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The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace

by Paul Moses

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902301,764 (3.6)None
An intriguing examination of the extraordinary-and little known meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Islamic leader Sultan Malik Al-Kamil that has strong resonance in today's divided world. 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. In The Saint and the Sultan, Paul Moses recovers Francis' s message of peace through the largely forgotten story of his daring mission to end the crusades. In 1219, as the Fifth Crusade was being fought, Francis crossed enemy lines to gain an audience with Malik al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt. The two talked of war and peace and faith and when Francis returned home, he proposed that his Order of the Friars Minor live peaceably among the followers of Islam-a revolutionary call at a moment when Christendom pinned its hopes for converting Muslims on the battlefield. The Saint and the Sultan captures the lives of St. Francis and Sultan al-Kamil and illuminates the political intrigue and religious fervor of their time.nbsp;In the process, itnbsp;reveals a startlingly timely story of interfaith conflict, war, and the search for peace. More than simply a dramatic adventure, though it does not lack for colorful saints and sinners, loyalty and betrayal, and thrilling Crusade narrative, The Saint and the Sultan brings to life an episode of deep relevance for all who seek to find peace between the West and the Islamic world. Winner of the 2010 Catholic Press Association Book Award for History… (more)
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An interesting and important book for highlighting an episode of Saint Francis's life that has been largely forgotten, due primarily to efforts by the Catholic Church and Francis's own order centuries ago. Moses helps recapture a key component of Francis's teaching -- nonviolence -- and thus links him to more recent figures such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., as a proponent of seeking social change through peaceful coexistence, discussion, and example.

Moses is absolutely correct in identifying this episode, and the convictions behind it, as an important event for people of our time to ponder. Alongside and (mostly) beneath the Crusading zeal of the papacy and (some of) the medieval nobility ran a not-inconsequential strain of thought that believed in and sought mutual respect and understanding between Christians and Muslims, and it can help our efforts toward those ends today to realize that these goals are not merely the product of our time, of an age when the West no longer thinks in terms of "Christendom" and universities feature courses in comparative religion, but instead have existed for many centuries, even during the times when the divide between the two faiths flared most violently.

The main difficulty with Moses's book is that the story of Saint Francis's encounter with the Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt is scantily recorded, and thus cannot fill even a relatively short book. Moses fills it out with a good summary of Francis's life before the event, and with an insightful analysis of how and why subsequent accounts -- including those written not long after Francis's death -- downplayed, distorted or outright omitted the remarkable meeting between the two men. Nevertheless, there's a fair amount of repetition. Moses might have done better spending more time placing Francis within the tradition of medieval thinkers who sought peaceful accord with Islam -- that would have filled out the book nicely, even at greater length.

Still and all, Moses brings to popular attention an important and inspiration event that might offer readers of today ideas and hope for bridging the gap between the faiths. Knowing that so revered a figure as Saint Francis believed it could be done, and took such risks to try to realize his dream, should make clear to all that mistrust, enmity and war are not the inevitable conditions of the relationship between the Muslim and Christian worlds. ( )
  robkill | Mar 1, 2010 |
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An intriguing examination of the extraordinary-and little known meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Islamic leader Sultan Malik Al-Kamil that has strong resonance in today's divided world. 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. In The Saint and the Sultan, Paul Moses recovers Francis' s message of peace through the largely forgotten story of his daring mission to end the crusades. In 1219, as the Fifth Crusade was being fought, Francis crossed enemy lines to gain an audience with Malik al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt. The two talked of war and peace and faith and when Francis returned home, he proposed that his Order of the Friars Minor live peaceably among the followers of Islam-a revolutionary call at a moment when Christendom pinned its hopes for converting Muslims on the battlefield. The Saint and the Sultan captures the lives of St. Francis and Sultan al-Kamil and illuminates the political intrigue and religious fervor of their time.nbsp;In the process, itnbsp;reveals a startlingly timely story of interfaith conflict, war, and the search for peace. More than simply a dramatic adventure, though it does not lack for colorful saints and sinners, loyalty and betrayal, and thrilling Crusade narrative, The Saint and the Sultan brings to life an episode of deep relevance for all who seek to find peace between the West and the Islamic world. Winner of the 2010 Catholic Press Association Book Award for History

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