St. Francis preaches to the Muslim leader, Sultan Al-Kamil in 1219, during the Fifth Crusade. An excerpt from my book St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims, TAN Books, 2007, pp. 68-69.
Al-Kamil made another attempt to test St. Francis, this time in the matter of the Gospel teachings of Christ. This incident shows that he had some familiarity with Christian doctrine, perhaps based on what had already been preached to him by Francis. The sheik confronted the friar with the words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recounted in the Gospel of St. Matthew:
"But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other: And if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him." (Matthew 5: 39-40.)
The sultan asked Francis why, in the light of this teaching of Jesus, should Crusaders be invading the lands of the Muslims? Since the passage teaches “turning the other cheek” and repaying evil with good, the sultan was contending that there was no justification for the Crusader invasions, even though he knew that the Muslims had taken the land by force from the Christians centuries earlier.
Once again the response of Francis surprised al-Kamil. He declared that the sultan had not completely studied the Gospel, and pointed out to the king the words Jesus had spoken earlier in the same discourse:
"And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell. And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell." (Matthew 5: 29-30.)
Francis then proceeded to impart a distinctive interpretation to these lines, by referring them to those who attempt to turn Christians away from their faith and love of God. The sultan was as dear to him as his own eye, he admitted to the potentate (11). But someone very close to us who draws us away from our religion, even if he were the “ . . . apple of our eye, must be repulsed, pulled out, expelled . . . ” so that our faith and salvation would be secure. For this reason, “ . . . it is just that Christians invade the land you inhabit . . .” since the Muslims seek to draw everyone to their own religion, and away from the worship of Christ, and blaspheme his name (12). On the other hand, he continued, if the sultan and his people ‘ . . . were to recognize, confess, and adore the Creator and Redeemer . . .” they would be beloved by all of Christendom. When Francis had finished addressing the sultan, “All the spectators were in admiration at his answers.” (13)
11. Little Flowers, Chapter 24; p. 1354 Omnibus.
12. Legend of Perugia, no. 37; p. 1015 Omnibus.
13. St. Bonaventure, Major Life, Chapter 5, no. 8; p. 668 Omnibus.
Painting by Fra Angelico.