David Leipert, Huffington Post, Mar.14
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio‘s decision to choose the name of Francis as pope has profound significance to Muslims regarding Muslim/Christian relations. The Christian Saint Francis of Assisi — for whom he has chosen to be named for the rest of his life — is remembered by Muslims who know their history as a holy man, perhaps the only one (since Jesus) so recognized by Christians and Muslims alike.
In fact, as much as Muslims have saints in the first place, Saint Francis could be considered one of our saints too.
Raised in privilege and renouncing that privilege for the sake of justice, fidelity to God’s revelations and God and God’s creation — to the harsh criticism of friend and family alike — St. Francis’ early life path is achingly close to that of Muhammad. And the events of his later life, particularly his three-week dialogue with Sheikh al-Malik al-Kamel the Sultan of Egypt, had a profound affect on Francis, the Sultan and the Christians and Muslims living then that are still being felt today. That should bring hope to us all.
Surprisingly, little is know about what actually happened when they talked to each other: everything written was written long after the fact, and carries the obvious imprint of whatever philosophical “spin” was popular at the time. However, the influence of that meeting on those two men was both profound and significant, for St. Francis perhaps as significant as his first embrace of the lepers of Assisi that led him to recognize their equality in the eyes of God. Because Francis went to Egypt expecting to find martyrdom, and evil men who needed to be converted to Christians in order to be saved from hell-fire. But he left respectful of Muslims to the point that he encouraged Christians to emulate them in prayer and prostration, and to join Muslims — and others — in service to all despite their different religions, and he specifically told his followers not to try and convert them.
Having seen Muslim prayers while in Egypt he declared for his followers: “You should manifest such honour 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-powerful Lord God.”