How did St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al-Kamil become friends?
They met only once in late 1219, for about two weeks. Francis and Brother Illuminato went to preach the Gospel to the sultan, who immediately recognized Francis as a very spiritual man. The sultan was a very devout Sunni Muslim. He gave Francis an ivory horn that is displayed in Assisi’s Basilica of St. Francis. Francis died in 1226; the sultan died 12 years later.
He took the Gospels literally: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
It perfectly shows Francis’ willingness to build bridges.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’ 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.