In 1219, Saint Francis of Assisi risked his life and crossed Crusade lines to meet Egypt’s sultan. This remarkable story of two men of faith that occurred nearly 800 years ago is captured in the docudrama “The Sultan and the Saint,” which will be premiering nationwide on PBS Dec. 26.
Fr. Michael Calabria, O.F.M.,Ph.D., a Franciscan who was interviewed on camera for the film, said the story continues to have tremendous relevance in the contemporary world.
Fr. Michael, director of St. Bonaventure University’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, is among several scholars affiliated with the university who provided input on the film.
The film will air at 8 p.m. Dec. 26 for those whose PBS station is WNED/WBFO Buffalo-Toronto (check your local listings).
Told with cinematic-style re-enactments and interviews with renowned historians, art experts, religious thinkers, and brain scientists, the film centers on these two men who had an improbable meeting during a terrible period of religious conflict between their faiths, and discovered a way of finding peace between them.
During the height of the bloody Christian-Muslim conflict known as the Crusades, Saint Francis of Assisi risked his life by walking across enemy lines to meet the Muslim ruler al-Malik al-Kamil in Damietta, Egypt. This remarkable encounter, and the commitment to peace of the two men behind it, presented an alternative to the persistent call for war.
Last February, St. Bonaventure held a screening of “The Sultan and the Saint,” which was well received by the university and local Muslim community.
Fr. Michael says it is because of St. Francis’ encounter with the sultan that the Franciscan order has had an ongoing presence in the Holy Land.
“This is the real beginning of a consistent Franciscan presence in the Holy Land and a consistent Franciscan engagement with Islamic authorities there,” he said. Fr. Michael, who holds a doctorate in Islamic Studies, has studied, taught, lived, traveled and ministered in the Islamic world. Fr. Michael also serves as the Special Assistant for Dialogue with Islam for the Franciscan Order, and is currently involved in planning the commemoration of the historical encounter for 2019.
Several members of the Islamic Society of the Southern Tier visited campus recently to meet the university’s new president, Dr. Dennis R. DePerro, including Dr. Shazia Siddiqi, an Islamic Society member; Dr. Naheed Hilal, treasurer on the society’s executive board and chair of the Board of Trustees; and Dr. Adil Al-Humadi, Islamic Society president.
The society presented a $5,500 donation to SBU’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, while Al-Humadi presented $10,000, the final payment of a $50,000 pledge by his family to help establish the Dr. Adil and Jehan Al-Humadi Lecture Series in Arab and Islamic Studies. Inspired by the encounter between St. Francis and the Sultan, the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies was established at St. Bonaventure in 2015, and seeks to promote an understanding of Arab and Islamic cultures, an appreciation of both their historical and contemporary significance in the global community, and respectful relations between Muslim and Christian people.
Check local listings for “The Sultan and the Saint” at www.pbs.org/show/sultan-and-saint/.
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, we believe in the goodness of every person and in the ability of every person to do extraordinary things. St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. Named the #5 best college value in the North by U.S. News and World Report, we are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition.
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