The Sultan and the Dilemma

As the minister of my local Secular Franciscan fraternity, I don’t make decisions in a vacuum, but there are decisions that I have to be the one to make.  When decisions are made, the good of the whole fraternity must be considered–it’s like being a parent in that way (except that in my fraternity, I’m actually the “baby” of the family!)

One of our members has brought up again and again that she wants to invite a Muslim to speak to our fraternity as part of our ongoing formation.  She has not really answered the question of what topic she would want a Muslim to speak about.  She has no particular Muslim in mind–she’s thinking of cold-calling a local mosque to invite someone.

I know that this member is concerned that all Muslims are being painted with a broad brush as a result of 9/11 and the War on Terror.  I know that she is convinced that, as Franciscans, we are to be peacemakers.  And I know that she is aware that St. Francis himself met with the Sultan during one of the Crusades.

But there are a few things that I don’t believe she knows.  When St. Francis met with the Sultan, he fully expected to become a martyr as a result of that meeting.  While he did not consider the Sultan his “enemy,” he had no illusions about what would probably happen to him–even though that did not turn out to be the case.  He was not insulting toward the Sultan’s faith, but neither did he pull any punches about his own faith and that he hoped to lead the Sultan to the right way to God.   He saw the Sultan as his brother, but he also saw an opportunity to attempt a conversion.

Someone once called me “practical,” which at times seems at odds with what it means to be a Franciscan.  St. Francis was, usually, anything but practical.  Yet I worry that this member’s proposal would not be for the good of the fraternity.  With no particular speaker or topic in mind, that opens the door to who-knows-what–IF she could even get someone to agree to attend the meeting.  And as no one in the fraternity has any relationships with any Muslims, we do not know if the random person she finds to ask is truly faithful to Muslim spirituality.

And, frankly, this might sound a little insular or provincial or whatever, but I believe that there is plenty for us to learn and discover and by which to be inspired right here within our own Faith.  We don’t need to look outside our own yard for more traditions, more rituals, more ways to prayer.  There’s plenty right here that we have yet to get to know.

This is going to come up again tomorrow at the meeting–I’d love to hear someone else’s thoughts!

5 thoughts on “The Sultan and the Dilemma

  1. I think you are exactly right. If she said, "My good friend and neighbor is a Muslim and I think it would be interesting to hear her perspective on xyz…" that would be one thing. But to just cast about for any Muslim to come and speak about a random topic is very dangerous. But not just Muslims; I think this is true for any speaker (even a Catholic one), but especially any non-Catholic. I used to warn good friends who leaned toward the Charismatic movement to avoid the Protestant literature that greatly abounded with this theme. Unless you are extremely well grounded in your faith, there is a risk of being led astray, down a path just a bit out of line with where we should be.

  2. I completely agree with what you said about making sure any speaker is qualified. And that's what I'm aiming for here. Yes, in a religious setting, "qualified" means "grounded in their faith." I would feel the same if she wanted to cold-call a synagogue or the Baptist church down the street (or the "meditation" center in the next zip code). If we are going to being in a guest speaker there should be a definite topic and a good reason why the person we ask is invited to address the group.

  3. Barb, I'm with you on this. It would be different if there is a distinct problem in the community you feel your Franciscan charism could address by inviting a person in to speak; building bridges, creating peace. But to randomly start inviting people in to talk neglects the growth of your own faith. I agree; plenty to explore within Catholicism!

  4. Personally I think you need to decide is this going to help my fraternity with ongoing formation? I just don't see how it would and where does it stop? Why just invite a Muslim, how about a satanist, or an atheist, or a Buddhist, or a Hindu, it doesn't matter who you invite they are not Christian, not Catholic, and not Franciscan, so I am not sure what the point would be. Stick to your guns Barb.

  5. How did it go, Barb? I definitely agree with those who say that we have plenty of Franciscan materials to use for ongoing formation. I don't know about your fraternity, but mine really needs more that is explicitly Franciscan. Other religions might something extra, but not really appropriate for the meat and potatoes, especially without a personal connection.

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