Feast Day Letter from the Anglican side of our Family

Fancis and Sultan.jpg

From: Mary D. Glasspool <maryglas@infionline.net>

Date: Fri, Oct 4, 2019 at 7:43 AM
Subject: An Unofficial Letter from Bishop Assistant Mary D. Glasspool, Volume IV, Number 14

Volume IV, Number 14

October 4, 2019

An Unofficial Letter from Bishop Assistant Mary D. Glasspool

 Dear Friends and Colleagues,

 In this issue: Francis of Assisi, Seeker of Peace

            Paul Moses, in his book The Saint and the Sultan (Doubleday, 2009), writes of the encounter of Francis of Assisi and Malik al-Kamil, sultan of Egypt in the year 1219 CE. A number of interesting facts contribute to the context of this meeting. The Fifth Crusade - Western Europeans' attempt to reacquire Jerusalem by first conquering Egypt - was in full swing. It was not Francis' first or only attempt to preach to Muslims with the goal of converting them to Christianity. The meeting, of high risk in different ways to both men, did not result in a cessation of war, nor was the Fifth Crusade the last one. And until relatively recently (I would say with the publication of Moses' book), few people were even aware of, let alone knowledgeable about, this encounter. What might we learn from it?

            The Crusades, in general, were marked and motivated by Western Christianity's vilification of Muslims and Islam. Francis' persistence in wanting to see al-Kamil in person, and al-Kamil's allowing the meeting to happen, provided an occasion for enemies to see one another as human beings rather than monsters or embodiments of evil. The encounter was not a foregone conclusion. Francis and his companion, Illuminato, could have been captured, tortured, and killed after crossing over enemy lines. Something about his insistence on seeing the sultan - it might have been, as many accounts tell, his statement that he came in God's name, not the Pope's -resulted in the face-to-face meeting, allowing the enemy to be human.

            Second, while each man initially had the idea of converting the other, both were so grounded in their own faith that they were eventually able to listen to each other with the possibility of learning something. Biographical material about Malik al-Kamil testify to his being intelligent, strong, and also wanting peace over more killing. He was curious about these two visitors dressed in brown, well worn and often patched plain robes reminding him of the Sufis whose spirituality grounded the sultan.

            Francis and Illuminato were treated as honored guests in the Muslim camp. Francis was allowed to preach and he preached from the heart about God. Al-Kamil listened and was, again according to many accounts, deeply moved. Francis, too, could not help but observe that the Muslims fell to their knees five times a day to pray, together, as a community. During the several days they lived in the Muslim camp, Francis and Illuminato would have witnessed other religious and ritual practices as well. His preaching avoided criticism of Muhammad or Islam and focused on what Islam and Christianity had in common. Which leads to a third thing we might learn: of the many things held in common, prayer was fundamental to both religions.

            According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, University Professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University in Washington D.C., a story has circulated orally among Muslims that the sultan gave Francis the key to his private prayer room. What I find even more fascinating is the clear influence Islamic prayer had on Francis, especially in the ways in which he addressed God. Most High, all powerful, good Lord... Almighty, eternal, just and merciful God... O Divine Master... Most High, glorious God... Muslims have a tradition known as the 99 names or attributes of God. Different lists of these 99 names differ - but the idea is that to the Almighty belongs the best, most honorific names. Thus: The Perfection and Giver of Peace; The Most Compassionate; The Most Merciful; All Powerful. I can't help but think that prayer itself, was a deep common ground.

            So Happy St. Francis Day to all! As you bless animals, or donate to a hospital for leprosy, remember to pray for peace, as well.            With love, +Mary