Military Wiki
Abdelkader El Djezairi
عـبـد الـقـادر الـجـزائـري
Photographed by Étienne Carjat in 1865
Native name عـبـد الـقـادر الـجـزائـري
Birth name Abdelkader ibn Muhieddine al-Hasani-
Born (1808-09-06)September 6, 1808
Died May 26, 1883(1883-05-26) (aged 74)
Place of birth Guetna, Algeria[1]
Place of death Damascus, Syria[1]
Buried at El Alia Cemetery
Rank Emir
Battles/wars Battle of Macta
Battle of Sig
Battle of Sidi-Brahim
Awards Legion of Honour (Grand Cross)
Order of Pius IX
First Class of the Order of the Medjidie
Order of the Redeemer (Grand Cross)

Abdelkader ibn Muhieddine (6 September 1808 – 26 May 1883; Arabic language: عبد القادر ابن محيي الدينʿAbd al-Qādir ibn Muḥyiddīn), known as the Emir Abdelkader or Abdelkader El Djezairi, was an Algerian "Sharif" religious and military leader who led a struggle against the French colonial invasion in the mid-19th century. An Islamic scholar and Sufi who unexpectedly found himself leading a military campaign, he built up a collection of Algerian tribesmen that for many years successfully held out against one of the most advanced armies in Europe. His consistent regard for what would now be called human rights, especially as regards his Christian opponents, drew widespread admiration, and a crucial intervention to save the Christian community of Damascus from a massacre in 1860 brought honours and awards from around the world. Within Algeria, his efforts to unite the country against foreign invaders saw him hailed as the "modern Jugurtha"[2] and his ability to combine religious and political authority has led to his being acclaimed as the "Saint among the Princes, the Prince among the Saints".[3]


The name "Abdelkader" is sometimes transliterated as "ʿAbd al-Qādir", "Abd al-Kader", "Abdul Kader" or other variants, and he is often referred to as simply the Emir Abdelkader (since El Djezairi just means "the Algerian"). "Ibn Muhieddine" is a patronymic meaning "son of Muhieddine", and "al-Hasani" is an honorary patronymic indicating his descent from Hasan ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad. He is also often given the titles emir "prince", and shaykh "sheik".

Early years

Photo from ca. 1860

Abdelkader was born near the town of Mascara in 1808,[4] to a family of religious aristocracy. His father, Muhieddine (or "Muhyi al-Din") al-Hasani, was a muqaddam in a religious institution affiliated with the Qadiriyya Sufi order of Islam[5] and claimed descendance from Muhammad, through the Idrisids.[6] Abdelkader was thus a sharif, and entitled to add the honorary patronymic al-Hasani ("descendant of al-Hasan") to his name.[5]

He grew up in his father's zawiya, which by the early nineteenth century had become the centre of a thriving community on the banks of the Oued al-Hammam river. Like other students, he received a traditional education in theology, jurisprudence and grammar; it was said that he could read and write by the age of five. A gifted student, Abdelkader succeeded in reciting the Qur'an by heart at the age of 14, thereby receiving the title of hafiz; a year later, he went to Oran for further education.[5] He was a good orator and could excite his peers with poetry and religious diatribes.[1]

In 1825, he set out on the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, with his father. While there, he encountered Imam Shamil; the two spoke at length on different topics. He also traveled to Damascus and Baghdad, and visited the graves of noted Muslims, such as Shaykh Ibn Arabi and Sidi Abd-el-Kader El Jilani named also El-Jilali in Algeria. This experience cemented his religious enthusiasm. On his way back to Algeria, he was impressed by the reforms carried out by Muhammad Ali in Egypt.[citation needed] He returned to his homeland a few months before the arrival of the French.

French invasion and resistance

Early success (1830–1837)

In 1830, Algeria was invaded by France; French colonial domination over Algeria eventually supplanted domination by the Ottoman Empire and the Koulouglis. There was a lot of pent-up resentment against the Ottomans when the French arrived, and due to numerous rebellions in the early 19th century, the Algerians could not oppose the French at all initially. When the French Africa Army reached Oran in January 1831, Abdelkader's father was asked to lead a harassment campaign against them;[1] Muhieddine called for a jihad and he and his son were among those involved in early attacks below the walls of the city.[5]

It was at this point that Abdelkader came to the fore. At a meeting of the western tribes in the autumn of 1832, he was elected Emir, or Commander of the Faithful (following his father's refusal of the position on the grounds that he was too old). The appointment was confirmed five days later at the Great Mosque of Mascara. Within a year, through a combination of punitive raids and careful politics, Abdelkader had succeeded in uniting the tribes in the region and in reestablishing security – his area of influence now covered the entire Province of Oran.[5] The local French commander-in-chief, General Louis Alexis Desmichels, saw Abdelkader as the principal representative of the area during peace negotiations, and in 1834 they signed the Desmichels Treaty, which ceded near-total control of Oran Province to Abdelkader.[1] For the French, this was a way of establishing peace in the region while also confining Abdelkader to the west; but his status as a co-signatory also did much to elevate him in the eyes of the Berbers and of the French.[5]

Using this treaty as a start, he imposed his rule on the tribes of the Chelif, Miliana, and Médéa.[1] The French high command, unhappy with what they now saw as the unfavorable terms of the Desmichels Treaty, recalled General Desmichels and replaced him with General Trezel, which caused a resumption of hostilities. Abdelkader's tribal warriors met the French forces in July 1834 at the Battle of Macta, where the French suffered an unexpected defeat.[5] France's response was to step up its pacification campaign, and under new commanders the French won several important encounters including the Battle of Sikkak. But political opinion in France was becoming ambivalent towards Algeria, and when French General Thomas Robert Bugeaud was deployed to the region in April 1837, he was "authorized to use all means to induce Abd el-Kader to make overtures of peace".[7] The result, after protracted negotiations, was the Treaty of Tafna, signed on 30 May 1837. This treaty gave even more control of interior portions of Algeria to Abdelkader, but with the recognition of France's right to imperial sovereignty. Abdelkader thus won control of all of Oran and extended his reach to the neighbouring province of Titteri and beyond.[1]

New state

The period of peace following the Treaty of Tafna benefited both sides, and the Emir Abdelkader took the opportunity to consolidate a new functional state, with a capital in Tagdemt. He played down his political power, however, repeatedly declining the title of sultan and striving to concentrate on his spiritual authority.[3] The state he created was broadly theocratic, and most positions of authority were held by members of the religious aristocracy; even the main unit of currency was named the muhammadiyya, after the Prophet.[8]

He first military action was to move south into the Sahara and at-Tijini. Next, he moved east to the valley of the Chelif and Titteri, but was resisted by the Bey of Constantine, Hajj Ahmed. In other actions, he demanded punishment of the Koulouglis of Zouatna for supporting the French. By the end of 1838, his rule extended east to Kabylie, and south to Biskra, and to the Moroccan border.[1] He continued to fight at-Tijini and besieged his capital at Aïn Madhi for six months, eventually destroying it.

Map of Emir Abd al-Qadir state between 1836 and 1839

Another aspect of Abdelkader that helped him lead his fledgling nation was his ability to find and use good talent regardless of its nationality. He would employ Jews and Christians on his way to building his nation. One of these was Léon Roches.[1] His approach to the military was to have a standing army of 2,000 men supported by volunteers from the local tribes. He placed, in the interior towns, arsenals, warehouses, and workshops, where he stored items to be sold for arms purchases from England. Through his frugal living (he lived in a tent), he taught his people the need for austerity and through education he taught them nationalistic pride.[1]

End of the nation

The peace ended when the Duc d'Orléans, ignoring the terms of the Treaty of Tafna headed an expeditionary force that breached the Iron Gates. On October 15, 1839, Abd al-Qadir attacked the French as they were colonizing the Plains of Mitidja and routed the invaders. In response the French officially declared war on 18 November 1839.[9] The fighting bogged down until General Thomas Robert Bugeaud returned to Algeria, this time as governor-general, in February 1841. Abdelkader was originally encouraged to hear that Bugeaud, the promoter of the Treaty of Tafna, was returning; but this time Bugeaud's tactics would be radically different. This time, his approach was one of annihilation, with the conquest of Algeria as the endgame:[1]

I will enter into your mountains, I will burn your villages and your harvests, I will cut down your fruit trees.

— General Bugeaud[9]

He was effective at using guerrilla warfare and for a decade, up until 1842, scored many victories. He often signed tactical truces with the French, but these did not last. His power base was in the western part of Algeria, where he was successful in uniting the tribes against the French. He was noted for his chivalry; on one occasion he released his French captives simply because he had insufficient food to feed them. Throughout this period Abdelkader demonstrated political and military leadership, and acted as a capable administrator and a persuasive orator. His fervent faith in the doctrines of Islam was unquestioned.

Artistic representation of Abd al-Qadir's surrender in 1847

Until the beginning of 1842 the struggle went in his favor; however, the resistance was put down by Marshal Bugeaud, due to Bugeaud's adaptation to the guerilla tactics employed by Abdelkader. Abdelkader would strike fast and disappear into the terrain with light infantry; however the French increased their mobility. The French armies brutally suppressed the native population and practiced a scorched-earth policy in the countryside to force the residents to starve so as to desert their leader. By 1841, his fortifications had all but been destroyed and he was forced to wander the interior of the Oran. In 1842, he had lost control of Tlemcen and his lines of communications with Morocco were not effective. He was able to cross the border into Morocco for a respite, but the French defeated the Moroccans at the Battle of Isly.[1] He left Morocco, and was able to keep up the fight to the French by taking the Sidi Brahim at the Battle of Sidi-Brahim.[1]


And God undoes what my hand has done.

Abdelkader en France, Paris 1848

Abdelkader was ultimately forced to surrender. His failure to get support from eastern tribes, apart from the Berbers of western Kabylie, had contributed to the quelling of the rebellion, and a decree from Abd al-Rahman of Morocco following the Treaty of Tangiers had outlawed the Emir from his entire kingdom.[8] On 21 December 1847, Abdelkader surrendered to General Louis de Lamoricière in exchange for the promise that he would be allowed to go to Alexandria or Acre.[1] He supposedly commented on his own surrender with the words, "And God undoes what my hand has done" (although this is probably apocryphal). His request was granted, and two days later his surrender was made official to the French Governor-General of Algeria, Henri d'Orléans, duc d'Aumale, to whom Abdelkader symbolically handed his war-horse.[8] Ultimately, however, the French government refused to honour Lamoricière's promise: Abdelkader was shipped to France and, instead of being allowed to carry on to the East, ended up being kept in captivity.[1][8]

Imprisonment and exile

Tomb at the Château d'Amboise of 25 members of Abdelkader's retinue who died during their imprisonment, including one of his wives, one of his brothers, and two of his children

Abdelkader and his family and followers were detained in France, first at Fort Lamalgue in Toulon, then at Pau, and in November 1848 they were transferred to the château of Amboise.[1] Damp conditions in the castle led to deteriorating health as well as morale in the Emir and his followers, and his fate became something a cause célèbre in certain circles. Several high-profile figures, including Émile de Girardin and Victor Hugo, called for greater clarification over the Emir's situation; future prime minister Émile Ollivier carried out a public opinion campaign to raise awareness over his fate. There was also international pressure. Lord Londonderry visited Abdelkader in Amboise and subsequently wrote to then-President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (whom he had known during the latter's exile in England) to appeal for the Emir's release.[8]

Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (later the Emperor Napoleon III) was a relatively new president, having come to power in the Revolution of 1848 while Abdelkader was already imprisoned. He was keen to make a break with several policies of the previous regime, and Abdelkader's cause was one of them.[8] Eventually, on 16 October 1852, Abdelkader was released by the President and given an annual pension of 100,000 francs[10] on taking an oath never again to disturb Algeria. He then took up residence in Bursa, today's Turkey, moving in 1855 to Amara District in Damascus. He devoted himself anew to theology and philosophy, and composed a philosophical treatise, of which a French translation was published in 1858 under the title of Rappel à l'intelligent. Avis à l'indifférent. He also wrote a book on the Arabian horse.

While in Damascus he befriended Jane Digby as well as Richard and Isabel Burton. Abdelkader's knowledge of Sufism and skill with languages earned Burton's respect and friendship; his wife Isabel described him as follows:

He dresses purely in white…enveloped in the usual snowy burnous…if you see him on horseback without knowing him to be Abd el Kadir, you would single him out…he has the seat of a gentleman and a soldier. His mind is as beautiful as his face; he is every inch a Sultan.[11]

Anti-Christian riots of 1860

Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jan-Baptist Huysmans.

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. Abdelkader had previously warned the French consul as well as the Council of Damascus that violence was imminent; when it finally broke out, he sheltered large numbers of Christians, including the heads of several foreign consulates as well as religious groups such as the Sisters of Mercy, in the safety of his house.[9] His eldest sons were sent into the streets to offer any Christians under threat shelter under his protection, and Abdelkader himself was said by many survivors to have played an instrumental part in saving them.

[W]e were in consternation, all of us quite convinced that our last hour had arrived [...]. In that expectation of death, in those indescribable moments of anguish, heaven, however, sent us a savior! Abd el-Kader appeared, surrounded by his Algerians, around forty of them. He was on horseback and without arms: his handsome figure calm and imposing made a strange contrast with the noise and disorder that reigned everywhere.

Le Siècle newspaper, 2 August 1869[12]

Lincoln’s gift to the Emir

Reports coming out of Syria as the rioting subsided stressed the prominent role of Abdelkader, and considerable international recognition followed. The French government increased his pension to 150,000 francs and bestowed on him the Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur;[10] he also received the Grand Cross of the Redeemer from Greece, the Order of the Medjidie, First Class from Turkey, and the Order of Pius IX from the Vatican.[9] Abraham Lincoln sent him a pair of inlaid pistols (now on display in the Algiers museum) and Great Britain a gold-inlaid shotgun. In France, the episode represented the culmination of a remarkable turnaround, from being considered as an enemy of France during the first half of the 19th century, to becoming a "friend of France" after having intervened in favor of persecuted Christians.[13][14][15][16][17][18][19]

In 1865 he visited Paris on the invitation of Napoléon III and was greeted with both official and popular respect. In 1871, during an insurrection in Algeria, he disowned one of his sons who was arousing the tribes around Constantine.[1]

He wrote Rappel à l′intelligent, avis à l′indifférent (Call to the Intelligent, Warning to the Indifferent).[1] Abdelkader died in Damascus on 26 May 1883 and was buried near the great Sufi Ibn Arabi in Damascus.

His body was recovered in 1965 and is now in the El Alia cemetery in Algiers. This transfer of his remains was controversial as Abd el-Kader had clearly wanted to be buried in Damascus with his master Ibn Arabi.

Image and legacy

Portrait of Abd el-Kader (1864) by Stanisław Chlebowski

From the beginning of his career, Abdelkader inspired admiration not only from within Algeria, but from Europeans as well, even while fighting against the French forces. "The generous concern, the tender sympathy" he showed to his prisoners-of-war was "almost without parallel in the annals of war",[20] and he was careful to show respect for the private religion of any captives.

In 1843 Marshal Soult declared that Abd-el-Kader was one of the three great men then living; the two others, Imam Shamil and Muhammad Ali of Egypt also being Muslims.[21] Currently he is respected as one of the greatest of his people.[1]

The town of Elkader in Iowa in the United States is named after Abdelkader. The town's founders Timothy Davis, John Thompson and Chester Sage were impressed by his fight against French colonial power and decided to pick his name as the name for their new settlement in 1846.[22]

In 2013, the American film director Oliver Stone announced the pending production of a filmed biopic called The Emir Abd el-Kader, to be directed by Charles Burnett.[23]

The Abd el-Kader Fellowship is a postdoctoral fellowship of The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.[24]

Bibliography and further reading

  • Ahmed Bouyerdene, Emir Abd el-Kader: Hero and Saint of Islam, trans. Gustavo Polit, World Wisdom 2012, ISBN 978-1936597178
  • John W. Kiser, Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd El-Kader, Archetype 2008, ISBN 978-1901383317
  • Elsa Marston, The Compassionate Warrior: Abd El-Kader of Algeria, Wisdom Tales 2013, ISBN 978-1937786106
  • Charles Henry Churchill, Life of Abd el-Kader: Ex-Sultan of the Arabs of Algeria: written and compiled from his own dictation from other Authentic Sources, Nabu Press 2014, ISBN 978-1294672289, Reprint from Chapman and Hall 1867
  • Danziger, Raphael. Abd al-Qadir and the Algerians: Resistance to the French and Internal Consolidation. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1977.
  • Étienne, Bruno. Abdelkader. Paris: Hachette Littérature, 2003.
  • Kiser, John W. Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader (1808–1883). Rhineburg: Monkfish, 2008.
  • Jennifer Pitts, trans. and ed. Writings on Empire and Slavery by Alexis de Tocqueville. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.
  • Dupuch, Antoine-Adolphe (1849). Abd-el-Kader au château d'Amboise. Bordeaux: Imprimerie de H. Faye. OCLC 457413515. 
  • Dupuch, Antoine-Adolphe (1860). Abd-el Kader : Sa vie intime, sa lutte avec la France, son avenir. Bordeaux: Lacaze. OCLC 493227699. 

See also

  • French rule in Algeria


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 "Abdelkader". Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A-Ak - Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.. 2010. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8. 
  2. Ernest Mercier, L'Algérie en 1880, éd. Challamel, Paris, 1880, p.36,p.40
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bouyerdene 2012, chapter 3
  4. Most modern sources give 6 September 1808; but the precise date is not clear. The earliest Arabic sources note his birth as taking place variously between 1221 and 1223 anno hegirae (i.e. AD 1806-1808), with biographical works written by his sons specifying Rajab 1222. For a full discussion of the problem, see Bouyerdene 2012, ch.1 note 14.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Ahmed Bouyerdene, Emir Abd el-Kader: Hero and Saint of Islam, trans. Gustavo Polit, World Wisdom 2012
  6. Par Société languedocienne de géographie, Université de Montpellier. Institut de géographie, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (France) Publié par Secrétariat de la Société languedocienne de géographie, 1881. Notes sur l'article: v. 4, page 517
  7. Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre, Fonds Serie 1H46, Dossier 2, Province d'Oran, cited in Bouyerdene 2012.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Bouyerdene 2012, chapter 4
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Bouyerdene 2012, chapter 5
  10. 10.0 10.1 J. Ruedy, Modern Algiera: The Origins and Development of a Nation, (Bloomington, 2005), p. 65; Chateaux of the Loire (Casa Editrice Bonechi, 2007) p10.
  11. Isabel Burton, Inner Life of Syria, Palestine and the Holy Land, 1875, vol. II, cited in Mary S. Lovell, A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton (1998), Abacus 1999, p. 513
  12. Cited in Bouyerdene 2012, chapter 5
  13. "[Les nationalistes] refusent de reconnaitre le rôle d'ami de la France joué par l'émir à Damas sous le Second Empire. En 1860, en effet, Abd-el-Kader intervint pour protéger les chrétiens lors des massacres de Syrie, ce qui lui valut d'être fait grand-croix de la Légion d'honneur par Napoléon III", Jean-Charles Jauffret,La Guerre d'Algérie par les documents, Volume 2, Service historique de l'Armée de terre, 1998, p.174 (ISBN 2863231138)
  14. "Notre ancien adversaire en Algérie était devenu un loyal ami de la France, et personne n'ignore que son concours nous a été précieux dans les circonstances difficiles" in Archives diplomatiques: recueil mensuel de diplomatie, d'histoire et de droit international, Numéros 3 à 4, Amyot, 1877, p.384
  15. Mouloud Haddad, « Sur les pas d’Abd el-Kader : la hijra des Algériens en Syrie au XIXe siècle », in Ahmed Bouyerdene, Éric Geoffroy et Setty G. Simon-Khedis (dir.), Abd el-Kader, un spirituel dans la modernité, Damas, Presses de l'Ifpo (« Études médiévales, modernes et arabes », no PIFD 237), 2012, [En ligne], mis en ligne le 04 mai 2012, Consulté le 26 juin 2012. URL :
  16. John W. Kiser, Commander of the Faithful, the Life and Times of Emir Abd El-Kader: A Story of True Jihad, Monkfish Book Publishing Company, 2008 [1]
  17. N. Achrati, Following the Leader: A History and Evolution of the Amir ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi as Symbol,The Journal of North African Studies Volume 12, Issue 2, 2007 : "The French continued to pay his pension and monitor his activities, and 'Abd al-Qadir remained a self-declared 'friend of France' until his death in 1883."
  18. Louis Lataillade, Abd el-Kader, adversaire et ami de la France, Pygmalion, 1984, ISBN 2857041705
  19. Herbert Ingram Priestley, France Overseas: A Study of Modern Imperialism (1938), American Historical Association Publications, Routledge, 1967 (ISBN 0714610240), p.40 : "[Abdelkader was] transferred to Damascus by Napoleon III. There he became a friend of France, saving twelve thousand Christians from the Turks at the time of the massacres in Damascus, and refused to ally himself with the insurgents in Algeria in 1870."
  20. Charles Henry Churchill, Life of Abd el-Kader: Ex-Sultan of the Arabs of Algeria, 1887
  21. Alexandre Bellemare, Abd-el-Kader sa vie politique et militaire', Hachette, 1863, p.4
  23. Sneider, Jeff (8 October 2013). "Oliver Stone to Executive Produce Biopic of Algerian Leader Emir Abd el-Kader". Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  24. Abd el-Kader Fellowship at UVA

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