By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — Religious sisters fostering active nonviolence are not immune to receiving hateful correspondence about the religion of Islam and its Muslim followers. That’s why the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton are investing funds in an educational movie aimed at inspiring interfaith understanding and dialogue.
“Even our most elderly sisters receive long letters in the mail from organizations and individuals who write many pages condemning Islam and spreading incorrect information, distrust and even hate,” said Sister Anne Martin Phelan, OSF, president of the Clinton Franciscans.
So when the sisters heard that a Muslim educational film company wanted to make a movie about the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Islamic leader Sultan Malik Al-Kamil, they decided to get involved and show support.
The film, “The Sultan and the Saint,” still in production, will feature the classic story of interfaith dialogue. During the fifth crusade, St. Francis denied the pope’s desire to go to war with the Muslims, instead seeking out the sultan in an attempt to foster peace and understanding.
Sr. Phelan said, “We Clinton Franciscans see this film project as an opportunity to teach the truths of peace and charity and understanding … all of these qualities are respected in both Christianity and in Islam.”
The sisters contacted Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) and offered a “sizable donation” for the movie, Sr. Phelan said. The producers, sharing the same desire for interfaith dialogue and understanding, were thrilled to have the sisters’ support.
“We were very excited and grateful when we learned of the generous support of the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton,” said Jawaad Abdul Rahman, development director for UPF. “We want the funding of the film to represent the goals of the film, Muslims and Christians coming together to share an amazing story of peace and mutual respect. For UPF, we produce films that are intended to be a catalyst toward a greater social good. In this case, we feel that the narrative that you sometimes hear that pits these two largest faith communities against each other is dangerous and wrong-headed. In the story of St. Francis and Sultan al Kamil, we hope to give voice to the billion-plus Muslims and Christians who want to live together peacefully, without changing their core beliefs or principles.”
Rahman met Sr. Phelan and Sister Marilyn Shea in September near Chicago. “Having now met some of the sisters in person, we feel we have kindred spirits and are excited about working with them,” he said.
UPF hopes to begin filming next year and release the film in late 2016 or early 2017. The sisters plan to use the film to facilitate discussions between Christians and Muslims. They also hope to bring the film to schools to help students develop an understanding of the importance of interfaith dialogue and understanding.
Sr. Shea said she has enjoyed the process of working with Rahman and other Muslims involved with the film. “When you get to know and touch people on a personal level, it is so much different than just reading about or talking about people. It makes me anxious to have the film come out.”