The Emir, contemporary model of the “Universal Man” (1/2)

The Emir, contemporary model of the “Universal Man” (1/2)

Founder of the first modern Algerian state, great military strategist, knight of bitter times and magnanimous hero, fine scholar familiar with Greek philosophy and various Islamic sciences, humanist having worked at the meeting between the East and the West, the emir Abd El Kader was all that, and much more.

To reduce it to one or the other of these aspects would be to betray it, because all take their meaning from the deep identity of the Emir: the spiritual Muslim guided by prophetic inspiration and the Muhammadan model, the Sufi having realized internally the universalism of the Islamic message.

The Emir reveals his true personality to Mgr Dupuch, former bishop of Algiers, and one of his most fervent admirers: “As you can see me in the mirror of our conversation, I was not born to become a a man of war, or, at least, to bear arms all my life, he told me (this is Mgr Dupuch who speaks) in one of our last outpourings of heart; I shouldn't even have been for a single moment; and it was only by a completely unforeseen combination of circumstances that I found myself thrown suddenly and so completely outside of my career of birth, education and predilection, towards which, you know, I sincerely aspire (…). I should have been all my life, I would at least like to become again before I die a man of study and prayer, it seems to me, and I say it from the bottom of my heart, that from now on I am as if dead to everything else » .

The first and last vocation of the Emir is therefore study and contemplation. But, as wârith muhammadî, “Muhammadian heir”, he had to combine action with contemplation. Predisposed for the “big jihad “, that is to say the fight against the passions and illusions that we all secrete, the Emir agreed for a time to practice the “little jihad “, the war defensive against an external enemy, as long as his duty seemed to lie there.

Before seeing the foundations of the Emir's spiritual humanism, let us give a few examples. It was he who took the initiative of drafting a regulation in which he imposed on his soldiers absolute respect for French prisoners, and this well before the modern conventions which date from 1949. “For several years, thanks to him,” writes Mgr. . Dupuch, the French soldiers, who fell into the hands of the Arabs, are no longer slaughtered; a severe law commands respect and the greatest care for prisoners.

The bishop specifies that the Emir took the prophet Muhammad as a model on this point. It is not a circumvented or affected humanism that the Emir practices, since the prisoners eat the same food as him, which is prepared by his own mother. We understand that one former French prisoner, who became guard of the Tuileries Gardens, asked to be transferred to Pau, where the Emir was then held, or that another begged the Emir to let him go with him to Turkey for serve. The French army, as we know, was far from having the same regard for the Algerian prisoners.

The Emir's lofty views appear in the fact that, while he fights this colonial army, at no time does he conflate the aggressive imperialism of France and the Christian religion which is that of the conquerors. In the midst of hostilities, he established links with representatives of Christianity and advocated a rapprochement between the two religions. This is where the charisma of the Emir.

His main interlocutor, General Bugeaud, confessed that the Emir “resembles quite a bit the portrait that is often given of Jesus Christ”, and he defines him as “a kind of prophet”. During his detention in France, between 1847 and 1852, the Emir, who had a good knowledge of the Jewish and Christian religions, exerted great fascination in Christian circles. A Parisian viscount recounts that he met in the person of the Emir a Muslim who explained the Word of God and the nature of Christ better than the priests.

A certain du Plessis left a precious work on the stay of the Emir and his entourage in Amboise: “At the Château d'Amboise (…) we find these holy girls whom religion has devoted to the service of humanity. Two sisters of charity were placed with the Arab tribe; they stay in the castle, do not leave the sultana's apartment, rarely leave her herself, look after her children, see the Emir at all times, who has the most affectionate respect for them. The excellent girls could not defend themselves from this fascination that he exerts on everything that comes near him.

A few religious susceptibilities, certain moral details, could very legitimately have moderated this attraction. It was not so. On the contrary, they proclaim that there is not a Christian virtue that Abd-el-Kader does not practice to the highest degree; they revere the illustrious prisoner; and one of them, who has nevertheless passed the age of illusions and training, declares that she will never leave him, and that if he leaves France, she will follow his steps and his fortune, devoting to him and his family for the rest of his life. We cannot better testify to the spiritual influence of the Emir, and his stature as a “Universal Man”, theinsân kâmil of Sufism, recognized even by non-Muslims.

Elsewhere, Mgr. Dupuch mentions the case of two French prisoners, during the hostilities, who wanted to enter Islam with the Emir; he advised them against it, fearing that they would be considered traitors if they were returned to the French army:

Lâ ikrâha fî l-dîn“No compulsion in matters of religion” (Quran 2:256).

We have another testimony, which shows the admiration that certain Christians had for the Emir, and even the intimacy that they sought to establish with him. This testimony, completely new, comes from a French priest, priest Greuet, who asked for charity, cardinal Christian virtue – to a “Muslim prince”. He addresses someone close to the Emir or his secretary. The letter is dated January 1852; the Emir is therefore still detained in Amboise. Here are the most significant extracts from this letter:

” Sir,

I am a priest whom misfortune has visited since the events of 1848; and I come to confide in you, whose magnanimity is well known. God, who governs all things, inspired me with the idea of ​​making an appeal through you to the generosity of the great soul of Prince Abd-El-Kader.
I am burdened with a debt of five thousand francs. Now, if I am a victim of misfortune, it is because I wanted to be of service to my fellow man, and it is also as a result of the death of my father, taken away by cholera in 1849 (…).

We are all children of the same father, who is God. This is why I allow myself to resort to the charity of the African prince through your efficient intermediary.

It is worthy of this great man to save a young French priest who hopes in him! (…)
My gratitude will be eternal; and the God in heaven will bless the illustrious warrior who made his name immortal…

I will say to Monsignor my Bishop and to France that a great man, descendant of Mohammed, restored me, a victim of misfortune, to life and happiness…”

There are still many unpublished documents of this type – particularly in the form of correspondence – which deserve to be exploited and presented to the public, because, in their simplicity, they are the most faithful reflection of the Emir's charisma.

To be continued…