Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump's latest demand to ban Muslims from and to America is laugh worthy. This particularly when the same state of Iowa he claims would really love him to make America great again, has a town named after a celebrated Muslim hero, Emir Abdel Kader. Umm Abdillah enlightens Radio Islam readers about Abdelkader El Jazairi (ra), one of the greatest warriors in Algerian history.
Elkader of America
Settlements in the American West were typically named after usurped Indian tribes, army forts, biblical references or the Old World origins of her pioneers. Iowa is typical in this regard. Except, there is a town in Iowa called Elkader. The town's founders were so inspired and impressed by Emir Abdelkader’s leadership, his defense of his Islamic Faith, his horsemanship, his scholarship, his justice, his advocacy for religious tolerance and fight against French colonial usurpation that they decided to pick his name as the name for their new settlement in 1846. They call themselves “Elkaderites” up to today. Elkaderites are unique. Theirs is supposedly the only town in the United States named after a North African Muslim.
There is however plenty evidence that there were Muslims on Columbus’ ships, and they had even got to the America’s before Columbus. Further, it is proven that a group of Vikings set up a successful colony in Greenland that lasted for 518 years between 982-1500, long before Columbus. According to the writings of Ahmad ibn Fadlan, these same Vikings crossed paths with Muslims pointing to fascinating trade and cultural exchange.
Sit down Donald Trump! America’s founders are laughing at you!
Abdelkader ibn Muhieddine (1808–1883)
Emir Abdelkader was the founder the Algerian state and led the Algerians in their 19th-century wars against French domination (1840–46).
He was a Haafiz of the Quran, an aalim, well read, a poet, author, commander of the faithful, and also a Sufi master. He managed to unite military, political and religious leadership via his calm, benevolent person. And he did it while constantly reaching out to other people and seeking dialogue: so much so that the country against which he waged a long war ended up awarding him their highest medal of honour.
In 1825, he set out on Hajj with his father. He returned to his homeland a few months before the invasion of the French. His father, as a local figurehead, was asked to lead a campaign against the invaders, and dutifully announced a jihad. He was however too old to lead warriors into battle, and so at a meeting of tribal elders, his son Abdelkader was nominated Emir in his place.
Abdelkader, with little experience, set about it as best he could: he established a capital city, printed money, set up ministries, and managed to calm intertribal tensions long enough to organise a standing army. From the French (with whom fighting soon broke out again) he quickly won respect: those at home opposed to the war of conquest saw him as a figurehead, while French prisoners captured by the Algerians were united in their praise of how well Abdelkader tended to their physical and religious needs.
In fact, far from being seen as the epitome of an alien and aggressive religion – in the way that Islamic leaders have been caricaturised during more recent incursions by the West – Abdelkader became a spiritual inspiration, a role model. Despite fighting against them in the capacity of a staunch and effective warrior, the French General Bugeaud said that he "rather resembles the portrait often given of Jesus Christ.”
His “Christ-like” qualities were only reinforced when the French took him prisoner and had him transported to France. He was left to stew in a series of prisons while various French regimes tried to work out what to do with him – and it took a long time: he remained incarcerated under the July monarchy, the Guizot government, the Second Republic, the presidency of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Second Empire. He lost several wives and children to disease along the way, but Abdelkader himself, not unlike a nineteenth-century Nelson Mandela, only seemed to grow in stature from being imprisoned, and won more and more respect from his captors. He was aided by a growing campaign for his release among French intellectuals, including Victor Hugo.
Druze and Maronite Christian factions bloodshed
In July 1860, conflict between the Druze and Maronites of Mount Lebanon spread to Damascus, and local Druze attacked the Christian quarter, killing over 3,000 people.
As the violence spread, threatening the lives of Maronite Christians, Abdelkader (living in exile in Syria) wrote a letter to Druze elders warning that “such proceedings are unworthy of your community,” but he soon realised that only a show of force would be effective. When rioting reached Damascus, Abd el-Kader rebuffed the Ottoman governor’s request to disarm his men, and instead sent them into the city’s Christian quarters to escort residents to his own guarded precinct. When that overflowed, he pressed the governor to open the citadel to them, with safe passage guaranteed by his men. His eldest sons were also sent into the streets to offer any Christians under threat shelter under his protection. It is estimated that as many as 12,000 lives were thus saved.
Mikhail Mishaqa, then serving consul in Damascus, remembered in his memoirs, “This outstanding man, whose excellence was well known to the kings and inhabitants of this earth, never rested a moment in his attempts to allay the revolt. There was not a single leader of the city, Ulema, or Agha, warning them against revolt, of its impermissibility in religion, except for him.”
“What I did for the Christians, I did because of my faith as a Muslim....
The Red Cross of today holds Emir Abdelkader in high esteem. In his implementation of human rights principles in warfare in Algeria and abroad, the organisation considers him a forerunner to Henri Dunant, the Red Cross’ founder.
After the riots, Abdelkader wrote in response to a letter of thanks from the new bishop of Algiers:
“What I did for the Christians, I did because of my faith as a Muslim.... All religions brought to us by the prophets, from Adam until Muhammad (pbu them), rest on two principles—praise for God and compassion for all His creatures. Outside of this, there are only unimportant differences.”
People like Donald Trump use broad-brush strokes to make claims about a failed Islamic morality in matters of war and peace, yet the truth is in the details of the painting. It would be helpful for the bigoted Mr. Trump to travel to Elkader in Iowa State to learn just that.