Saint Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims
By Frank M. Rega
Tan Books and Publishers, 2007
152 pages, $12.50
To order: tanbooks.com
by ELIZABETH YANK
With tensions rising between Muslims and Christians in some places, a good example of relations with the followers of Islam is St. Francis of Assisi. Through the eyes of his companion, Brother Illuminato, we witness the remarkable encounter between St. Francis and the Sultan of Egypt, al-Kamil.
While the title, Saint Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims, may lead you to believe otherwise, if you are looking for a massive conversion of thousands, you’ll be disappointed. The book focuses on the saint’s bold attempt to convert Sultan al-Kamil at the risk of his life and his relations with the Muslims in general.
The book’s first part covers his youth, conversion, and founding of the Franciscan order. The second develops St. Francis’ relations with the Muslims. The third deals with his life after his return to Italy, the crèche of Greccio, his stigmata, and his last days.
The brief overview offered some fresh perspectives about Francis’ impact on those around him. For example, author Frank Rega, writes: “The Third Order’s restrictions on weapons and oaths had the marked effect of diminishing the frequency of the clan and feudal wars and battles that were common in that era.”
St. Francis’ meeting with the sultan is the highlight of the book, however. During a truce in the midst of the Fifth Crusade, Francis and a companion entered Muslim territory. After being “assaulted and bound in chains,” they were “dragged” before the sultan where St. Francis explained that “he and his companion had been sent by God, and not by man. Francis began at once to proclaim the Gospel message of salvation, declaring Jesus Christ as both savior and true God made man. Perhaps most importantly, as it turned out, Francis announced that his personal concern was for the eternal salvation of the soul of al-Kamil.”
As Francis spoke, the sultan became transformed: “Francis did not directly attack the religion of Mohammed, but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, continued to expound the truths of the Christian religion.” After several days, he and his companion were released, and the sultan presented him with “a permit of safe passage” anywhere in his domain.
Francis’ success would have far-reaching results. After al-Kamil defeated the Crusaders, the sultan freed 30,000 Christian prisoners, negotiated a peace treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, and returned Jerusalem to the Christians. Evidence suggests the sultan later converted on his deathbed.
Told in a simple yet engaging manner, this incredible story rejects any notions about Francis’ intentions. He did not promote submissive tolerance, nor attack the Muslim faith. His concern was for the welfare of another’s soul at the risk of his own life: “There is no doubt that for St. Francis, preaching the word of God came first and foremost, and martyrdom was the risk that had to be taken.”
Elizabeth Yank writes from
South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.