Tuesday, 08 August 2017

A Message of Peace

A film depicting how St Francis of Assisi met with the Sultan of Egypt at the height of the crusades highlights how interfaith encounters might lead to peace and understanding today.

About 500 people of different faiths attended the premiere of the docudrama The Sultan and the Saint at Western Sydney University’s Parramatta South Campus on 29 July.

The Sultan and the Saint tells one of the great, little-known stories from history which took place nearly 800 years ago.  

At Damietta in Egypt, in the midst of intense fighting in the Fifth Crusade, St Francis and his companion crossed no man’s land between the opposing Christian and Muslim armies to meet with the Sultan of Egypt, Malik Al-Kamil.

Over the course of some days, the two leaders went beyond war and the angry rhetoric that some of their co-religionists were advocating to find the central message of their religions: mercy, compassion and peace.

The retelling of the story points towards how people of faith might respond to division, fear, and disunity in the world today.

At the premiere a response to the film was offered by Associate Professor Mehmet Ozalp, Director of the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation at Charles Sturt University and Franciscan Friar Br Matthew Beckmann OFM.

A/Prof Ozalp said in the meeting between Francis and Al-Malik, it is the human touch that makes all the difference.

“The experience of dialogue reminds us of one’s humanity and deep commitment to God, especially those of us who are committed to peace. It is a transforming and enriching experience,” A/Prof Ozalp said.

“In the end, if we stand for religion, whether Christians or Muslims, we must see our religion as a way of transforming ourselves for the better.”

Br Beckmann highlighted the importance of the encounter between two people. “I don’t think that story works nearly as well unless you deal with two people who go out to meet each other, to actually look each other in the eye, to actually hear each other’s story, to listen with respect and to respond.

“This is something we are very bad at doing in our modern society, we are fearful of doing it. But the possibilities that spring from that encounter between the two is really worthwhile.”

Uniting Church Minister Rev. Dr Manas Ghosh from Parramatta Mission said the mingling and shared friendship between people at the end of the screening reflected the spirit of the film.

“In this day and age where there is so much tension between religions in general, and between Christians and Muslims in particular, the movie sent a message of the importance of dialogue and learning from one another,” said Rev. Dr Ghosh, an advocate of interfaith dialogue.

“It highlighted wonderful spiritual values and practices, prayer, hospitality, kindness and generosity.”

The new docudrama was made by Unity Productions Foundation in the USA. While not yet available for public release, the film’s website has short videos on some of the key themes and issues raised, such as the understanding of Jesus in Islam.

The screening was co-hosted by Affinity Intercultural Foundation, Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay, Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, Diocese of Parramatta, Franciscan Provincial Office Australia, Islamic Sciences and Research Academy (ISRA), Western Sydney University and the Uniting Church in Australia.

The Uniting Church is committed to working alongside other faiths to promoting a better understanding of different religions and encourages friendship with other faiths.

Photo credit: #SultanSaintSydney

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