Paul Moses, CNN. com
Editor’s note: Paul Moses, professor of journalism at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, is the author of “The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace” (Doubleday, 2009).
New York (CNN) — Speaking hours after a terrorist attack killed 21 people in a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would hold an interreligious meeting in October in Assisi, Italy, to discuss with other religious leaders how religion can promote world peace.
It would mark the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace that Pope John Paul II held there on October 26, 1986. The choice of Assisi, a town in Central Italy, as the venue is certainly not for its access to an airport: It is chosen as the home town of St. Francis, the beloved Christian saint whose generosity of spirit and constant striving for peace are exemplified in a remarkably amicable encounter he had with Egypt’s Sultan Malik al-Kamil in the midst of the Fifth Crusade in 1219.
With Francis’ example beginning to inspire Christians in interreligious dialogue, it’s time to say that Sultan al-Kamil, too, can be a model.
It is not clear yet who is responsible for the horrific bombing in Alexandria, which followed threats from an al Qaeda-linked group in Iraq. What is clear is that Sultan al-Kamil provides an example of Muslim respect for Christian holiness.
Sultan al-Kamil, nephew of the great Muslim warrior Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, or Saladin, led Egypt for some 40 years as viceroy and sultan. He thrived during a difficult period marked by famine and attacks by the Mongols from the east and the crusaders from the west.
When Francis crossed enemy lines to reach the sultan’s camp near the Nile during the summer of 1219, the sultan had every reason to dismiss a man who wanted to preach his enemy’s faith. But he allowed the friar to remain for several days of discussions.
The sultan’s conduct reflected traditional Muslim respect for holy Christian monks — a tradition that goes back to the Prophet Mohammed, who met Christian monks. It is said that some of the monks were among the first to recognize in him the potential to be a prophet. The Quran speaks affectionately of Christian monks, saying their eyes brim with tears at the recognition of God’s truth. [Please click here to read the remainder of this article.]