Skip to content

Debate: St. Francis of Assisi and Islam

January 2, 2007

Thomas Cahill: St. Francis: the peaceful Crusader:

In Francis’ view, judgment was the exclusive province of the all-merciful God; it was none of a Christian’s concern. True Christians were to befriend all yet condemn no one. Give to others, and it shall be given to you, forgive and you shall be forgiven, was Francis’ constant preaching. “May the Lord give you peace” was the best greeting one could give to all one met. It compromised no one’s dignity and embraced every good; it was a blessing to be bestowed indiscriminately. Francis bestowed it on people named George and Jacques and on people named Osama and Saddam. Such an approach, in an age when the most visible signs of the Christian religion were the wars and atrocities of the red-crossed crusaders, was shockingly otherworldly and slyly effective.

Symbolic gesture, Francis’ natural language, was a profound source he called on throughout his life. In one of its most poignant expressions, Francis sailed across the Mediterranean to the Egyptian court of Al-Malik al-Kamil, nephew of the great Saladin who had defeated the forces of the hapless Third Crusade. Francis was admitted to the august presence of the sultan himself and spoke to him of Christ, who was, after all, Francis’ only subject.

Trying to proselytize a Muslim was cause for on-the-spot decapitation, but Kamil was a wise and moderate man, who was deeply impressed by Francis’ courage and sincerity and invited him to stay for a week of serious conversation. Francis, in turn, was deeply impressed by the religious devotion of the Muslims, especially by their five daily calls to prayer; it is quite possible that the thrice-daily recitation of the Angelus that became current in Europe after this visit was precipitated by the impression made on Francis by the call of the muezzin (just as the quintessential Catholic devotion of the rosary derives from Muslim prayer beads).*

It is a tragedy of history that Kamil and Francis were unable to talk longer, to coordinate their strengths and form an alliance. Had they been able to do so, the phrase “clash of civilizations” might be unknown to our world.


We stand in desperate need of contemporary figures like Kamil and Francis of Assisi to create an innovative dialogue.

John Vennari, from ‘The “Spirit of Assisi” vs. Saint Francis of Assisi’: **

Around 1219, after a General Chapter of the Order, Saint Francis decided to undertake a mission to the Muhammadans in Egypt, where also there was a Crusade being fought.

During this time, Francis stayed with the Christian army, and then crossed over to the Moslem lines. Once outside the Christian lines, he was seized by Moslem soldiers. Francis told the soldiers that he wanted to preach Christ to the Sultan, who allowed him into the camp.

When brought to the Sultan, Francis said, “I am sent by the Most High God, to show you and your people the way of salvation by announcing to you the truths of the Gospel.” And when Saint Francis preached, the Sultan felt himself very much drawn to Francis and to the power of his words. So much so, that he invited Francis to stay with him.

“Willingly,” Francis replied, “if you and your people will be converted to Christ.”

Francis then proposed his famous challenge. He said:

“If you yet waver between Christ and Mohammed, order a fire kindled and I will go into it with your priests that you may see which is the true Faith”

The Sultan was not willing to permit this trial by fire, so Francis requested permission to leave. And the Sultan gave orders that Francis be conducted back to his camp with courtesy.

While this was going on in Egypt, there were five firebrand Franciscan Friars kicking up so much dust in Muslim Morocco that all five of them would be put to death. Their names were Brothers Berardo, Ortho, Pietro, Accurso and Aduto.

First they went to Spain, to Moslem Seville. And because they tried to preach the Gospel there, they were scourged, imprisoned and expelled from that kingdom. Then they went over to Muslim Morocco in an attempt to convert the infidels. When they arrived, these Friars did more than just preach in the streets. They marched right into a mosque and denounced Mohammed from inside the mosque.

The Friars were seized, imprisoned and scourged, but that did not temper their zeal. While in prison, they tried repeatedly to convert the jailers.

The rulers of Morocco were trying to find a diplomatic way out of this, so they arranged that these imperious Friars be sent out of the country.

And how did the five Franciscans respond?

Father Cuthbert relates:

“But the five Friars knew nothing of diplomacy and had not the temper to live and let live. Mohammed was, in their eyes, the enemy of Christ, and the souls of this people were rightful spoils for their Divine Redeemer. To go back upon their mission would be a traitorous backsliding from their fealty to their Savior.”

At the first opportunity, these wiry Franciscans gave their jailkeepers the slip. Immediately, they returned to the city, and there they were again, in front of the mosque appealing to the infidels to renounce Mohammed and accept Christ.

They were seized, cast into jail and tortured. While they were on the rack, the jailers promised the Friars that their lives would be spared and they would be given gifts, if they would deny Christ and accept Mohammed.

The Friars responded by uttering the praises of Our Lord, and urged the torturers to renounce Mohammed and accept Jesus Christ.

The Muhammadans answered by beheading each Friar, and casting their bodies outside the walls to be the food of dogs. A Portuguese dignitary arranged a stealth operation to have their bodies rescued. They were taken to Portugal, and with great reverence they were laid in the Church of the Canons Regular (Augustinian) in Coimbra.

Among all the people who flocked to pray to and honor the martyred Franciscans, there was a young Augustinian Canon who was enraptured by the zeal and love of Christ that burned in these Friars. He sought out the local Franciscans and begged to be admitted to the Order.

That young Augustinian, who became Franciscan, is now known to us as Saint Anthony of Padua, the Miracle Worker, whom Catholics honor with the title the Hammer of Heretics.

And as for Saint Francis: What did he think of these five Friars who marched into a mosque and denounced Mohammed from within the Muslim’s own holy place? Who urged Moslems for their own salvation not to follow the false prophet, Mohammed? Did Saint Francis organize on the following March 12 a grand apology for the insensitivity of his friars for not understanding that the “Moslems, together with us, worship the same God”?

No! Francis cried out in a transport of gratitude to Heaven, “Now I can truly say I have five brothers.”

[JS comments…]
*Regarding the use of beads as a form of prayer, Thomas Cahill’s assertion that the “Catholic devotion of the rosary derives from Muslim prayer beads” is speculative at best (as is his comment regarding the Angelus and the Muslim call to prayer). Obviously the Marian devotion itself owes nothing to Islam.
Some commentators point out that Muslim prayer beads may derive from Buddhist or even Eastern Christian practice.
For a reliable assessment of the origin of the Rosary, see here and here. See also this article: St. Dominic and the Rosary.

**Footnotes provided in the original article by John Vennari

See also:
Zenit: St. Francis and Christian-Muslim Relations (Interview with Lawrence Cunningham)
Catholic Universe Bulletin: St. Francis and the sultan: Lessons for today
Athanasius Contra Mundum: St. Francis of Assisi

TAN Books: St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims


From → Debate

  1. Pete permalink

    You people are sick! Go back to Rome, you sedevacantist schismatics. St. Francis of Assisi wanted peace between Christians and Muslims!!

  2. DB Rho permalink

    Stunning argumentation Pete. No citations, no support, no developed argument. Just name calling and a brash statement. Bravo.

  3. saleek permalink

    A Letter to the Rulers of the nations

    “To all mayors and consuls, magistrates and rulers throughout the world, and to everyone who may receive these letters: Brother Francis, your little and despicable servant in the Lord God, sends [his] wishes of health and peace to all of you.
    Pause and reflect, for the day of death is approaching (cf. Gen 47:29). I beg you, therefore, with all possible respect, not to forget the Lord or turn away from His commandments by reason of the cares and preoccupations of this world, for all those who are oblivious of Him and turn away from His commands are cursed (cf. Ps 118:21) and will be totally forgotten by Him (Ez. 33:13). And when the day of death does come, everything which they think they have will be taken from them (cf. Lk 8:18). And the wiser and more powerful they may have been in this world, so much greater will be the punishments they will endure in hell (cf. Wis 6:7).
    Therefore, I firmly advise you, my lords, to put aside all care and preoccupation and receive with joy the most holy Body and the most holy Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in holy remembrance of Him.
    And you should manifest such honor to the Lord among the people entrusted to you that EVERY EVENING AN ANNOUNCEMENT BE MADE BY A TOWN CRIER OR SOME OTHER SIGNAL THAT PRAISE AND THANKS MAY BE GIVEN BY ALL PEOPLE TO THE ALL_POWERFULL LORD GOD. And if you do not do this, know that you must render an account before the Lord your God, Jesus Christ, on the day of judgment (cf. Mt. 12:36).
    Let those who keep this writing with them and observe it know that they will be blessed by the Lord God”

    (Francis & Claire, The Complete Works, pp. 77-78).

  4. James permalink

    Frontiers of Christianity were pushed 1400 years ago, these is no argument between Islam and Christianity, like there is no argument between Guidence and Misguidence! There is no fight between these two religion, war for Christianity was lost when Islam appeared, now only thing left is to apologetics! I have been Christian all my life, but I can’t find any thing in Christianity which has hold its position against Islam, no matter how you dress it!

  5. notitiae permalink

    This is a secret that involve Frate ELia the sultan and Federico II…
    Wondeer Saint Francis… thank for the post and you nice blog. I hope to link a good news by Saint Francis of Assisi. It’s in Italian words and video about his history and conversion in SPoleto … Goog vision Jacopo Here is the link:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: