Film: The Sultan and the Saint

  • Victor Edwin SJ

Recently, I watched the docudrama 'The Sultan and the Saint' at a screening organized at St Xavier's School in Delhi, by the Islamic Studies Association for Jesuits and their friends in the ministry of promoting interfaith relations. The film depicts one of the greatest stories from history. Set in a past period of East-West conflict, it speaks with urgency to our present. Two men of faith, one an itinerant Christian preacher, the other the ruler of a Muslim empire, both search for mutual respect and common ground.

In the movie what struck me most was the fiery rhetoric of the leaders of the Church during the Crusades, using terms like 'infidels', 'pagans' and 'nonbelievers' to demonize Muslims. This rhetoric drove those it instigated to take up arms to fight other people too: Jews and Eastern Christians. Such targeted violence against groups of people continues happen even today when political and religious leaders demonize them for political reasons!

In unexpected moments, Saint Francis received profound insights for his life. In reaching out to leprosy patients he learns that all human beings form one family. As a young man, Francis had abhorrence for victims of leprosy. God turns this repugnance into love for all and hatred for none. Instead of running away from leprosy patients, Francis now reaches out to them. He recognizes in their deformed bodies the body of Christ.

A second profound insight: while observing Muslim men and women praying, Francis comes to realize that all men and women are created by God and are called to worship God. In Egypt, while the Crusaders were preparing for a bloody conflict with the army of the Sultan, Francis takes the brave decision to meet the Sultan and engage with him with the love that the Gospel teaches. In the Sultan's camp, he recognizes that Sultan is a man of faith. In reaching out to the other he recognizes his own vocation: God calling him to be a peacemaker and bringing healing to the wounded of the world. While meeting Francis, the Sultan probably recognized in him an ascetic filled with divine love. Mutually transformed by love, they seek peace. Francis and the Sultan teach us that healing solutions to the ills of the world are found only when we cross borders with love, generosity, and respect.

Francis was transformed by his experiences in the Muslim camp, as was the Sultan through his meeting with Francis. The Sultan responded to the love of Francis with one of the greatest humanitarian acts in the history of warfare: by saving the Crusaders from starvation after the flooding of the Nile trapped their army of some 50,000. The Sultan's mercy extended even towards their horses, arranging for food for them.

The film features interviews with many renowned scholars, historians and religious leaders. In a telling comment, Islamic scholar Homayra Ziad remarks that differences must be harnessed together for a greater understanding of God and God's will for the world. The point is that we are dealing with the mystery of God, and not with our imaginations of God.

The Sultan and the Saint is a call to seek and find mutual respect and common ground in order to live in peace with difference.

Watch a trailer for the film here:
Read more about the film here:

Tags: The Sultan and the Saint, St Francis, Sultan, Victor Edwin SJ,

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