Franciscan Tradition & Resources

Strangers to Brothers: St. Francis and the Sultan

saint francis and the sultan

He was terrified when he had finally been ushered into Sultan Malik al-Kamil’s presence, and he wondered about all that equanimity stuff the saints were supposed to have had whenever a crisis arose. But he marched steadily forward, never dropping his eyes and staring openly into the Sultan’s iron eyes. Francis was shaken by the scowl on the Sultan’s face. He reminded Francis a little of his own father, that fierce concentration in his eyes, the drooping jowls, and the long oval ears.

As Francis drew nearer, the Sultan’s expression changed to one of mild amusement. Francis couldn’t help returning the expression. This seemed to please the Sultan because when Francis stopped in front of him, the two were grinning at each other. The sycophants around the Sultan were also grinning broadly until the Sultan turned and frowned; then they frowned back like little mirrors.

“Well, little man, I see you have courage. I watched your nervous walk and steady eyes, and I said to myself, him I would like at my court. He would tell me the truth, and not what I usually hear.” He emphasized the last few words, his eyes roaming coldly over his own courtiers. Francis said nothing. “I see you also have manners. I like that.”

There was a long pause, embarrassing only to the courtiers who shifted from foot to foot and coughed tensely.

“Well, holy man, what do you want of me?”

“Only to bring you peace, great one.”

The Sultan smiled. “But I like war, little Italian. For Allah I am conquering the world. It is why I was born and why I am Allah’s instrument.”

“But, great Prince, I am not talking about peace as the opposite of war. I speak of peace in your heart, a deep satisfaction and joy that flows from within like a rich wine.”

“And what, to a warrior, can bring more inner peace than victory on the battlefield?”

“Prayer, O child of Allah.”

“Prayer? And do I not pray every day to Allah?”

“More, I am sure, great leader, than many Christians pray.”

“But I want to share with you a prayer I learned by fighting the great battle with myself, by conquering one by one the demons in my own heart. Your prayer is good, I am sure, but I want to teach you a new prayer.”

“Then pray it for me now, here in front of these dullards who infest my tent.” Francis knelt down and lifted up his eyes, beyond the dais to a small opening in the tent that let the light in.

“You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true.”

The Sultan said nothing. He seemed moved by what Francis had poured from his heart. Yes, it was like a good rich wine. It was reminiscent of the Ninety-Nine Names of Allah. In a soft voice, so that only Francis could hear, he said. “Oh, little beggar and man of dreams. I wish in my heart that there were more gentle men like you to balance the hatred in the world.



Unfortunately, the world understands only two things: power and violence. Some day, your prayer says to me, the world will be turned upside down by little folk who fast and pray and who die rather than take up the sword. Till then, God’s will is performed through men like me.”

“Will you, Lord Sultan, pray for that day?”

“I will do more, honest man, I will let you walk out of this camp alive, so that you can pray for that day. I pray that after I am gone from this earth (but not before) Allah will change his mind and use meek instruments like you and that this great army of peace-loving beggars will outnumber the forces of hatred and violence. Go to your dreams, brave little man, and pray for me.”

Then aloud the Sultan said, “Take this fool from our camp and give him safe passage to his own kind. I will not lower myself by harming beggars and vermin and threadbare Christians. You can see from the man’s appearance how badly we have beaten down the Christians. Go.”

He winked at Francis, and Francis smiled back, and in the strictest adherence to chivalrous conduct, backed out of the room. Just then the little boat came about and broke the rhythm of Francis’ thoughts. His eyes focused in on the horizon again, and he saw the blessed land of Italy rising up before him. He was indeed home again even if, as a pilgrim and a stranger, he was not supposed to be at home anywhere. How deep the feelings lie, and no amount of preaching can change what is real and good, he thought.


Application to Daily Life

What are your obligations to peacemaking?
Can you have peace in temptation? In suffering? In dryness of spirit?
Remember, peace depends on truth. Stick with the facts in keeping peace. Help make peace in the neighborhood by letting rumors and gossip die when they reach you. For your own peace, try to be always in union with God.


Prayer

You are Good, all Good, supreme Good,
Lord God, living and true.
You are love,
You are wisdom.
You are humility.
You are endurance.
You are rest.
You are peace
You are joy and gladness.
You are justice and moderation.
You are all our riches,
And you suffice for us.
You are beauty.
You are gentleness.
You are our protector.
You are our guardian and defender.
You are courage.
You are our haven and our hope.
You are our faith.
Our great consolation.
You are our eternal life,
Great and wonderful Lord,
God almighty,
Merciful Savior.
—St. Francis, “Praises of God”


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