One of my favorite stories about St. Francis of Assisi is his meeting with the Sultan of Egypt in the midst of the Fifth Crusade. Francis joined the Crusader army encamped at Damietta in 1219, eventually crossing the lines to meet the Sultan, Malik al-Kamil. The Sultan, recognizing Francis as a holy man, listened intently to Francis as he spoke of Christ. At the end of their conversation, the Sultan said to Francis, "Pray for me, that God may deign to reveal to me the law and the faith that is more pleasing to him."
The example of these two men sharing their faith together in a spirit of gentleness, openness, respect, and peace during wartime teaches me that religions don't wage wars; people do. In a time when too many people want to believe that there is a war between Christianity and Islam, we need to reject the message of war and learn from one another.
Following the example Saint Francis and Sultan Malik al-Kamil, here are three verses from the Qur'an that inspire me to be a person of compassion and mercy:
- “Be conscious of God.” (A verse repeated many times in Qur’an) I can think of no better definition of prayer: Prayer is the act of being conscious of God. We are called to do this in every moment of every day. The more we become conscious of God, the more we realize that God's love is not something we have to earn or the God is something to be feared. Rather, we come to see God as an intimate friend. And all people who love God--no matter what their religion--is my friend.
- “Everywhere you turn is the Face of Allah.” (Qur’an 2:115) This echoes the motto of the Jesuits, "Finding God in all things" and it paraphrases the insight of St. Bonaventure that everything bears the likeness of God. I often think of "sin" as our estrangement from God. But what this verse tells me is that such estrangement is a fiction. We are not estranged from God at all. Rather, we are so close to God that we can dare call God "Father," as Jesus taught.
- “O God, advance me in knowledge.” (Qur’an 20:114) I imagine that St. Anselm, whose motto was "Faith seeks understanding," must have prayed something very similar to this. Faith is never static. It is always challenging us to grow, to become holier, to become the people God imagines us to be (and who we truly are). This is the true meaning of conversion: to grow ever deeper in knowledge of God, which can only be done through the act of loving.
May we all be inspired by the Qur'an and our Muslim friends--especially during this holy month of Ramadn--to be conscious of God, find God in all things, and grow in knowledge of God through loving one another.
And I hope that all my Muslim brothers and sisters have a blessed and peaceful Ramadan!