Friday, April 20, 2012

Amir Abd al-Qadir

            Amir Abd al-Qadir was a militant anti-colonialist and a staunch fighter for independence.  No single person had as much of an impact on the Algerian independence movement in the 19th century.  Abd al-Qadir served as the leader of the resistance movement against the French forces; a movement that lasted seventeen years.  His views on Western imperialism and Muslim reform were very influential not just in Algeria but throughout the region.  Al-Qadir’s impact outlived his own life as he laid the blueprint for other resistance movements as well as the successful revolution in Algeria in the 20th century.

            Abd al-Qadir was born in 1808 in Mascara, Algeria and is said to be a descendant of the prophet Muhammad.[1]  He intensely studied the Sufi tradiont of Islam as a youth and was trained in the sciences.[2]  His ancestry ran through much of the Sufi branch of Islam.  Abd  al-Qadir’s grandfather reorganized the Qadiriyya tariqah and al-Qadir’s father later became a shayk of this order.[3]  Abd al-Qadir thus naturally became a leader of the Qadiriyya later in the 19th century when Muslims turned towards him for leadership and guidance.
            After years of strict schooling throughout Africa Abd al-Qadir began writing heavily about Islam and its practices.  He also began to participate more in protests against the French colonists in Algeria.  In the 1830’s Abd al-Qadir began formulating ideas for a possible independence movement by building on the jihad against the French for which his father had initiated.  In 1832 open conflict began with the French army while Abd al-Qadir had scarcely enough unity among his own subordinates.
            The French government had tried to offer some concessions but Abd al-Qadir and his supporters were not interested in piecemeal change.  The revolution had begun and al-Qadir was the leader.  In 1835 the Algerians scored a large victory at Macta by defeating the French handily.  Raphael Danziger states that the “Disaster at Macta was one of the worst military defeats sustained by the French during their occupation in Algeria.”[4]  The French took over 300 casualties and lost its ability to fight in the region.[5] 
            The largest problem faced by al-Qadir was the sheer size and capability of the French Army.  This was exacerbated when the French looked for revenge after their humiliating defeat.  The rest of the war was an example of a superpower forcibly imposing its will on a lesser opponent.  At Mascara the French walked into the city with almost no resistance and the movement seemed to be dying.[6]  Al-Qadir however proved to be a valiant tactician and a true fighter because the resistance continued after the French made mistake after mistake in Algeria.  The French army was frequently susceptible to interparty squabbling and interference by politicians at home.  The French left the cities they had taken captive thinking that the war was over.  However al-Qadir attacked again and again and regained much of what the Algerians had lost.[7]
            The Battle of Sikkak proved to be a thorough destruction of the al-Qadir’s forces and future influence with his troops.  The Algerians attempted to fight the French out in the open and were wiped off the field.  Danziger states “this unique attempt to beat the Europeans at their own game failed completely.”[8]  Much of al-Qadir’s thinly held tribes began to fall apart through mistrust and backstabbing.  The Algerian War had drawn to a close when the army had been reduced as a fighting force and al-Qadir began making peace overtures towards the French.[9]  Later  in 1847 he was captured and exiled by the French.[10]  He lived out the rest of his life in Turkey and Damascus and died in 1883.[11]
            After the Algerian Wars, al-Qadir continued to write heavily on the topic of Islam and independence.  He argued heavily for Islamism as a way to defeat Western imperialism.  Much of al-Qadir’s problems stemmed from the lack of stability and unity among the Muslim tribes.  Even after defeat al-Qadir still believed fully in his cause.  His influence lasted decades as the Algerians would eventually gain full independence in 1962 from the French.  Many of al-Qadir’s fighting tactics and ideas were used in this successful revolution.

            Al-Qadir’s ideology was based on Sufi tradition, specifically the Qadiriyya tariqah.  He believed in the Islamic sciences as well as mysticism.[12]  Some of these beliefs were targets of criticism by others because they were seen as contradictions to the Qur’an.  Like many Muslims al-Qadir was strict in his study of the Qur’an and the Hadith.  However, as we can see in his relation to Europe, he did display some openness to the West.  He realized the West’s superiority in technology and its influence in the world.  Throughout the Algerian wars he made repeated attempts to ally with both Britain and the United States.  In this sense he was a sort of opportunist.  In order to win independence he had to take risks and make the most out of his opportunity.  Later in life his writings became blueprints for other movements and he is held in high esteem by the Muslim community.

Type of Activism
            Al-Qadir clearly favored violent methods of revolution rather than other types of activism.  Some of his contemporaries exhibited passive assimilation or adaptationism.  Al-Qadir strongly believed in defeating the French through military force and instituting the principles of Islam in the Algerian government.  He is widely known as the most famous militant leader of the 19th century and was “both an able military commander and an effective political organizer.”[13]  He not only wanted to win the war but also establish a state.  Voll states that al-Qadir was “fundamentalist in spirit but willing to accept new techniques if they would make his army and administration more effective.”[14]
            Al-Qadir also never accepted outright defeat at the hands of the French and continued to firmly believe in independence.  Some leaders of the time became easily disheartened and quickly surrendered to the ways of the West.  Al-Qadir believed in preaching Islam but also using politics and the military as the main methods of resistance.
            Al-Qadir’s impact is immeasurable in terms of Algeria.  Voll states that “it was the individualistic style of Islam, which emphasized charismatic and messianic leadership, that provided the vision necessary for revolt in the face of French power.”[15]  Al-Qadir’s style of leadership became the basis for other revolutionary movements.  Although Algeria ceased resistance for some time following the Algerian wars, the people once again rose up following World War 1 using the methods of al-Qadir.[16]

[1] The First English Journal of Traditional Studies, Amir Abd al-Qadir, 2007, available from
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4]Raphael  Danziger, Abd al-Qadir and the Algerians: Resistance to the French and Internal Consolidation (New York, London: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1977), 117.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 121.
[7] Ibid., 123.
[8] Ibid., 126.
[9] Ibid., 130.
[10] Jean-Michel Lafreniere, Abd al-Qadir, 2011, available from
[11] Ibid.
[12] The First English Journal of Traditional Studies, Amir Abd al-Qadir.
[13] John Obert Voll, Continuity and Change in the Modern World (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994), 120
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid., 121.
[16] Ibid.

Annotated Bibliography

Danziger, Raphael. Abd al-Qadir and the Algerians: Resistance to the French and Internal Consolidation (New York, London: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1977), 117-130.
This source was very detailed about al-Qadir’s role in the resistance movement.  It does a great job at looking at the French army compared to the Algerian tribes.

Lafreniere, Jean-Michel. “Abd al-Qadir.” 2011.
            This source was a basic biography of al-Qadir which took a chronological approach to his life and actions.

Voll, John Obert. Continuity and Change in the Modern World, Second Edition (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1994), 58-61.
This source was used for research on al-Qadir.  Much of his history and background are focused upon in this book.  A lot of insight on the impact of his methods are given as well.

The First English Journal of Traditional Studies. “Amir Abd al-Qadir.” Studies in Comparative Religion. 2007.

            This source was used for a background and biography of al-Qadir.  Much of his beginnings are examined.  

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