it speak directly to some of the East-West conflicts of today, the story itself is very dramatic with many fascinating twists and turns, and with central characters who are more compelling than even their legends claim. On one hand there is Francis, a starry-eyed would-be knight in provincial Assisi, captured as a prisoner of war and imprisoned for a year, then released as an abused victim of violence, whose one solution to witnessing so much hatred was a radical reorganization of his life and values. Two more unlikely protagonists are hard to imagine.