The Abdelkader Education Project


“Transcending Boundaries…Pursuing Knowledge and Virtue”

[caption id="attachment_137" width="300" caption="Elkader, IA (photo: Claire Wright)"][/caption]


2011-12 Abdelkader Essay Contest

With support from Principal Financial Group, the essay contest is again open to Iowa high school juniors and seniors with focus on culture, civility and leadership. Scholarships are awarded to the top essay students.

The contest provides knowledge needed to excel in our global environment as related to 21st Century Skills. Students are invited to:

  • Learn why an Iowa town was named after an Arab Muslim freedom fighter;
  • Evaluate the significance of Emir Abdelkader’s life and his struggles during peace, war, imprisonment, and exile as applied to today’s world;
  • Combine history and cultural understanding while supporting positive moral and social skills;
  • Utilize analytical, innovative and resourceful thinking beyond the facts.
[/docs/2011-12-AEK-EssayContest.IOWA_.doc” target=”_self”>Download Essay Contest Form]

A key resource for the essay contest is the biography Commander of the Faithful…The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader (1808-1883) by John W. Kiser.

Emir Abdelkader was a 19th century Arab Muslim hero admired by President Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Pope Pius IX, Sir Richard Burton, and countless Muslims for his moral courage, leadership, and life-long learning. In 1846, the founders of an Iowa community paid tribute to him by naming their town Elkader. Today, Emir Abdelkader is remembered as an esteemed humanitarian, military leader, and religious scholar who respected all cultures and faiths. 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.”

Education then…now. If character is destiny, then understanding how the emir’s character was molded is definitely worth exploring—as a stimulus to thinking about the way we are educated today. Emir Abdelkader’s life was shaped by his well-rounded and ethical education, his desire to learn throughout his lifetime, and his openness to all religions.

Learn more at “> or contact

“In Their Own Words”…

“The Abdelkader Essay Contest is a rare opportunity for students. The Emir led an exhilarating life that will entertain and inform all who learn about it. His principles are not only excellent standing alone, but can be of great use in understanding the vast and complex religion of Islam today.” Ben Bernatz, 3rd Place Statewide Essay Winner & Abdelkader Education Project Intern, Decorah

“Reading Commander of the Faithful and writing the essay for the Abdelkader Essay Contest provided a unique opportunity for students in my AP Human Geography class to connect multiple continents, centuries, and cultures with course curriculum as well as a relevant local connection to the origin of a town’s name in Iowa.” Mark Rhodes, Social Studies Teacher, Decorah High School

Abdelkader Essay Goes to Iowa State Fair

Elkader’s Abdelkader Essay Contest winner and 4-H member Bob Spielbauer of Volga took his essay to the Iowa State Fair after receiving honors in “Personal Development” at the Clayton County Fair. His 4’x8′ painting of Emir Abdelkader is hung near the Central High School foyer. Congratulations to Bob on a job well done!

Teacher Workshops on Middle East

Abdelkader Education Project partner organization, the Middle East Policy Council, held free teacher workshops across Iowa during June and July. Barbara Petzen, MEPC Teach Mideast Education Director, presented stimulating inter-disciplinary methods of opening minds to creativity as she introduced “Tools to Teach about the Middle East and Islam.” Learn more at

Attendees included K-12 teachers, academic advisors, counselors, community college instructors, home-school teachers, high school students, and others.

”I was reminded through this class that the important thing is not the “right” answers to the questions, but teaching our students how to think critically and have thoughtful discussions on both the questions and their answers. This will give them many Social Studies Skills as well as 21st Century Skills needed to be an effective part of the world.” strong>Sara Steele, Iowa City

AEP Reaches Out to Georgetown University, DC

Ahmed Achrati, Academic Director for the School of Continuing Studies, announced that Commander of the Faithful…The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader by John W. Kiser was adopted as the main required reading for the 2011 High School Summer Course at the Georgetown Arab Language and Culture Institute in Washington DC.

As part of the program, John Kiser was invited to address the class and was joined later via skype by Ben Bernatz of Decorah (Iowa) who answered questions and commented on what he had learned from reading about Emir Abdelkader. Ben was 3rd place essay winner in Iowa and AEP intern. Students found Emir Abdelkader to be intriguing and his treatment of different faiths inspirational in light of today’s atmosphere of religious intolerance and hostility. The discussions were seen as a great way to get an idea of Arab history and culture.

“Embodying Abraham Lincoln’s precepts of “malice toward none…charity for all; firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” Abdelkader’s life as depicted in John W. Kiser’s book is a continuous striving “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace” with all faiths and all nations.” Professor Ahmed Achrati

Islamic Leader Addresses Lutheran Assembly

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson welcomed Dr. Sayyid Sayeed, National Director for the Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), to address their church-wide assembly. Dr. Sayeed is an active supporter of the Abdelkader Education Project. More about this historic greeting can be found at

Commander of the Faithful in Nigeria & Indonesia

“Honors Seminars” will convene in Indonesia and Nigeria thanks to Abdelkader Education Project partner organization Religions for Peace in NYC. The seminars will be “team taught” by one Islamic and one Christian professor and will focus on two books by John W. Kiser, Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader and The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria. Both books inter-mingle history, religion and politics and celebrate authentic and positive expressions of Muslim and Christian faiths. Final papers will be written on the relevant lessons for their respective countries.

Commander of the Faithful to be in French

The French Dominican publisher, Editions Cerf, is in discussions with Monkfish Publishing to acquire the rights to Kiser’s biography Commander of the Faithful for the francophone world.

For more information about many of the above topics, go to “>

Thank you for following our project. We welcome all questions, comments and suggestions.

The Abdelkader Education Project Team…

Kathy Garms, Barbara Petzen, Sarah Sayeed, John Boyer, John Kiser