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Christians and Muslims in Colorado Springs seek peace amid conflict

By: Steve Rabey Religion Correspondent
September 24, 2017 Updated: September 28, 2017 at 3:20 pm
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Francis of Assisi, the Catholic saint and promoter of peace, was born in a time of war. The Crusades, which pitted Christians against Muslims, had started more than a century earlier.

Amidst these tensions, Francis journeyed in 1219 to visit Malik Al-Kamil, a Muslim ruler in Egypt who was respected as a godly man for providing food to defeated Christian Crusaders.

There's no record of what the two men talked about, though it has inspired many paintings, much commentary and some debate. Most scholars conclude Francis engaged in a combination of bridge-building and evangelism.

Now this encounter has inspired a film, "The Sultan and The Saint," that will be screened Oct. 2 at Colorado College. Among the sponsors are two Springs faith groups: the Sisters of St. Francis and the Islamic Society. The event is free but requires tickets, which are available online.

Local sisters enlisted Franciscan scholar Sister M. Anita Holzmer to discuss the film and its implications.

"In the last few decades, people have begun to understand that this story can tell us something about how we relate to people of other faith traditions," said Holzmer, of the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., where a February screening of the film attracted more than 500 people.

"The story is consistent with Francis's emphasis on living out the gospel, particularly Jesus' teaching on how to relate with God, and how to relate to each other as a result of that relationship with God."

Islamic Society spokesman Arshad Yousufi says the film offers a portrayal of Islam that's needed during the Christian-Muslim tensions of our day.

"For many, if not most Americans, the impression they have of Islam and Muslims is based on news in the media about the misdeeds of some Muslims and propaganda on the internet by extremists," said Yousufi.

"The significance of this film is that it provides a counterbalance. Sultan Kamil better represents Islam and Muslims than Al-Qaeda or ISIS. And the example of Francis of Assisi and Sultan Kamil talking during the Crusades challenges Muslims and Christians to have the courage to cross 'enemy lines' and be peacemakers through dialogue," Yousufi said.

The film is produced by Unity Productions Foundation, which works "to counter bigotry and create peace through the media." It has had 70 community screenings so far, with a dozen more scheduled.

Americans feel more negative about Muslims than about Buddhists, Hindus or atheists, shows a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center. And a 2016 Pew survey found that Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats to say Muslims encourage violence more than other believers.

Holzmer says Christians who talk with Muslims see things differently from those whose only knowledge of Islam comes from news and social media.

"People see that they're humans, too," she said. "Many are very religious persons, and there's a beauty about their faith and a dedication to God that we can learn from."

Holzmer, who taught a class on "Faiths in Dialogue," says interfaith discussions give people a chance to "share what you believe with someone else without having to give up what you believe. Dialogue can help you understand your own faith better."

Yousufi says interfaith connections can help promote the peace that St. Francis sought.

"Wars were - and are - being fought over worldly things," he said. "It is the spirituality of the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam that rises above the conflicts to bring peace and justice, if one has the courage to talk rather than fight."

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