Minute Meditations

Francis and the Sultan

offering a flower | Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

The best illustration from the life of Francis of his willingness to take this passage seriously was his journey to visit the sultan. The Crusades were still in full swing at this time. Francis’ willingness to meet with and talk to the sultan showed a level of tolerance that few of his day could match, although Sultan Malik al-Kamil was himself known for his tolerance of other faiths. They were well matched for this meeting.

The sultan honored him as much as he was able, and having given him many gifts, he tried to bend Francis’s mind toward the riches of the world. But when he saw that Francis most vigorously despised all these things as so much dung, he was filled with the greatest admiration, and he looked upon him as a man different from all others. He was deeply moved by his words and he listened to him very willingly.

This meeting between Francis and the sultan has received a great deal of attention in our own century. The need for peace and understanding is as great in our time as it was during the Crusades, and sometimes as little valued. Francis still sets an example for us. And Jesus’ command still holds true.

—from the book Lent with St. Francis: Daily Reflections by Diane M. Houdek

Lent with St. Francis


1 thought on “Francis and the Sultan”

  1. Arlene B. Muller

    St. Francis had two purposes in meeting with the sultan. One was to be an instrument of peace & hopefully to put an end to the war known as the Crusades, which would mean the mutual cessation of violence and the ability of Christian pilgrims to visit and pray at the religious sites without any threat of any form of harm. (Although prejudice, hatred materialism, adventure/vainglory, lust & other ulterior motives significantly corrupted the Crusades & the Crusaders–excluding some of the noble leaders like St. Louis–the initial cause of the Crusades was not only the possession of the Holy Land by Muslims– Christians wanted to regain the land–but attacks on Christian pilgrims, which was the immediate cause that precipitated the Crusades.
    The other pressing reason St. Francis visited the sultan was to preach the Gospel to him in order to convert him to Catholic Christianity for the salvation of his soul and hopefully the conversion and salvation of the souls of all the Muslim people.
    In contrast to the principle of jihad in the Koran and the attitude of some of the Crusaders, which involved conversion by the sword, St. Francis sincerely approached the sultan with respect for him as a person with free will; as a human being created in the image and likeness of our Creator Father GOD, and as a leader. He followed the directive of St. Peter in his epistle, which was always to venerate Our LORD JESUS CHRIST in our hearts and always to be ready to give the reason for our hope–the GOSPEL of Our LORD JESUS CHRIST–and to do so in a spirit of gentleness and respect.
    So concerned was St. Francis for the salvation of the souls of the sultan and the Muslim people that in the heartfelt sincerity of his intense faith and mission St. Francis offered to walk through fire to prove the TRUTH of the GOSPEL, with a challenge to the sultan to do the same if he believed as strongly in Islam. In response to the respect, sincerity, faith and amazing bravery of the “little man from Assisi”, the sultan declined the challenge but grew in his respect for him and guaranteed him safe passage. I remember reading somewhere that the sultan might have eventually converted to Catholic Christianity toward the end of his life. How wonderful it would have been if the sultan would have influenced his entire people to do the same.
    In recalling the beautiful encounter between St. Francis and the sultan, we must always remember that St. Francis demonstrated an illustrious example of love and respect for our enemies and how we can and should strive to be instruments of peace, and at the same time we must be careful not to fall prey to indifferentism. While St. Francis demonstrated that we must always respect the human dignity, personhood and free will of people whose beliefs differ from our own, he also demonstrated undiluted faith and loyalty to the GOSPEL and the Catholic Church and zeal for evangelization and the salvation of souls.
    As human beings and fellow creatures of our GOD and King, all human beings of every faith and even no faith are equal, but the truth of the GOSPEL supersedes Islam.

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