U.S. Islamic Leader Compares Pope Francis To "Muslim Saints" During Visit To Vatican

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Pope Francis “is really doing a wonderful job,” according to a prominent Muslim in America, who praised the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics as acting in “the spirit of all the Muslim saints and Sufis around the world.”

The comments from Mohamad Bashar Arafat, president of the Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland, came during his visit to the Vatican, part of a U.S. State Department speakers program.

Sufis are practitioners of Islamic mysticism, known as Sufism.

The Muslim leader said the Pope’s choice to name himself after St. Francis of Assisi signaled his intentions. The medieval saint was the first top Catholic to sit down with one of his Muslim counterparts in 1219, when he met Egyptian Sultan Malik al-Kamil and attempted to negotiate a peace deal to end the wars of the Crusades.

“From my perspective, Pope Francis is really doing a wonderful job in terms of outreach, in terms of contributing to world peace, in terms of contributing to stopping wars and conflicts, praying for better understanding,” said Arafat (pictured).

Arafat himself is a native Syrian, but has resided in Baltimore since 1989. He was the Muslim chaplain of the city’s police department from 1998 to 2006. He also served as Campus Imam at Johns Hopkins University from 1993 to 2003.

Arafat frequently takes part in interfaith outreach programs and founded the Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting cross-cultural understanding. Through the International Speakers Program of The United States Department of State, the program which brought him to the Vatican, he has also spoken in more than two dozen other countries.

“I see Pope Francis saying the right things and setting the right tone, and also appearing in the right places at the right time,” Arafat said.

Sources: National Catholic Reporter,, Islamic Studies Resources