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Emir Abd el-Kader: A Muslim Example for Our Time

On April 10, 2018, the School of Diplomacy hosted a talk by Mohamad Mirghahari entitled, “Security through Understanding: Emir Abd el-Kader: A Muslim Example for Our Time.” As our Inaugural Emir Abd el-Kader Fellow, Mr. Mirghahari discussed how he is using the life and values of a 19th-century world hero in order to rebrand Islamic philosophy as a counter-narrative to the extremist version of Islam. Mohamad Mirghahari, who obtained a Master of Arts from Seton Hall School of Diplomacy in 2004, was awarded the School of Diplomacy and International Relations’ inaugural Emir Abd el-Kader Fellowship. Mr. Mirghahari answered some questions regarding his presentation.

Photo credit by Cambridge University Press

  1. Who was Emir Abd el-Kader?

“Emir Abd el-Kader, 1808 – 1883, was an Algerian man whose life story encapsulates many lessons that are relevant today. Abd el-Kader was his nation’s foremost freedom fighter – the George Washington of Algeria – battling the French conquest and colonization of his land who became a pioneer in the effort to bring people of diverse religions and cultures together in mutual respect and harmony, an example for many around the world and in the current environment today throughout in the United States, Middle East, and Africa. His particular religious beliefs were affected by Sufism, a more spiritual and mystical understanding and practice of Islam.”

  1. When did you first hear about Emir Abd el-Kader?

“Emir’s story was brought to my attention by Dean Bartoli. He explained the Muslim leader and how his stories were important especially at a time of deep divisions and conflicts. Dean Bartoli believed my background and experience working with the government was an ideal fit for the fellowship. After learning about Emir Abd el-Kader, I understood the value of bringing the Emir’s story to the government but more importantly to the students of the School of Diplomacy who will be the next generation of leaders in diplomacy.”

  1. How did you get involved with Emir Abd el-Kader’s legacy?

“I was the first person that the Emir Abd el-Kader Fellowship was awarded to. I was described as a ‘gifted leader’ by Doctor Andrea Bartoli, Dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations. The Emir Abd el-Kader Fellowship was created in partnership with the William and Mary Greve Foundation and The Abd el Kader Project. The Emir Abd el-Kader Fellowship focuses on promoting Emir Abd el-Kader’s life and identity.”

  1. What are the greatest lessons you learned from Emir Abd el-Kader?

“I think the greatest lesson I learned from Emir Abd el-Kader can be summarized in a quote from his own writings:

‘… If you think God is what the different communities believe – the Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, polytheists and others – He is that, but also more. If you think and believe what the prophets, saints and angels profess – He is that, but he is still more. None of his creatures worships him in his entirety. No one is an infidel in all the ways relating to God. No one knows all God’s facets. Each of his creatures worships and knows him in a certain way and is ignorant of Him in others. Error does not exist in this world except in a relative manner.’

Emir Abd el-Kader understood the most important aspects of humanity. He was rational, humble, inclusive, compassionate, and empathetic toward everyone he encountered regardless of race, religion, culture or economic class. His views of humanity and his implantation of these ideals are something that we can learn today when dealing with others.”

  1. Can you tell us more about the Emir Abd el-Kader Fellowship, scholarships and projects?

“The Emir Abd el-Kader Fellowship’s students work for a full academic year on a project for the State Department on how the United States might be able to identify common ground with the Taliban in order to build at least the basic relationship of trust necessary to move forward toward substantive peace talks. During the academic school year, the students have the opportunity to engage with a number of current and former USG officials, from State Department Officials, former diplomats, and current Special Operations Commanders based in Afghanistan in support of their research. The students can have real-time and real-life feedback on their project.  To conclude the project, the students travel to the State Department to present their project to the Office of South Asia Analysis in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research within the United States Department of State on shifting narratives using Emir Abd el-Kader as the main pillar of their presentation and research. These presentations are very well received in addition to one senior official commenting: ‘I know Emir Abd el-Kader very broadly but presentations like this give some more perspective of how his story and narrative can fit today.’ After presenting, students publish their papers on their researches for the State Department titled ‘Shifting Narratives: Moving Towards Substantive Peace Talks.’ Their papers are distributed in Afghanistan to members of the State Department and are shared with the Department of Defense and units that are currently supporting the mission in Afghanistan.”

  1. How many lives did Emir Abd el-Kader save?

“Emir Abd el-Kader saved many lives. He made his home a sanctuary for Christians, sheltering in total over a thousand refugees, several hundred at a time, from the violence and persecution they suffered. When Emir Abd el-Kader was provoked by other people, he confronted the crowd and scolded them for their behavior. He used to quote the Qur’anic verse 5:32 which states that if anyone kills one person without just cause, it is as if she/he killed all of humanity. Emir’s followers, including his sons, continued to search the streets for Christians, bringing them back to his mansion and offering as an incentive for each rescued person. Many asked and still ask what inspired Emir Abd el-Kader to take this courageous stand, potentially risking his own life to save the life of others of a different faith. Emir Abd el-Kader’s responded:

‘That which we did for the Christians, we did to be faithful to Islamic law and out of respect for human rights. All creatures are part of God’s family and those most loved by God are those who do the most good for His family. All religions rest on two principles – compassion and mercy.’ ”

This blog post was written by Patricia Zanini Graca. Patricia is a first-year graduate student at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Patricia graduated in Business Administration and she holds an MBA in Business and Marketing. Patricia is a UN Digital Representative at the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, a Social Media Associate at the Journal of Diplomacy, and an Associate at the Graduate Diplomacy Council. She specializes in International Organizations and Global Negotiations & Conflict Management. 

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