Emir Abd el-Kader: Really A Role Model for Today?

[Editor's Note: This post by Sam Alexander is part of a conversation on the book Commander of the Faithful, by John W. Kiser at the Patheos Book Club this month.]

I get that the Emir was an honorable man. I get that his theological convictions had integrity. I get that he had courage and that he lived out of a genuine faith in Allah. Even faced with dishonest adversaries, he refused to stoop down to their level and maintained his integrity. It is clear that he was able to develop and grow, and that he was a brilliant tactician. Stack that up against behavior of the French, or better still, our behavior in the current endless, undeclared wars, we should be on our knees asking forgiveness.

But does he stand as an example of the kind of leadership we need now? No, the counsel he kept was for a different age. It was for a time when an ethnocentric worldview could still be sustained, a time when nation states or tribal elders could defend their land with vicious efficiency without drawing the entire globe into calamitous ruin. His leadership was for a time when religious societies and races were relatively isolated, when they could live separately claiming an exclusive hold on truth and all of us could survive. That time is long since past. What is needed now is leaders who can see beyond the us versus them, beyond my group and your group, my rights and theirs, to a worldcentric worldview. Only that kind of leadership has even a chance to sustain a new level of peace. Only that expanded circle of care will be able to contend with the natural catastrophes now bearing down upon us. The stakes are high; there is very little time; we can’t mess around looking nostalgically towards the days of honorable warfare.

Having said that, there is perhaps something to be emulated in Abd el-Kader. He developed and he grew. He did not shrink from change. With courage and integrity he sought what Allah had in store for us “next.” Perhaps now, such a leader will move beyond ethno-centrism to a more hopeful view of humanity’s future.

About Sam Alexander

Sam Alexander is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.


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