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The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace [Hardcover]

Paul Moses

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Book Description

Sept. 29 2009
An intriguing examination of the extraordinary–and little known meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Islamic leader Sultan Malik Al-Kamil that has strong resonance in today's divided world.

For many of us, St. Francis of Assisi is known as a poor monk and a lover of animals. However, these images are sadly incomplete, because they ignore an equally important and more challenging aspect of his life -- his unwavering commitment to seeking peace. In The Saint and the Sultan, Paul Moses recovers Francis' s message of peace through the largely forgotten story of his daring mission to end the crusades.

In 1219, as the Fifth Crusade was being fought, Francis crossed enemy lines to gain an audience with Malik al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt. The two talked of war and peace and faith and when Francis returned home, he proposed that his Order of the Friars Minor live peaceably among the followers of Islam–a revolutionary call at a moment when Christendom pinned its hopes for converting Muslims on the battlefield.

The Saint and the Sultan captures the lives of St. Francis and Sultan al-Kamil and illuminates the political intrigue and religious fervor of their time. In the process, it reveals a startlingly timely story of interfaith conflict, war, and the search for peace. More than simply a dramatic adventure, though it does not lack for colorful saints and sinners, loyalty and betrayal, and thrilling Crusade narrative, The Saint and the Sultan brings to life an episode of deep relevance for all who seek to find peace between the West and the Islamic world.

Winner of the 2010 Catholic Press Association Book Award for History

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Review

"The story of these two men—Francis and the sultan—is told engagingly in this well-researched, timely and fascinating book by Paul Moses ... dramatically narrated ... I highly recommend this book for readers interested in St. Francis, the Crusades, Islam and how the story of Francis and al-Kamil offers us a Franciscan approach to the interfaith challenges we face today." - Murray Bodo, O.F.M., St. Anthony Messenger.

"...this is a wonderfully written, well researched and timely book. It will surely serve to bring the message of peace that is exhibited in the encounter between Francis and the Sultan to a world desperately in need of recalling such possibilities ... This is a book that belongs int he personal libraries of all Franciscans and all who strive to encounter the other in a loving, Christian and respectful manner." - Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M.

"Moses's realistic and powerful book gives readers an informed idea of how difficult it was to follow Francis in an age of papal power and the broad acceptance of violence." - Joseph Cunneen, History News Network

"An important book ... The Saint and the Sultan is fascinating reading that will change the reader's concept of who St. Francis of Assisi was ... It's sure to stir a lot of conversation in religious circles." - Ed Wilkinson, editor-in-chief of The Tablet

"Moses’ lively account of a little-known but significant chapter in the life of the popular saint of Assisi deserves a wide readership, resonating as it does with world events of our own time." - America Magazine

"Paul Moses' fascinating account of St. Francis of Assisi's meeting with Sultan Malik al-Kamil in the midst of the Fifth Crusade not only details the historical record, puts it into context, and tries to strip it of centuries of tendentious distortions, it also documents how its true significance has recently come to blossom and bear fruit in Christian-Muslim relations. In his thoroughly researched and engaging book Moses uncovers and retells the true story of the Christian saint's audience with the Muslim ruler. - Meinrad Scherer-Emunds, Executive Editor, U.S. Catholic

"The care and – there is no other word for it – love with which Moses has drawn the scene for us is really a prayer for ... peace." - Melinda Henneberger, editor-in-chief, PoliticsDaily

"The Saint and the Sultan is a provocative, in-depth examination of that little-known but powerful meeting between St. Francis and the 13th century Islamic leader Sultan Malik al-Kamil...Moses ... shows how the encounter between them is of great relevance to our divided world today." - Brooklyn Daily Eagle

"In this sprightly and smart book, Paul Moses rediscovers an ancient moment in time that, in his telling, has timeless resonance."
— Jon Meacham, Author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

"This brilliant retelling of a largely forgotten chapter in the life of the most beloved of saints comes just when we need it most. The Saint and the Sultan shows that faith leads to action, and that true holiness can lead to actions that provoke, astonish and even baffle the world."
— James Martin, Author of My Life with the Saints

"The Saint and the Sultan is a MUST read, supremely relevant today in relations between the Muslim world and the West . . . Paul Moses' outstanding and engaging portrayal offers a unique insight into Francis' overlooked counter-cultural role as a peacemaker during the Crusades for whom Christianity was a religion of peace not conflict."
— John L. Esposito, Georgetown University Professor of Religion & International Affairs, and author of What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam

"In The Saint and the Sultan Paul Moses delivers a fascinating lesson from a lost episode of history, and shows how critical it is to understanding today's global conflicts — and the possibility of peace through religious dialogue. In the process, he also delivers a terrific story about a Christian saint everyone thought they knew — Francis of Assisi — and a Muslim world that few realize existed."
— David Gibson, author of The Coming Catholic Church and The Rule of Benedict

"The Saint and the Sultan is an important and timely book. Paul Moses reminds us that the true agents of dialogue and constructive encounter must be courageous enough to talk as well as to listen, even opposing their own people, in the name of justice, dignity and love. Such religious voices are very much needed today, to help us follow the demanding path of peace while avoiding the traps of undignified wars."
— Tariq Ramadan, Oxford University Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies, and author of In the Footsteps of the Prophet 

"Paul Moses' fascinating book throws new light on St. Francis' exemplary ministry of reconciliation. In the midst of widespread ignorance and war the efforts of St. Francis to build trust and overcome mutual antipathy speak powerfully to us today, when misunderstanding and conflict between Christians and Muslims threaten all who share our planet."
— Charles Kimball, author of When Religion Becomes Evil

"The Saint and the Sultan sheds new light on spiritual vision' s power to transcend conflict. Through this book we learn not only about a remarkable set of events of medieval  history, but also a lesson in peace making that is of the greatest importance for both those Westerners and Muslims who seek to create better understanding of each other across religious and cultural frontiers rather than simply vilifying one another." 
— Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University, and author of The Heart of Islam

About the Author

Paul Moses, former Newsday city editor and senior religion writer, is a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He was the lead writer on a Newsday team that won the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Maureen.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving and Fascinating Oct. 26 2009
By R. J. Vezza - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book captivated my sense of history and spirituality. Mr. Moses writes clearly, concisely and puts into context the times and forces that created one of the most unique individuals of his age or any age where war and money drive people's behavior. Moses, in his preface, tells us that perhaps there are lessons for us to learn from this extraordinary man and his quest for peace. Today, as we wage two wars and focus on our economic well-being, Moses' book provides us with another perspective, another way for us to think and live. This is a must-read.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Side to an Amazing Saint Oct. 17 2009
By Leonard Walker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I visited Assisi while in Italy and found it a very moving experience. To see where St. Francis lived was incredible.Paul's book tells a story about St. Francis that I had never heard.He writes in a way that kept me fascinated throughout the entire book. Well done!
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale for our times Nov. 24 2009
By J. A. Donaghy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the midst of war, Francis goes unarmed to meet the enemy leader. In a time when Muslims were demonized, Francis has an extended dialogue with the Sultan. But the real story got lost in the midst of politics - the Crusades and heresy allegations. The author does a marvelous job of telling the real story and then showing how and why it was covered up. He also gives a sympathetic - yet realistic - portrait of the Sultan.

It gave me an ever greater appreciation of St. Francis and his call to peacemaking. Francis wasn't a plastic saint for birdbaths. He was a real live follower of Christ, not afraid to tell the Crusaders that their effort was in vain and open enough to meet the enemy. A true peacemaker.

It's a great book to help us get a better grasp of what Christian-Muslim relations could be.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Example of bad scholarship July 21 2012
By Bobby C Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The author explicitly states that he uses his "skills" as a journalist to ignore texts which disagree with his argument of st. Francis as a counter-cultural peacemaker opposing the crusades through non-violent actions. Paul Moses argues how unreliable a text like bonaventure's biography is when it is convenient to Moses's thesis and then quote Bonaventure's text when it is supportive. The fact is that st. Francis was not unique in preaching to Muslims during the crusades and it was seen by those who participated as a supplement to the crusades as well as having the potential benefit for the missionaries of obtaining martyrdom. The author demonstrates a major lack of knowledge about 13th century views on missions in order to understand the context of Francis's own mission properly. There is no evidence to indicate that Francis was opposed to the crusades. Read John v. Tolan's Saint Francis and the Sultan for a well researched analysis of this historical event by an actual expert in the history of medieval Christian-Muslim relations.
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb Account of Complex Figure Aug. 27 2014
By Mevashir - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is well written and interesting but I feel somewhat flawed by internal inconsistencies. The author is a Catholic who seems fettered by institutional loyalties.

I initially rated this as one star but reconsidered and changed it to four stars. The book is written very well and the story line is deeply engrossing. The problem I have is that the author seems oblivious to certain flaws in Francis' character that the book brings out very clearly.

So for example, while the author believes Francis renounced war and violence, he also shows that Francis always remained loyal to the Papacy even though the Popes of that time were calling for Crusades. The bloody battle he describes in Egypt during the 5th Crusade was actually supervised by a papal legate who was himself a Cardinal. Francis never severed ties with this institution, which confuses me as to the extent of his pacifism.

It seems to me after digesting all the evidence in this book that Francis played good cop to the bad cop of the Crusaders. He seemed genuinely to believe that God called him to a different path than a chivalrous knight, but he also had no qualms about his colleagues in the church continuing the pathway of holy war.

I also feel that Francis spoke disrespectfully to the Egyptian sultan. The gist of their encounter went like this: Francis said to the Sultan: "Your religion is false and illegitimate, so please convert to Christianity so it will go well for your soul in eternity. And incidentally if you don't convert the Crusaders will continue to assault your forces dealing out death and destruction to your realm."

I hardly think this constitutes the basis for the respectful kind of dialogue between Christians and Moslems that the author would like his book to encourage in the wake of the 9-11 terror attacks.

So if the reader is aware of these biases and shortcomings, s/he will find much valuable information in this book about Francis.

Here is my letter to the author:

Dear Prof. Moses,

Did you know that the Arabic word Sultan appears to derive from the Hebrew Shilton, meaning Empire, with Sholet meaning an Emperor or powerful ruler?

My question to you concerns Francis' path to peace and renouncing war. I feel that Francis was compromised in his integrity in renouncing war by his continuing loyalty to the Papacy. For example while Francis himself renounced war, he continued to support and curry favor with a Vatican hierarchy that did not hesitate to send troops out to Holy Warfare. How did Francis deal with this contradiction?

My impression from your fine book is that Francis simply became the Department of Peace in a Vatican establishment that continued to wield the sword. He seemed to have no qualms about working side by side with the Catholic warriors. Was Francis really so naive or did he perhaps suffer from a form of enduring mental illness and PTSD (as you call it) from his early combat experiences?

Francis' example rather reminds me of a woman who sets up a small office at a local brothel advocating chastity to the prostitutes who work there and the customers who come there, all the while being paid by that same brothel for putting on a veneer of respectability.

I realize that Francis accomplished a lot to renounce the path of war and to promote peace, but it seems to me that the foundation of his work was undermined by his dependency on and devotion to a Vatican that never renounced Holy War.

After I finished your book in the end I found it deeply disappointing. Francis seemed unable to make a genuine break with an institution committed to the concept of redemptive violence. I found his efforts less inspiring than simply window dressing for a failed institution.

Francis seemed to lack the courage of the later Protestant Reformers who would not make common cause with an institution they felt was fatally corrupt.

Of course, in the end Protestants proved no less attracted to "just war" and redemptive violence (with the rare exception of Amish Mennonites and Quakers).

I think you follow in Francis' footsteps in failing to recognize the evil underbelly of the host institution in which you live and function.

I speak specifically of 9-11, which you say motivated you to find a way to address grievances in a mutually respectful manner with the Moslems.

And while this is very admirable, and I commend you for it, the failure to recognize the contrived nature of the 9-11 terrorist attacks lies at the heart of this impasse. In short, our entire political system now rests on a horrendous edifice of lies. Please see this: Thirteenth Anniversary of the 9-11 Terrorist Charade.

And a structure of lies cannot possibly be the basis for mutually respectful accommodation and discussion.

Also I think that your book demonstrates that Francis approached Moslems with a deep lack of respect. He assumed they are in the wrong and have nothing to bring to the spiritual table. I was astounded that the Egyptian sultan would have tolerated his arrogant and insolent comments!

While I am deeply committed to the Gospel, I also do not hesitate to affirm the positive qualities I discern in Islam, for example modesty in dress, condemnation of alcoholism and drug abuse, piety and reverence for God, opposition to abortion and the teaching of evolution, commitment to a fair financial system by opposing usurious banking practices, cleanliness in food and drink and personal hygiene, etc.

I did not see in your book that Francis had anything positive to say about the Moslems. I would be grateful if you could comment.

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