On this memorial of St Francis of Assisi, a couple of aspects of his life hold a certain interest in light of the current crisis we face with militant Islam, and in particular ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh (or whatever you might call them).
St Francis himself nurtured an ardent desire to bring Christ to the Muslim Saracens. Eventually, during a lull in the siege of Damietta, he managed to cross the front lines and enter the camp of the Sultan of Egypt, a nephew of the infamous Saladin. Sultan Al-Kamil received him graciously and for several days he remained in the Saracen camp and preached Christ to them. It was to no avail, but he was allowed to return to the crusader lines unmolested. Mind you, St Bonaventure (probably the only authority for this) asserted that the Sultan converted to Christ on his deathbed. Some seeds take a long time to be bear fruit. What we can be more certain of is that ISIL (Daesh, etc!) cannot lay legitimate claim to be the modern Saracens, nor representatives of an authentic caliphate, at least viewed in historic terms. The Saracens were capable of remarkable generosity of spirit, and Al-Kamil’s gracious reception of St Francis suggests that he recognized, if only in an inarticulate way, the holiness of the man of God. Daesh/ISIL (etc!) represent only themselves, whatever strains of militant Islam they might tap into.
Another incident from St Francis’ life might give us cause to pause, and to think about our context. In the town of Gubbio, not far from Assisi, the townsfolk were being terrorized by a wolf, which as eating not only livestock but their owners as well. Moved by their plight, St Francis took it upon himself to find this wolf and deal with the crisis. He found the wolf on the hill above Gubbio and admonished it for its evil deeds, and commanded Brother Wolf to cease. St Francis discovered that the wolf was acting so rapaciously because it was tormented by hunger. So the Poor One returned to the town and explained to them the underlying problem. The townsfolk promised to feed the wolf every day. They did, and the wolf struck no more.
With young Muslim men, and women, from the UK, France, even Australia going to Syria and Iraq to join in the Daesh/ISIL bloodlust, we might profitably ask, what is their hunger that moves them to such a despicable decision? What need of theirs is not being addressed that, perhaps, we could address? Why not starve Daesh of recruits, and prevent so many youths from being killed by the increasing opposition that is squaring up to Daesh. What moves them to enter a conflict in which they by all appearances have no legitimate claim to enter? (if there could be any legitimate reason for joining Daesh/ISIL.)
It is one strategy, a Franciscan one and an eminently Christian one. For now, all we seem to have is the strategy of slaughtering Daesh before they slaughter more of our brethren in Syria and Iraq.