More than 500 Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths and no faith attended the Australian premiere of The Sultan and the Saint on 29 July 2017 at Western Sydney University’s Parramatta Campus. 

The Sultan and the Saint, a docudrama movie tells one of the great, lost stories from history, the meeting between St Francis of Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt, Malik Al-Kamil, in the midst of the conflict of the Fifth Crusade nearly 800 years ago.

A simple Christian friar and a mighty Muslim leader changed world history by going deeper into their faiths – beyond war and the angry rhetoric that some of their co-religionists were advocating – to find the central message of their religions: mercy, compassion and peace.

The retelling of the story of their encounter comes at a similar moment of fear, hatred and demonisation of the other prevalent today.

Journalist Hugh Riminton, MC for the premiere, with his extensive experience as a news reporter covering violent conflicts in various parts of the world, provided a personal insight into the importance of community relations and harmony.

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Uncle Greg Simms, a Gadigal elder welcomed the audience and talked about inclusiveness for all Australians and support for the Muslim community.

Uncle Greg Simms, Gadigal elder.

Professor Kevin Dunn named diverse organisations represented at this huge interfaith gathering welcoming them to Western Sydney University and warned against Islamophobia and racism, areas of his research.

A response after the screening of the film was offered by Dr Mehmet Ozalp and Br Matthew Beckmann OFM.

Dr Ozalp, Associate Professor of Islamic studies at Charles Sturt University commented on the dialogue encounter between Francis and Al-Malik, being the human touch that makes all the difference.

“The experience of dialogue reminds us of one’s humanity and deep commitment to God, especially those of us who are committed to peace. It is a transforming and enriching experience,” Dr Mehmet Ozalp said. “In the end, if we stand for religion, whether Christians or Muslims, we must see our religion as a way of transforming ourselves for the better.”

Br Matthew Beckmann OFM, Franciscan friar.

Br Matthew Beckmann OFM, a Franciscan friar who teaches in the areas of Systematic Theology and Church History said that the film shows two people who go out to meet each other.

“I don’t think that story works nearly as well unless you deal with two people who go out to meet each other, to actually look each other in the eye, to actually hear each other’s story, to listen with respect and to respond,” Br Matthew Beckman said.

A vote of thanks was given by Rev Dr Patrick McInerney SSC, Director of the Columban Mission Institute and Coordinator of its Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations.

Rev Dr Patrick McInerney SSC, from the Columban Mission Institute.

“I thank everyone present, leaders and members of religious, civic and interfaith organisations, who attended this Australian premiere. You came here perhaps out of curiosity, out of interest, perhaps sceptical about Christian-Muslim relations, seeking inspiration, seeking hope for a better, more peaceful world. Whatever your motivation for coming, I hope you leave charged with responsibility to promote peace among the members of our respective religions,” Dr McInerney said.

After the screening, the interfaith audience had an opportunity to mix with one another while enjoying a lavish spread of multicultural food.

Professor Kevin Dunn from Western Sydney University.

The responses to the film included:

“The film showed there can be a strong relationship provided there is a great belief in faith and a love of God and respect for all religions.”

“People of love move beyond labels of Christian and Muslim to know each other as children

Dr Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor at Charles Sturt University.

of God.”

“Differences between people/communities should be celebrated, not dividing. Interfaith dialogue is important for the enrichment of society and self.”

“Face to face meeting and dialogue bring about human understanding thus removing stereotypes.”

“The gesture of the Sultan while in times of war to provide food to the starving enemy rather than killing them is a great example of compassion.”

The screening was co-hosted by Affinity Intercultural Foundation, Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay, Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, Diocese of Parramatta, Franciscan Provincial Office Australia, Islamic Sciences and Research Academy (ISRA), Uniting Church in Australia, and Western Sydney University.

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