"... One of those dazzling biographies that informs our modern life."—Susan Eisenhower, Chairman of the Eisenhower Group, author of Mrs. Ike
“Today more than ever, Muslims and non-Muslims alike need to be reminded of the courage, compassion and intellect of Emir Abd el-Kader… Abd el-Kader’s jihad provides Muslims with a much- needed antidote to the toxic false jihads of today, dominated by anger, violence and politics.” -- His Royal Highness, Prince Hassan bin Talal (Prince of Jordan)
"Abd el-Kader teaches the French and the world that to achieve success, moral authority is necessary, not simply military might...This fascinating revival of a 19th century world hero’s story holds valuable lessons for today’s Middle East Warrior. It would be a worthwhile addition to any reading list.”—Col. Jon Smythe, USMC ( ret.)
“Abd el-Kader lived by a chivalric code steeped in the Arab concept of honor. When, in our own day al-Qaeda terrorists claim the title of 'knight,' it’s worth recalling a time when Arab warriors embodied the noblest attributes of knighthood: courage compassion and restraint.”—Steve Simon, research fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
“John Kiser has not just given us an absorbing and beautifully written story of a great hero, he has written an important book. The reader is bound to be moved by the life of this remarkable man who was the very opposite of a fanatical jihadist.”—Jane Geniesse, former New York Times reporter and author of Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark
“Kiser weaves the intricate tale of Abd el-Kader’s heroic life and spirit as deftly as the emir maneuvered his armies on the battlefield . . . the perfect elixir for the contemporary West’s chronic difficulties understanding the East.”—Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, author of What’s Right with Islam
When Abd el-Kader died in 1883, The New York Times hailed him as “one of the few great men of the century.” The warrior/saint had won the heart of the French nation, his sworn enemy and the invader of his Algerian homeland. He reached the summit of his fame after he saved the lives of thousands of Christians during a Turkish rampage in Damascus. Elkader, Iowa, is named after the emir.
John W. Kiser is the author of The Monks of Tibhirine (St. Martin’s Press, 2003), which won the French Siloe Prize. His articles have appeared in Foreign Policy Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.
New York Times Review:
Reviving a Novel-Worthy Tale of War and Religion
Published: November 21, 2008
For more than 40 years he was a world figure, his renown stretching from the American Midwest to Moscow to the Middle East. As he neared death in 1883, The New York Times wrote that he “deserves to be ranked among the foremost of the few great men of the century.”
Earlier, he had received accolades and awards from France, Britain, Russia, the Ottoman sultan, the papacy and President Abraham Lincoln, who sent him not a medal but, in quintessentially American fashion, a matched pair of fancy Colt pistols.
The man being honored was Abd el-Kader, a learned and fervent Muslim, who for 15 years had organized and led a jihad against a Western power.
After he ceased hostilities, his four-year detention, in violation of a promise of safe passage into exile, became an international cause célèbre. Released and feted, even by his captors, he came to live in Damascus.
There, in July 1860, el-Kader braved mobs and saved thousands of Christians from a murderous rampage through the city’s Christian quarter.
In this, the bicentennial of his birth, el-Kader’s name is known to only a tiny fraction of Americans. That fraction includes those knowledgeable about modern Algeria, where his resistance to French colonization places him among the founding figures of an independent nation.
And then there are the 1,500 residents of Elkader, a town in northeastern Iowa, founded and named in 1846 by a frontier lawyer who admired the freedom-fighting exploits of this “daring Arab chieftain.”
Anyone interested in learning more should turn to “Commander of the Faithful” (Monkfish Book Publishing Company), a new book by John W. Kiser.
Mr. Kiser had previously written “The Monks of Tibhirine” (St. Martin’s Press), about Trappist monks in Algeria whose quiet lives of prayer had bonded them with their Muslim neighbors but who were nonetheless taken hostage by Islamic extremists in 1996 and killed.
Mr. Kiser learned about el-Kader (the name is sometimes transliterated from the Arabic in different ways, like al-Qadir or al-Kadir) because the Tibhirine monastery stood on the slope of a mountain where el-Kader had led one of his battles and where a steep cliff face was named after him.
A book about a leader of jihad may seem like a strange sequel to a book about peaceful monks, but the more Mr. Kiser learned about el-Kader, the more he felt a spiritual kinship between the devout, ascetic Trappists and the pious, ascetic guerrilla leader. Both had found in their own religious codes and daily rituals the basis for a fraternity that defied religious boundaries.
As the son of a celebrated holy man, tribal leader and head of a Sufi brotherhood, el-Kader was taught to read and memorize the Koran, tutored in all the details of the tradition but also in philosophy, history and other fields.
At home and away, the young boy was also trained in horseback riding, public speaking and fighting skills. All would prove crucial. In 1832, with France increasingly encroaching on Algerian territory that was only nominally under Ottoman rule, the 25-year-old el-Kader emerged as the commander, the emir, of Muslim Arab resistance.
Because el-Kader was just over five feet tall, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political thinker, who took a great interest in Algerian affairs, called him a “puny Arab”; but Tocqueville also called him “a Muslim Cromwell.” Like Oliver Cromwell, he wielded strict religious beliefs to form a disciplined fighting force.
Mr. Kiser insists on the religious dimension of what might otherwise be read as a story of military and political maneuvering. But “Commander of th