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John Kiser: Abd el-Kader’s Jihad of Compassion and Courage


Jan-Baptist Huysmans’ painting of Abd el-Kader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860.

If only there were more Abd el-Kader’s today.

By John Kiser, Rappnews

With radical Islam once again dominating the news, this time in France, it is important more than ever to know about the Islam of a great human being who was a Muslim and an Arab: Emir Abd el-Kader al Jazairy, the 19th-century military leader, peacemaker, reconciler, holy man, philosopher and statesman whose conduct, on and off the battlefield, remains an ever more relevant model of courage, compassion and chivalry.


Abd el-Kader el-Jazairi

Abd el-Kader was born in 1808 in the Ottoman province of Oran, today’s western Algeria. His tribe, the Hachem, was dedicated to the study of the Koran, the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed and the settlement of disputes among the tribes. In the decades that followed, Abd el-Kader became admired from the Great Plains to Moscow and Mecca, not as a scholar but as a chivalrous David who united tribes under his leadership to resist the French Goliath who invaded Algiers in 1830. Algerians consider him to be their George Washington.

Like his contemporary, Robert E. Lee, he also knew when further resistance was a futile waste of life. Yet he won honor in France as an uncompromisingly stoic prisoner who forced its government to keep a pledge to grant him passage to the Middle East after he surrendered voluntarily in 1847.

During these years Abd el-Kader’s name would be given to a settlement in the Midwest (today Elkader, Iowa), to a champion race horse (Little Ab) in Ireland and a ship built in Newburyport, Mass. Ralph Waldo Emerson praised him as a model of reconciliation, Britain’s William Thackeray would dedicate poetry to him and his name would be placed on the presidential ballot by citizens of Bordeaux even as he remained a prisoner of the French government.

Liberated by Napoleon III in 1852 and living in Damascus under a benevolent French patronage, Abd el-Kader protected thousands of Christians during a Turkish-inspired pogrom intended to punish them for not paying the head tax. Queen Victoria and Abraham Lincoln were among the many heads of state to honor the emir’s humanitarian intervention. Upon his death in 1883, the New York Times eulogized, “. . . The nobility of his character won him the admiration of the world. . . . He was one of the few great men of the century.”

His life reminds Muslims that true jihad, or “holy exertion,” lies not in the zeal of bitterness to fight at whatever the cost, but in living righteously in accordance with Divine Law.

Unlike ISIS and al-Qaeda, Abd el-Kader treated his French prisoners respectfully, according to Islamic rules of warfare. These prohibit the destruction of nature, shooting someone in the face, mutilation of dead bodies, killing of women and children, priests and monks, rape and the mistreatment of prisoners. The emir ended the centuries-old desert custom of decapitating prisoners after they surrender. Accustomed to having the plunder distributed according their enemy headcount, the emir countered the angry protests of his soldiers by offering bounty payments for prisoners brought in unharmed. A soldier guilty of mistreating prisoners received a “reward” of 25 strokes with a cane on the soles of his feet.

During a life of struggle against French occupation, despair in prison and exile in foreign land, he never allowed the demons of hatred and revenge to trump compassion and forgiveness. The emir’s life story offers an alternative narrative about Islam, one that has been embraced by mainstream scholars today from New York to London, Lebanon and Turkey to Pakistan and Malaysia.

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  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    I jumped to conclusions without knowing the full story, I’m sorry.

  • HSkol

    I kinda meant that in a different way: If voting folks, those that define popular sentiment, are so taken in by an “art”, perhaps the “art” itself should be held accountable, in part, for inciting its own viewers actions. An “art”, of course, cannot truly incite; but, an “art” should understand that its own statement just might push the intellectually retarded. We are all so polarized these days – why feed it further? I am a firm believer in free speech; but, I can smell shit when I step in it – others cannot, and nor will they wash their feet. 🙂

  • HSkol

    Oh, crap. Can’t we even barter over here? Wait, am I even a Muslim? (Sorry, I talk to myself sometimes.) “Invovate”, whatever on this bloody earth that might mean, all you must – I impose brotherhood upon you! (No apologies.)

  • I agree although I place intentional incitement to provoke evil on a similar footing as evil but then again I find some liaison between the French establishment and Hebdo since, being a conspiracy theorist read out-of-box thinker, Charlie Hebdo thing was a setup. Look at the swell publicity they got for their new cover as a bonus besides other things achieved for other entities.

  • HSkol

    True. Gdich ain’t takin’ my omelette; however, a cockroach or two that I’ve crossed paths with in the past have done so. They had Cred – they totally had Cred.

  • HSkol

    Conceptually, I agree. Unfortunately, more and more folks seem to be giving Charlie power day-by-day. When a satirist group sees this – and, they should – they should know enough to tame it down a bit. Even Charlie can understand repercussions, I think. #twosidesofthecoin

  • downwithpants

    French establishment….ISIS could be considered on similar footing…Charlie is a harder sell for me. The first two have guns and can legislate in their territory. Charlie only has power when people give it power.

  • For me Charlie Hebdo/French establishment and the terrorists/Al-Qaeda/ISIS are like two vicious street gangs outdoing each other in their incitement or evil or killing or whatever. Plus, any good that I do as a Muslim, people like Gdich or Charlie Hebdo is still going to present me in a bad light, make fun of me, cast me as a terrorist, encourage killing me or whatever. For me, Charlie Hebdo is just another face of evil so why should I care what happens to them? If two vicious dogs kill each other on the street, I just don’t care.

  • It were to do with speech, France wouldn’t be arresting people for practicing exactly that. It’s all about incitement – ridiculing and inciting Muslims by ridiculing their Prophet (pbuh). Charlie Hebdo gets what they asked for. And before you twist my words to mean I am some jihadist out to get Charlie Hebdo – I am not. I have better things to do with my life and my akhirat. Weeping crocodile tears for Charlie Hebdo is not one of them.

  • HSkol

    Actually, I believe Iekyll was to have been one of Jekyll’s twin sons – if I’m not mistaken.

  • You refused to accept him as a brother.

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