445: Students from America’s heartland rediscovering a Muslim hero (Part 2)

 Rebecca Roberts runner-up in Kiser Abdelkader Essay Prize WELCOME to a lively week here at ReadTheSpirit!
    We’re sharing hopeful stories all week about two American high school
students from a small town in Iowa who are inspiring readers far and
wide with the wisdom of—a long-forgotten Muslim hero who lived in lands
far away:
1.) Stephannie wins the essay contest with this wisdom.
2.) Stephannie offers a poem and prayer for peace.
3.) Rebecca writes on how students’ lives can be shaped.
4.) The Peace X Peace international women’s network
plans to publish excerpts of their essays, too. The article isn’t up on
Peace X Peace’s site just yet, but this link will reach that story when
it appears.
5.) And here’s an interview with historian John W. Kiser, whose book about Emir Abd el-Kader touched off this whole revival of his life story.

    In Rebecca’s second-place winner, she wrote about how events of global significance can echo into small towns like Elkader, Iowa—half a world away from the lands where the emir once lived.
    Here are excerpts …

 DamascusabdulKader“COMMANDER OF THE FAITHFUL”
By Rebecca Roberts

     Elkader is an odd name for a little town. It is especially odd for one in the middle of nowhere in the Midwest. It is even more odd when you realize that the person who our town is named after is a man who was famous in the 19th Century but is now mostly unknown in the United States. The oddness of the whole grows even more when the man’s religion comes to light, especially since the feeling in the United States and elsewhere is distinctly anti-Muslim. Which brings us back to the question of who is this man? What did he do to merit the great honor of being the only Muslim to have a town named after him in the entire United States? This man is named Abd el-Kader. He is a great man who was honorable and “righteous in war and in peace.” And he deserves all of this accolade and so much more …

    (Rebecca then describes the emir’s life, which you can explore in our Conversation with John W. Kiser, author of the new biography, “Commander of the Faithful.” She is most impressed by the emir’s nobility and bravery after he experienced betrayal and brutal treatment at the hands of the French, who imprisoned him for years. Once freed and living in the Middle East, the emir continued to live as a champion of human rights. That included risking his own life to defend Christian neighbors from a mob bent on destroying them. She writes …)

    Abd el-Kader was a man of unflinching principles, so when he heard about the attack he … protected the Christians. He did this by gathering all of the Christians he could convince to come with him and taking them into his own home. Once there, he protected and defended them until the danger had passed. (Some of the people he offered to protect rejected his offer and perished.)

    When word of … his heroics reached the world’s ears, it was met with surprise and he was hailed as hero. Impressed as the rest of the world was, I doubt that those who knew him were in the least surprised. Following that, he received some more accolades and awards. … He returned to a fairly quiet life until his death on the 25th of May of 1883.
    Over 200 years after Abd el-Kader’s birth, the man is to many people a historical footnote. For me, however, he is more than that. For me he is a reminder of everything a person should be: honorable, brave, wise, and kind.
    Over the past few months I’ve had to fill out more applications than I ever filled out in my life, applications for schools and essays for scholarships that have forced me to think about who I am and what I hope to become in my life. As I read John Kiser’s “Commander of the Faithful,” I realized that the Emir had many of the characteristics which I strive for. No doubt these same principles that the Emir so embodied and that I wish to emulate are the same ones that inspired Timothy Davis, in 1846, to name a little Iowa milling town along the Turkey River after a “daring Arab chieftain.”
    In recent years the Emir’s legacy continues to inspire more involvement with our international neighbors. This cooperation comes in many forms from the big things like becoming a Sister City with Mascara, Algeria, in 1984 to the smaller things like building, in 2003, a playground in honor of Idriss Jazairy Jr., the young son of the former Algerian ambassador.
    And we continue to honor Abd el-Kader, a man who was as righteous in peace as in war and unflagging in his ability to see all of those around him as people worthy of respect. For, as the Elkader High School Class of 1915 once said, “such is the history of the man for our town is named. A scholar, a philosopher, a lover of liberty; a champion of his religion, a born leader of men, a capable administer, a persuasive orator, a chivalrous opponent; the selection was well made, and with those pioneers of seventy years ago (now one hundred sixty-two years ago), we do honor The Sheik.”

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