By Elena Dini
ROME— This past year in Catholic-Muslim dialogue has been very much focused on the encounter between St Francis and the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil. The celebration of the 800th anniversary of such an event has inspired many meetings and talks. Last month, Aljaž Krajnc, a resident scholar at The Lay Centre and a student at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, was invited to Ljubljana to speak at the “International Scientific Conference on the Dialogue between Christians and Muslims at the 800th anniversary of the Meeting between Saint Francis of Assisi and the Sultan al-Kamil in Egypt.” The event was organized by the Slovenian Franciscan province and the Faculty of Theology (University of Ljubljana). Krajnc’s talk was on the role of al-Malik al-Kamil in the history of Islam and, more specifically, on the concept of “sultan.”
In anticipation of Father Jason Welle’s lecture November 12 on “Fraternity Beyond Frontiers,” we asked Krajnc to share some curiosities about the figure of al-Malik al-Kamil.
Did you know that al-Malik al-Kamil became a sultan just a year before meeting St Francis?
Al-Malik al-Kamil was born in the reigning family of the Ayyabid dynasty. The founder of the dynasty was Salah al-Din b. Ayyub. Ayyubid, in the West better known as Saladin. Al-Malik al-Kamil was for a long time a deputy of his father and the Ayyabid sultan Malik al-?Adil for Egypt. Two things happened in the year 1218: The Franks arrived on the shores of Egypt; and al-Malik al-?Adil died. Al-Malik al-Kamil, who was not without any political experience, became the new sultan. Due to a dynastic nature of the Ayyubid dynasty, al-Kamil had to pay attention to political appetites of other members of his family. When he met Francis in 1219, he had a lot of things on his mind!
Did you know that for the Ayyubid sultan al-Malik al-Kamil living with the Christians was part of the “everyday life”?
Al-Malik al-Kamil lived in Egypt for a great part of his life. Even though Islam had been present for 600 years, a part of the population remained Christian.In fact, Egypt became a Muslim-majority area only approximately in the 10th century. Up until then, the majority had been Christian. The most widespread Christian domination in Egypt in the times of al-Malik al-Kamil was the Coptic Orthodox Church, and this is true for today as well. That means that al-Malik al-Kamil, as the ruler of Egypt, knew Christians and their habits quite well.
Did you know, that al-Malik al-Kamil supposedly had a written correspondence in Arabic with the Sicilian king and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire Frederick II?
Al-Malik al-Kamil had in his court a very competent diplomat Fahr al-Din b. al-Sayh. Through this diplomat, he got in touch with Frederick II. The Emperor spent his youth in Sicily, where at that time the Arabic culture was very much present. For that reason, Frederick supposedly read and spoke Arabic perfectly. Some historians even claim, that Sicily was at that time the centre of Arabic science. Frederick II was very curious about the Arabic world and civilization and he gained a solid knowledge of the Arabic-speaking world and culture. There are reports, that he even had a written correspondence with al-Malik al-Kamil, where they discussed not only current events, but even philosophy. Later on, in 1228, they made a treaty with which Christians gained a corridor access to Jerusalem and the city itself, except for the Temple Mount.