Lessons from Saladin and King Richard
Some people, particularly those unschooled in history, believe that Christians and Muslims will never be able to get along. Unfortunately, recent political developments in Malaysia do nothing to dispel this myth. So we must go back in time.
The year is 1187 and Saladin has conquered Jerusalem, sparking the Third Crusade.
This crusade lasted until 1192 and brought the great Muslim general into contact with a Christian leader of equal stature, King Richard I, also known as Richard the Lion Heart.
When they entered Jerusalem, the Muslim soldiers were under strict orders to avoid harming civilians and destroying the city.
In January 1192, on his March to Jerusalem, Richard fell ill and appealed to Saladin for fresh water and fresh fruits. Saladin dutifully complied.
Richard never reached Jerusalem. Instead, the two generals agreed upon a truce, under which Christian pilgrims could visit the city without harm.
In October 1192, Richard sailed back to Western Europe, never again to return to the holy lands.
The meeting of these two generals created a great impact on attitudes between the Christians and Muslims of the era, and even on later historians of either faith. Both men are acknowledged for their wisdom and courage in facing each other and also for their humanity in the canvas of war.
They forged a remarkable relationship of mutual respect and admiration. Saladin was marked by his quiet, courteous, thoughtful, generous and insightful ways. And the Muslim historian Baha observed that Richard was “a very powerful man of great courage, a king of wisdom, courage and energy”.
They each understood what the other was fighting for, and yet they maintained a high measure of human decency towards each other.
It is safe for me, as a Christian, to say that Saladin showed immense compassion and generosity towards Richard during the brief period the two met.
How sorely we need the wisdom and example of these two great leaders of old as Malaysia deals with a battle of its own.
Religious polarisation is often fuelled by political interest, and it is never good for anyone.
The impounding of Malay bibles in Port Klang and Kuching Port seems, to some people, to have created a new rift between Christians and Muslims. But has it?
For the most part, Christians are angry not with Muslims, but with the government for its decisions. Conflicting statements from Putrajaya do not help in gaining Christian trust in the government’s ability to handle the matter justly and fairly.
It is as if there is division within Putrajaya itself as regards the course of action to take. And this will not go unnoticed in Sarawak.
Nearly half a million Christians reside in Sarawak, wielding considerable clout at the polls. Obviously, neither the Barisan Nasional (BN) nor Pakatan Rakyat will want to ignore their feelings.
Without a doubt, some election campaigners will play on Christian frustrations and fears, which were recently stoked to higher temperatures by Muslim NGOs that seem to fear Christians more than they fear the government’s inability to come to a clear decision.
But is it wise to milk the bible controversy for political gain, especially in times when religious tensions are at an all-time high? Can there ever be real political gain from religious polarisation?
The coming election is an exercise by the people of Sarawak to choose the government they want, and their choice will transcend ethnic and religious considerations. Yes, Christian voters will be influenced by frustrations and fears arising from the bible row, but these will not be the only determinants of how they will vote.
Let us hope that the Christians of Sarawak will exercise the bravery and courage of Richard in making their decision on polling day and that the Muslims will show the compassion and generosity of Saladin in governing a multi-religious populace.
Maclean Patrick is a Kuching-based columnist with FMT.