The Emir

About The Emir

The Emir Abdelkader ibn Muhieddine, namesake of the Abdelkader Education Project, was an Islamic scholar from Algeria who resisted French colonialism in the mid-19th century. His faith-based leadership, moral authority, keen intelligence, physical stamina, natural military prowess and knowledge of tribal ways enabled him to organize Algerian tribesmen into a guerrilla force that effectively resisted the French occupation. In order to avoid further suffering the Emir negotiated a truce with the French in 1847 after fifteen years of fighting one of the most advanced armies in the world at that time.

The Emir’s commitment to human rights earned him global admiration from the likes of President Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Pope Pius IX, Tsar Alexander II, and the presidents of France, Greece and Turkey. Newspaper accounts of his valor and chivalry won him admiration as far as the American Midwest, where a new settlement was named in his honor; today, Elkader in Clayton County, Iowa.

The Emir lived out his days in Syria teaching, studying and engaging within its diverse intellectual community.

Among his many admirers was his future biographer, Col. Charles Henry Churchill. When anti-Christian riots broke out in Damascus in 1860, the Emir and his sons entered the neighboring Christian quarter to protect thousands of Christians, including French, American and Russian diplomats. When the rioters clamored at his door, the Emir brandished his sword and invoked Islamic law to protect the innocent.

In response to praise from Emir Shamil, living under Russian house arrest, the Emir responded “What I did was merely obedience to our sacred law and to the precepts of humanity…When we think about how rare are the real champions of truth, and when one sees ignorant people who imagine Islamism is about severity, hardness, excess and barbarism, it is time to repeat these words: ‘Patience is godliness, trust in God.’” Upon his death in 1883, The New York Times eulogized the Emir, “The nobility of his character won him the admiration of the world…He was one of the few great men of the century.”

Why is Emir Abdelkader Important?

Abdelkader’s practice of Islam was informed by deep study and devotion to religious law, as well as, by his broad education that included math, astronomy, geography, history and Greek philosophy. Abdelkader’s legacy as a reconciler offers an example of religious and moral courage, integrity, intellect, and compassion. During the French-Algerian War (1830-1847), his treatment of French prisoners is credited as the forerunner of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. As a prisoner in France (1848-1852), he was so admired that his name was placed on the ballot for French president. In exile (1853-1883), Abdelkader saved thousands of Christian lives in Damascus. In 1883, The New York Times eulogized “… Abdelkader deserves to be ranked among the few great men of the century.” In the words of Prince Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan (2009), “Abdelkader’s jihad provides Muslims with a much needed antidote to the toxic false jihads of today dominated by anger, violence and politics.”