St. Francis and his followers had the inspiration to go among the Muslims as peacemakers in a nonviolent way and in a spirit of true brotherhood. This was a courageous decision by Francis and the early friars, as this stance was apposed to the ecclesiastical and social policy of the Church at that time.
Although thwarted by ill-health, Francis reached Syria at a time of great conflict between Islam and Christendom (5th Crusade). On his way Francis had a remarkable experience with the Sultan of Egypt, Malek-al-Kamil, a nephew of Saladin the Great. During their stay together, Francis and the Sultan became close friends.
For Francis and his followers, the Crusaders belief in God was fundamentally different from and even opposed to the God that they believed in from their reading of the Gospel. Ever since then, there have been emotional ties between many Franciscans and many Muslims.
Because of this historical relation with Islam, the Capuchin Centre for Peace and Conflict Transformation believes it is in a good position to engage in dialogue with Islam.
Francis did not want to fight against (contra) the Muslims, but to go among (inter) them, sharing life and work with them in order to establish peace. Francis rejected war and the use of violence and was intent on pursuing a brotherly presence and solidarity with all as a condition of peace.
Over and against the social thesis of war and violence that the Crusaders espoused, Francis placed his antithesis of peace and nonviolence. He was inspired to greet everyone with the words:
‘May the Lord give you his Peace’.
Franciscans are aware that when the Crusaders in the 13th century were setting out, in the name of God and of Jesus Christ, and in obedience to pope and king to subdue the Muslims, that Francis asked the brothers to do exactly the opposite.
Francis asked the brothers who wanted to go Africa for God’s sake not to engage in arguments or disputes with Muslims, but to serve them while sharing their life, work and table unto peace.
Today, the Capuchin Franciscan organizers of the Damietta Peace Initiative seek to retain sensitivity to the myths and symbols in which the people of Islam possess when they try to give expression to their deepest experiences of God. The Qur’an and the Sacred Scriptures are replete with calls to peace and submission to God.
At the same time, they are aware that both Christianity and Islam have so often had recourse to violence, even if both claim to be religions of peace.
In this time of trial for the great majority of Muslims in Africa – partly because of atrocities being carried out in their name by radicals – the Damietta Peace Initiative believes now is the right moment to reach out to Muslims with warm hands of friendship. To show reverence to the active Presence of God in the world, and with them, to cooperate in promoting a ‘dialogue of life’, in a nonviolent manner, for the establishment of the peace of God’s Kingdom.
For further reading please download The Damietta Peace Initiative Resume in PDF format below.