FROM THE COVER OF ST. FRANCIS AND THE SULTAN: THE CURIOUS HISTORY OF A CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM ENCOUNTER BY JOHN TOLAND
St. Francis of Assisi held a peaceful dialogue with the sultan during the crusades
Last night I had a very energized conversation with a good friend. We discussed many things like philosophy, politics and social justice issues.
The discussion eventually led to the challenge of a marriage between a Christian and a Muslim in a “Post 9/11” world. He is a Catholic and she is a Muslim whereby both faith traditions call for certain creedal commitments and public profession of faith.
Not being critical of either faith tradition, we observed that the common feature of these two religions is that they adopt a protectionist model — meaning that they have to accept the exact values of each faith or they risk being rejected by their respective communities.
I concluded in my own thoughts that the recent attack on the Christian church in Baghdad is not going to lower either faith tradition’s guard anytime soon.
I started thinking about the Western world’s relationship with Muslims in general. The “Post 9/11” trauma has left the American people paralyzed with an incredible fear and rage.
One that has seen terrible bigotry toward the Muslims in the United States. No longer is the United States home to freedom and security; it is, rather, a home to paranoia and oppression.
This, however, is not just a problem of the United States. In the past week alone I have received about 20 emails — from Canadians — that were mostly damning of Muslims. These were supposedly jokes, but they were anything but funny.
What those jokes suggested to me is that the political concept of “tolerance” has failed. People in the Western world do not want to live in harmony with Muslims; they just want them out of their neighbourhoods and their countries. They are afraid of a culture and a religion they don’t understand, one often misrepresented by news media.
The government, in addition, adopts policies based on fear. Fear, unfortunately, has created an unending war in the Middle East, horrible security lines at the airport, racist sentiments, persecution of religious freedom and finger pointing between governments and nations.
My humble suggestion for solving such a crisis is to get back to the basics – the Gospel of hospitality. A hospitality where we are called to love and forgive not just seven times, but 77 times. A hospitality that sets the table of discussion so that all can try to live in harmony and peace. A hospitality that is inclusive, not exclusive. A hospitality that calls us to love our enemies, not hate them — even if it takes us to the cross.
All of this takes humility on our part and a commitment to “not be afraid.”
St. Francis lived these values when he visited the sultan during the Crusades. Francis risked his own life to meet with the sultan in a peaceful dialogue, a dialogue that more than likely embraced the commonality that they share — God.
In return, Francis came back enlightened, understanding that reconciliation can only begin by living in peace, not confrontation. Dialogue will certainly be key to heal this strained relationship.
What I think would be a great policy for politicians and people who are afraid of Muslims is St. Francis’ rule for living in the world. He states: “I counsel, admonish and exhort my brothers (and sisters) in the Lord Jesus Christ not to quarrel or argue or judge others when they go about in the world; but let them be meek, peaceful, modest, gentle and humble, speaking courteously to everyone, as is becoming. . . .
“Into whatever house they (you) enter, let them first say: ‘Peace be to this house.’”
(Originally published in Isenor’s online blog, godsgeste.blogspot.com.)