Emir Abd el-Kader (AEK) was born in the 19th century, before the modern conundrum of international affairs, geopolitics, and peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions. Thus, he was an undisputed architect of cross-cultural negotiations and statecraft. The various attributes and titles that one can use to refer to the Emir include the pioneer of humanitarian law, an enlightened visionary, a true diplomat, a skillful negotiator, a conflict resolution expert, an excellent strategist, an outstanding statesman, and a resilient leader. However, the most befitting of all accolades being that of a great and truthful jihad. The Emir pushed aside his personal ego, his passions, and desires, while fighting against the intolerance and persecution of human rights.
The relevance of his past teachings and messages are indispensable in today’s world due to his unique approach to human rights and humanitarian law. Emir Abd el- Kader always respected the ideas and beliefs of others, with acceptance based on freedom of expression and equality. Whenever political, economic, and religious stakes raised challenges, the Emir never wavered in his moral and principle attitudes; he stood up for what was fair and just, regardless of the culture, creed, or civilization. Emir AEK sacrificed himself on behalf of religious tolerance for all.
The Emir was born to rule, excel, and bridge the Western and Islamic philosophy. Putting in his heart and soul, he was unparalleled in everything he did. Born and educated in a Sufi environment, Emir AEK practiced his faith rigorously. At age 13, Emir AEK became an authorized commentator of the Qur’an, an extraordinary feat for someone of that age. During his travels, the Emir learned about other cultures, developing his empathy in understanding what Jesus meant to Christians, and what God and the prophets meant to the Jews. For him, all those who sought God and submitted to His will were equal, regardless of their race, religion, culture or economic class. These conclusions strengthened his faith in God and made him realize that God wanted diversity. God is one just like the sun, which reflects light in different colors.
Though Emir AEK was a man of extremes, which means that he dwelled between times of action and war, and pauses for prayer, from traditional to progressive approaches, from intellectual reasoning to faith, the Emir was always committed to his beliefs of preserving human dignity.
As a true jihad, the Emir faced many setbacks throughout his life. However, he maintained his strong convictions, which helped him survive the many disappointing experiences that could have stifled him. When antagonistic moral and religious attitudes underpinned him, the Emir sought for courage, generosity, and tolerance to solve problems. When the French landed in Algeria in 1830, AEK proclaimed the “jihad,” in other words the holy war against colonial occupation. Through his talents as war leader, an orator, his energy and charisma, AEK was elected “Emir,” or chief of the armies, and sultan and Commander of the Believers. In 1834, the French ceded near-total control of region to AEK, due to his diligence in bringing peace to the negotiations.
Despite his determination to defeat the enemy, he also became known for his humanity and his desire to alleviate the suffering of victims of armed conflict. Emir AEK believed that all prisoners should be spared, cared for, and protected, without discrimination. On one occasion, he released his captives simply because he had insufficient food to feed them. The Emir’s regulations for the treatment of his prisoners were a forerunner of the Geneva Convention. In cases of violation of human rights such as the persecution of Christians in Syria, the Emir managed to protect and save over 10,000 of them. When other people provoked him, the Emir used his most powerful weapon – his teachings and beliefs – to bring the dialogue to the table. Therefore, he would use some of the Qur’anic verses, as the 5:32, which states that if anyone kills one person without just cause, it is as if she/he killed all of humanity.
In sum, Emir AEK’s narrative still challenges our consciences today. In modern times, the Emir’s beliefs invite us to inquire about the world that we live in, how to accept one another and how to find commonalities amongst the chaos. More broadly, Emir AEK’s legacy puts into perspective the current questions that human civilization is trying to answer: how can we live in peaceful coexistence among cultural and religious differences? Emir Abd el-Kader’s contribution is remarkably significant to the promotion of modern humanitarian action.
Patricia Zanini Graca holds a Master of Arts in Diplomacy and International Relations, an MBA in Business and Marketing and a Post Graduate Certificate in Management Development. Her interests are human rights, gender equality and corporate social responsibility. Patricia is a Project Assistant in the Europe and Central Asia Division at DCAF. Her views and opinions are personal and do not represent her current or prior employers.