He was an enemy of France, who later became an internationally recognised hero.
His name was Abdul-Qadir al-Jazairi and he led a 15-year resistance against the French invasion of Algeria.
Born in 1808 in the Western Algerian town of Guenta, Abdul-Qadir grew up in his father, Muhieddine’s Islamic school. He became knowledgeable from a young age and had memorized the Qur’an by 14.
In 1825 he set out for Hajj with his father and travelled across the Middle-East. This experience, as well as his meeting with Imam Shamil, a man who later went on to lead the Caucasian resistance against Imperial Russia, had a profound impact on Abdul-Qadir.
Not long after his return from Hajj, Abdul-Qadir would go on to lead his own resistance, when the French invaded Algeria. Resistance among the tribes of Western Algeria was encouraged by Islamic scholars, so when the French army reached Oran, Muhieddine was asked to lead the campaign against the occupied city.
Abdul-Qadir and his father were among the first involved in the attacks below the city walls. A year later, Abdul-Qadir was selected as Amir and this began his 15-year resistance against the French.
Abdul-Qadir managed to unify the tribes of western Algeria and through a combination of skilful guerrilla attacks and tactical truces, they inflicted a number of humiliating defeats over a 10-year-period on one of the most advanced armies in Europe at the time.
From the beginning of his resistance, Abdul-Qadir’s Islamic principles inspired admiration not only from Algerians, but also from Europeans and even from his French enemies.
When it came to food, medical attention and respectful behaviour, Abdul-Qadir treated his French prisoners no differently to his own men. On one occasion he released prisoners simply because he did not have enough food for them.
British Army Officer, Charles Henry Churchill said about him:
“The generous concern, the tender sympathy” he showed to his prisoners-of-war was “almost without parallel in the annals of war.”
But Abdul-Qadir’s principles and mercy were not shared by his enemies.
After 10 years of resistance, France adapted its tactics to Al-Qadir’s guerilla warfare. The French armies brutally suppressed the rural tribes of Western Algeria, through a ‘scorched earth policy’ including massacres and mass rapes.
They also destroyed agricultural land in rural areas forcing people into starvation in order to weaken Abdul-Qadir’s rule.
When his fortifications were destroyed, Abdul-Qadir continued to fight in the East of Algeria, but with only a small number of tribes pledging their support, the rebellion was quelled and Abdul-Qadir was forced to surrender on 21 December 1847, after 15 years of resistance.
But this was not to be the end of Abdul-Qadir’s heroics.
After over 4 years of imprisonment in France, the new French president Napoléon III released the prisoners due to mounting pressure, including an appeal from the British Politician, Lord Londonderry.
Exiled from his homeland Abdul-Qadir eventually moved to Damascus where his continued struggle for justice would earn him international recognition.
In July 1860, the Christian quarter in Damascus was attacked by Druze.
Abdul-Qadir had already warned the French consul as well as the Council of Damascus that violence was imminent. When the attacks began, he sheltered large numbers of Christians, in the safety of his house.
Throughout his life, Abdul-Qadir stood for freedom and justice and for this, he made a name for himself.
While France saw him as an unprecedented opponent, many around the world viewed him as a patriotic freedom fighter.
Abdul Qadir’s resistance, as well as his mercy earned him the respect of both Muslim and non-Muslim leaders from around the world including Imam Shamil, the Ottoman Sultan, Abraham Lincoln and the Pope.
From his protection of the vulnerable, to his fight against the oppression of brutal occupiers, Abdul Qadir’s story remains an inspiration to many around the world until today.