Early Connections Between Franciscans and Muslims
Nine hundred years of history connect Francis of Assisi and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia with our ongoing relationship with the Zubaida mosque in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
In the midst of a continuous crusader war to recover lands from the Muslims, St. Francis and another Franciscan brother visited Sultan Malik al Kamil. This visit—an example of outreach to the “other”—paved the way for another approach for Catholic/Muslim interaction. While no formal records remain of the meeting, there will be formal agreements that will emerge with Franciscans and Muslims in the 1500s. After a number of wars, the Ottoman peoples who had control of the area, including Jerusalem, asked the Franciscan priests to be responsible for protection of the holy places of Christianity, a request to which they agreed. This situation continued with the creation of Israel in the 1940s with legal transfer of lands for protection again asked of the Franciscans.
Connection Between Our Congregation and the Muslim Community
In light of these centuries of respect and dialogue among Muslims and Franciscans, our congregation’s Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee (JPIC), initiated the idea to establish an ongoing dialogue with a mosque within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In 2012, through the outreach of one of our Companions in Mission, a two-hour discussion began with Iman J. Chebeli of the Zubaida mosque in Yardley. The sisters and companions who attended were invited to sit behind the men at prayer to have an introduction to the prayers. As is the custom among Muslims, women and men pray in separate areas when praying at the mosque. After two presentations on the basics of Islam as well as an overview of women and Islam, we were overwhelmed with an invitation to dinner. Thus began an ongoing dialogue on topics like immigration, the overview of Christianity, and the Franciscan understanding of the 1219 meeting where we used the expertise of congregational members Sr. Anne Amati and Sr. Patricia Hutchison.
What is the Zubaida Foundation?
Zubaida Foundation was created in 2005 to provide “congregational prayer, educational programs for all ages, social activities, interfaith dialogues, and peace efforts of all faith in conformity with the teachings of Islam”.
Ongoing Relationships with Zubaida Foundation
We were invited to dinners with the EID FIR (which celebrates the end of Ramadan by “breaking the fast” at sunset) and the EID AD ADHA (the Feast of Sacrifice and the most important religious holiday for our Muslim friends). At these events which are celebrated with a number of mosques, we have been warmly received and have had the opportunity to meet and know family members. One of the recent highlights was being invited to a wedding at the mosque where a warm sense of hospitality was extended. We were especially touched because this was the daughter of the respected Iman Chebili whose family have been trained Imans for seven generations in Lebanon.
Mutual respect and trust have deepened over the five years. We look forward to continued dialogue.
One of the most significant impacts of this interaction is the support and cooperation of the Franciscan Action Network and UPN to have a film produced on the Sultan and the Saint.
Read: Peace Through Charity in Islam by Dr. Rukhsana Rahma