The Sultan and The Saint

I saw the ad on PBS. It starts Tuesday evening. ABout St Francis and the sultan. I am not sure how it wil be but I will be watching.

Very good watching.

It will be interesting to see how they show the Muslim’s advance through North Africa decimating Christian communities… oh wait… I bet they won’t show that at all.


Since the description is about the encounter between St Francis and the Sultan, I suspect a lot of background that isn’t germane to that encounter will not be a part of the program, nor would I expect it.

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I thought it would be a dramatic series. But it was a docudrama. Still, pretty good. I knew one of the commentators and trust his comments. It helped put the later writings of St Francis in context. St Francis, i love him. I was once an OFM many years ago. What a wonderful 6 or 7 years. But God had other plans for me. I do wish we could provide more religious life experience for more young people.

I watched about half an hour and had to turn it off. Went exactly like I thought it would. Pope shown as ugly fat man only interested in taking over the Greek Orthodox and gaining territory. But the sultan was young and handsome and well educated…

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Well the sultan was about 17 years younger.

I watched it all last night and took notes.

First, Alex Kronemer is the exec. producer. He has produced 9 movies on Islam, most of which have been shown on PBS (Spain, Islamic art, Muhammad, etc.). I can’t find out much about him, other than he has an MA in comparative religion from Harvard and he did a lot of work for the federal gov. in various positions. His wife has a Muslim-sounding name. Is he a convert to Islam? I don’t know. In any case, his movies are always very sympathetic to Islam.

If you looked at the sponsors / supporters of the movie at the beginning, other than the Sisters of St. Francis in Iowa (!), they are all Muslims. PBS tacked on a note at the end of the list saying a complete list of sponsors was online at, but I couldn’t find it. But clearly this movie (and others by Kronemer) are very sympathetic to Islam, and show it in the best possible light. In other words, propaganda. There is no attempt to be even handed or objective. But of course that’s how it is presented: an accurate, objective presentation of the “facts.”

Is the movie “wrong”? Well, other than pretending a beach in Maryland is a beach in Egypt, no. But the sins of omission are many!

First, the title. They flipped it. The book by Paul Moses (who is one of the commentators) is “The Saint and the Sultan.” The movie is “The Sultan and the Saint.” Subtle, but it shows where it’s coming from.

We begin with Alexius, the Byzantine emperor, writing to the pope asking for mercenaries. No background is given at all. The impression is given that the Pope (who says “my armies” --hardly) began the Crusades as an imperialist venture. Nothing about the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1009 by Sultan al-Hakim of Egypt; nothing about the interruption of the pilgrim routes; nothing about the Battle of Mantzikert in 1071 where the Saljuq Turks defeated a Byzantine army. All that is omitted. And of course the Byzantines had Western mercenaries in their service for a long time–this was not an innovation.

Then we have the Crusaders vs. Muslims story line. But of course (!) it omitted the fact that the Crusaders in the 5th Crusade had made an alliance with the Turks to occupy al-Malik al-Kamil’s brother in N. Syria. So you have Muslim Turks allied with Christian Crusaders. The Christian / Muslim divide isn’t quite so clear now, is it?

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part 2–

Then the population of Egypt is completely ignored. Most scholars think that at the beginning of the Crusades, Egypt was still a Christian country. Muslims were a minority. It’s only during the Crusades (particularly after the Crusaders burned Old Cairo (Fustat) in 1171) that the Christians began to convert to Islam in great numbers, not for religious reasons, but because they were seen as fifth columnists who would support the Crusaders given the chance. By the 5th Crusade, a large number of Egyptians were still Christian. The business about al-Kamil ruling in favor of the Christians against Muslims who wanted to tear down a church needs to be seen in this light. And even in Egypt today, Christians need a gov. permit to even repair a church, let alone build a new one.

There is some nonsense scattered throughout about “conflict” and the brain, etc. which seems to be there simply to emphasize the violence of the Crusaders vs. the peace-loving Muslims.

al-Malik al-Kamil. Poor Jeremy Irons spent the entire movie pronouncing the name as “Camille.” Why didn’t someone help him out??? It’s pronounced with the stress on the 1st syllable and the final ‘L’ as a “light” l . And al-Kamil, contrary to the impression in the movie, wasn’t the sultan at the beginning of the 5th Crusade. His father was. Al-Kamil came to power in Egypt only. Another brother got Palestine and southern Syria. A 3rd brother got N. Syria and what are now parts of Turkey and Iraq. Al-Kamil didn’t come to power smoothly–there was an attempted coup by a Kurdish regiment. (Al-Kamil and his family were all Kurds.) After the Crusade was over, there was conflict among the brothers, and the Ayyubid dynasty basically dissolved into family quarrels.

Massacre of the Jews in the Rhineland during the 1st Crusade. Yes, it happened. But the movie neglected to say that the Papal representative and the Church generally tried to stop it. And needless to say, there was not a peep about the massacre of the Jews in Granada in 1066—a massacre by the Muslims that most scholars think killed more Jews than the Crusaders did. Note that it was only about 30 years earlier.

At one point the young al-Kamil is reciting the verse about “no compulsion in religion.” Very true. But an objective presentation would have mentioned the imposition of the jizya tax on non-Muslims and the “Pact of 'Umar,” a very discriminatory set of rules for non-Muslims (they couldn’t ride horses, had to dress a certain way, had to make way for Muslims in the street, etc. etc.). Contrast that with a comment later in the movie: “Muslims were considered beasts” by the Crusaders. Not sure where that comes from–I’ve never come across it! And the idea that if only the Crusaders met “real” Muslims all would be well is just silly; Crusaders had been in Palestine well over a century by the time of the 5th Crusade. They had adopted many ideas from the Arabs and had lived with the Arabs.

At one point the movie talks about the “vengeful God” of the Christians. No balance; no other point of view mentioned.

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part 3–

Michael Calabria is the featured commentator, although there are others. From what I can find, he is a Franciscan friar and professor at Bonaventure U. He studied Egyptology. After he became a friar, he seems to have switched fields and now writes about Islam and Christianity (thus his presence in this movie). However, as a long-time student of the Crusades, I have never run across him or any of his work.

The movie portrays Francis as visiting the sultan’s camp to convert the sultan and / or his army. In the 13th century, Christians had the notion that they could make headway by converting Muslims, esp. their rulers. One of the reasons Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa was as a tool to convert Muslim rulers in N. Africa. So the notion is not new or unique to Francis–he was simply one of many with that notion.

And the sultan allowing Francis to address his court is a common theme among Muslim rulers. This was not unique, it is mentioned often. But of course the idea was that the Muslim rebuttal of the ignorant Christian would show how great Islam was; it wasn’t simply a gesture of ecumenicism or toleration.

The similarities of the Fatiha and the Our Father have been remarked on before. As have the similarities of the 99 names of God vs. a litany of the aspects of God in Christianity.

The movie ends with the idea that the Crusades ended because the idea of a “loving God” replaced the idea of a “vengeful God” in Christianity. Nonsense. The final wish that “the road to peace runs through humanity that we all share,” is a pious hope we can all agree on.


this was actually presented in the film as an across Europe massacre. I believe the narrator actually says that as the Crusaders began to move through Europe in an answer to the Pope’s request they used the opportunity to attack Jewish communities on the way.

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