25 May 2017
historians claim Abdelkader saved 15,000 Christians, which may be a bit of an
exaggeration. But here was a man for Muslims to emulate and Westerners to
After the Manchester massacre… yes, and
after Nice and Paris, Mosul and Abu Ghraib and 7/7 and the Haditha massacre –
remember those 28 civilians, including children, killed by US Marines, four
more than Manchester but no minute’s silence for them? And of course 9/11…
Counterbalancing cruelty is no response, of
course. Just a reminder. As long as we bomb the Middle East instead of seeking
justice there, we too will be attacked. But what we must concentrate upon,
according to the monstrous Trump, is terror, terror, terror, terror, terror.
And fear. And security. Which we will not have while we are promoting death in
the Muslim world and selling weapons to its dictators. Believe in “terror” and
Isis wins. Believe in justice and Isis is defeated.
So I suspect it’s time to raise the ghost
of a man known as the Emir Abdelkader – Muslim, Sufi, sheikh, ferocious
warrior, humanist, mystic, protector of his people against Western barbarism,
protector of Christians against Muslim barbarism, so brave that the Algerian
state insisted his bones were brought home from his beloved Damascus, so noble
that Abe Lincoln sent him a pair of Colt pistols and the French gave him the
Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour. He loved education, he admired the Greek
philosophers, he forbade his fighters to destroy books, he worshipped a
religion which believed – so he thought – in human rights. But hands up all
readers who know the name of Abdelkader.
We should think of him now more than ever.
He was not a “moderate” because he fought back savagely against the French
occupation of his land. He was not an extremist because, in his imprisonment at
the Chateau d’Amboise, he talked of Christians and Muslims as brothers. He was
supported by Victor Hugo and Lord Londonderry and earned the respect of
Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III) and the French state paid him a
pension of 100,000 francs. He deserved it.
When the French invaded Algeria, Abdelkader
Ibn Muhiedin al-Juzairi (Abdelkader, son of Muhiedin, the Algerian,1808-1883,
for those who like obituaries) embarked on a successful guerrilla war against
one of the best equipped armies in the Western world – and won. He set up his
own state in western Algeria – Muslim but employing Christian and Jewish
advisors – and created separate departments (defence, education, etc), which
stretched as far as the Moroccan border. It even had its own currency, the “Muhamediya”.
He made peace with the French – a truce which the French broke by invading his
lands yet again. Abdelkader demanded a priest to minister for his French prisoners,
even giving them back their freedom when he had no food for them. The French
sacked the Algerian towns they captured, a hundred Hadithas to suppress
Abdelkader’s resistance. When at last he was defeated, he surrendered in honour
– handing over his horse as a warrior – on the promise of exile in Alexandria
or Acre. Again the French betrayed him, packing him off to prison in Toulon and
then to the interior of France.
Yet in his French exile, he preached peace
and brotherhood and studied French and spoke of the wisdom of Plato and
Socrates, Aristotle and Ptolemy and Averoes and later wrote a book, Call to the
Intelligent, which should be available on every social media platform. He also,
by the way, wrote a book on horses which proves he was ever an Arab in the
saddle. But his courage was demonstrated yet again in Damascus in 1860 where he
lived as an honoured exile. The Christian-Druze civil war in Lebanon had spread
to Damascus where the Christian population found themselves surrounded by the
Muslim Druze who arrived with Isis-like cruelty, brandishing swords and knives
to slaughter their adversaries.
Abdelkader sent his Algerian Muslim guards
– his personal militia – to bash their way through the mob and escort more than
10,000 Christians to his estate. And when the crowds with their knives arrived
at his door, he greeted them with a speech which is still recited in the Middle
East (though utterly ignored these days in the West). “You pitiful creatures!”
he shouted. “Is this the way you honour the Prophet? God punish you! Shame on
you, shame! The day will come when you will pay for this … I will not hand over
a single Christian. They are my brothers. Get out of here or I’ll set my guards
Muslim historians claim Abdelkader saved
15,000 Christians, which may be a bit of an exaggeration. But here was a man
for Muslims to emulate and Westerners to admire. His fury was expressed in
words which would surely have been used today against the cult-like caliphate
executioners of Isis. Of course, the “Christian” West would honour him at the
time (although, interestingly, he received a letter of praise from the Muslim
leader of wildly independent Chechnya). He was an “interfaith dialogue” man to
please Pope Francis.
Abdelkader was invited to Paris. An American
town was named after him – Elkader in Clayton County, Iowa, and it’s still
there, population 1,273. Founded in the mid-19th century, it was natural to
call your home after a man who was, was he not, honouring the Rights of Man of
American Independence and the French Revolution? Abdelkader flirted with
Freemasonry – most scholars believe he was not taken in – and loved science to
such an extent that he accepted an invitation to the opening of the Suez Canal,
which was surely an imperial rather than a primarily scientific project.
Abdelkader met De Lesseps. He saw himself, one suspects, as Islam’s renaissance
man, a man for all seasons, the Muslim for all people, an example rather than a
saint, a philosopher rather than a priest.
But of course, Abdelkader’s native Algeria
is a neighbour of Libya from where Salman Abedi’s family came, and Abdelkader
died in Syria, whose assault by US aircraft – according to Abedi’s sister – was
the reason he slaughtered the innocent of Manchester. And so geography contracts
and history fades, and Abedi’s crime is, for now, more important than all of
Abdelkader’s life and teaching and example. So for Mancunians, whether they
tattoo bees onto themselves or merely buy flowers, why not pop into
Manchester’s central library in St Peter’s Square and ask for Elsa Marsten’s
The Compassionate Warrior or John Kiser’s Commander of the Faithful or,
published just a few months ago, Mustapha Sherif’s L’Emir Abdelkader: Apotre de
They are no antidotes for sorrow or
mourning. But they prove that Isis does not represent Islam and that a Muslim
can earn the honour of the world.
timely reminiscence on a Muslim freedom fighter, whose sympathy and compassion
for the Christians far outweigh the brutality that his present day counterparts
show towards their adversaries. Demonstrates citing hard historical facts that “Isis
does not represent Islam and that a Muslim can earn the honour of the world.”
Thank you Master Robert Fisk for giving a lesson in
being a Muslim, and ref. text books for Believers in Assalaamualaikum... to
those who wont to come in peace!
A copy each of the text books sent to Abu Bakar, Salman, Ruhani, Putin, Asad, Trump, Netanyahu and
other members of the “warrior club” would be of immense help.