“The Sultan and the Saint”

 

Review  by Donna Hollis, OFS

 

The docudrama, “The Sultan and the Saint”, is about Muslim and Christian Peacemaking.

The film was presented at Holy Family Catholic Church, Albuquerque, NM April 20th, 2017,

 sponsored by the Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the New Mexico Islamic community who were in attendance.

This film shown in Albuquerque is 1 of 50 premieres showing across the Country.

“The Sultan and the Saint” will be aired on PBS, December 18th, 2017

 

Introduction of the docudrama was presented by several leaders.  Fr. Jack Clark Robinson, OFM, Provincial, introduced the event and welcomed all people in attendance.  He went on to share that God of all mankind has many names and ways of praying and honoring Him. Creation is the footprint of God the most High and the first gift to all humans to be shared by All.  We are intertwined with all creation, rooted in the earth that raise our hearts and minds to the Heavens.  We share Mother Earth and the Sacred Space; this is our Home.   

 The Producer of the film, Michael Wolfe, was introduced. He shared about the ‘Unity Production Foundation’ (UPF). The documentary was made to enhance discussions between the isles of different Faiths and listen to one another (Muslim and Christian communities)

In the intro clip it begins with a story, the props, costumes, sets and story lines.  The two stories of both the Sultan and St. Francis goes outside each of their faith traditions familiarity in order to bring Peace among each other.  Both of their lives intertwine within the time of their own Faith journey.

 

Awards were given out:  The Peace award was given to Arch Bishop John Weston in Albuquerque not in attendance.

The Islamic Community Award was given to the leader of the Islamic Center based in Albuquerque.  He shares the same vision of building bridges and finding common ground among our beliefs.  

 

This docudrama is about Peace in a war torn Country, much like todays unrest in our own time. Intermittent interviews flow throughout the film.

 The film has two lessons:

  1. History lesson – the Crusades fighting for authority and power. Christians versus Muslims wanting to rule Persia. The first part of the film shows the foundation and reason for so much unrest which brings about the fighting for control and power both from the stand points of the Church and Muslim rule.
  2. Courage Lesson – The two biographies of St. Francis and the Sultan were woven together to show the courage each faced toward one another. Their differences taught them to be against each other. The only way they could understand each other was to Listen and be open to each other; learning from each other.

(Human beings drive war) 

It is a story for our times of Peace in a time of turmoil!

 

The Movie begins with the height of the Crusades in 1220, Christians and Muslims defy the act of time.  People respond by dehumanizing each other, killing, damming, inflicting evil on one another.   What was the life of the Sultan and St. Francis about? They were each going through their own transformation during this time and were both becoming better than what they saw in war through prayer in their own way.  Lepers were abolished in the time of St. Francis yet he realized they were suffering human beings and he began to reach out to them. Francis preached a message of Peace through his example.  Francis by this time had dropped out of the violence and war of the Crusades.  Francis knew we were created for a better purpose; to become peace makers.  The Medieval Church called for a powerful struggle in the war of taking and killing others , killing all that would not bend the knee to them and their Church. The one true Church was all about control.

Francis and the Sultan both begin to value opposing direction of their traditions and times and behavior.  They both wanted to promote Peace which was embraced in their prayer; the true core of their faiths.   They have to face off those that do not value their understanding; rejected by the norm of their day in beliefs and values. They both saw the trauma of war and death by killing another which re-enforce power over another.  The offering of Peace as a option was seen as weakness. Francis believed that only when we see Christ in one another there can be peace among us.  Francis reached out to the Church and Crusade leaders but was not listened to, they wanted power and control not peace as Francis lived it.  On his way to reach out to the Sultan in peace he was met with criticism by the Crusaders and lack of trust from the Muslims until they realized he was not a warrior.   The Sultan was open to listening to this man of Peace and a dialogue developed. There was a source of peace that grew among the two of them. Francis watched the Muslims pray five times a day. He came to the insight that Prayer is of the essence of preaching and becomes prayer itself. The Sultan and Francis came to respect and understand one another not as enemies but as brothers. 

In giving up the rhetoric of war, peace sets in, bridges can be mended. Francis and the Sultan had to change their way of thinking and judging.   Just because they had differences didn’t mean they had to win each other over but they learned to respect and accept each other for who they are and befriend each other.  Lesson learned – We can live in peace if we allow ourselves to be equal to those we fear or don’t understand ; no one is better than the other. 

Staying true to their beliefs and prayer to God, Allah; Francis and the Sultan had a faith exchange and how God had led them to where they are, allowing God to be God in both perspectives.    The Sultan saw Allah as Merciful with kindness and compassion and forgiveness, 99 names of Allah embody Allah and who he is. To be self transformed  is an act of Humanity.    Francis and the Sultan’s Meeting and life ended in peace and prayer; showing God’s mercy and compassion.      Transcending differences brought about peace.

   If we want peace in the world then we need to exude peace. We are all made different and have different ways to worship God/Allah and call on Him. 

 A reception was followed after the movie in the Parish hall.  Attendees were invited to witness our Muslim Brothers and Sisters as they participated in their fourth prayer of the day facing East. 

 The purpose of the reception was to dialogue with one another and share our faith and understanding/acceptance of each other.  I  entered into conversations with the Islamic women. They shared their stories, where they came from, Jordan, Israel, Persia and how they came to the US to be with their husbands who had come before them to prepare a home for their families.  The Muslims have close knit communities with one another; they are all as one family. 

As we sat down to eat the food their community prepared we shared further about our Culture, beliefs and where they are at now with the community.  They were a delight to talk with. Some of the ladies are converts to Islam and shared their stories as well.  I found the women very open and hospitable.  They invited us to come and pray with them at their Mosque anytime.  The women handed out brochures about Islam which explains their faith in detail.  It is a way to explore more about who they are and what their faith represents. 

 I spoke with Producer Michael Wolfe at the reception. He shared how and why he converted to Islam.  He has written many books on the ‘Haag’, their place of worship.  Michael did not know the story about the Sultan meeting St. Francis until he was at a Retreat Center on retreat and met a Franciscan Friar who shared with him about the chance meeting of the Sultan and St. Francis.  At that time Michael began to explore the life of St. Francis and was deeply impressed.  He asked his Co Producer if they could make this event into a movie/documentary.   Michael is a writer and began to write the script for the documentary. Michael comes across as a very humble, devoted man of deep faith.

He desires and seeks ways to bring Peaceful dialogue with all faiths and not allow society to dictate how we should act.  

 I came home full of hope that we can cross boundaries of different Faiths and find common ground on which to build dialogue and lasting friendships.  With openness and respect towards one another we can build bridges and see the many faces of God/Allah who lives in us all.  He has many names and we have many ways of praying to Him.

Author: Mike Carsten OFS

Member of the Secular Franciscan Order; National Fraternity (NAFRA) Ecumenical and Interfaith Chair Minister, Troubadours of St. Clare Fraternity; President, Franciscan Ministries Inc., Serving the poor in Southeast Michigan;

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