Thoughts on John Kiser's Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader
by Daniel Harrell
Part of the Patheos Book Club Roundtable
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 nears, Christian-Muslim relations haven't improved that much. Immediate, stereotyped incriminations on the heels of the Al-Qaeda attack, stoked by two American Wars, find new energy from fears over what happens once the Arab Spring gives way to Summer. The somewhat tepid response of Americans to the Somali famine makes you wonder if it would be different if the famine occured in a less Muslim dominated area. Here in Minneapolis, the large Somali population is still viewed with suspicion by many, especially when women don traditional Muslim headscarves.
Where are the models for genuine interfaith connection and interreligious charity, especially in the face of conflict and discord? Emir Abd el-Kader drew high praise from Algerian Catholics as well as fellow Muslims, an American President and even his enemies. On what basis? On the basis of his faith in God as the God of all people and in the sanctity of human life as the gift of God. Nowhere was this more clearly evidenced that in his defense of Christians from attack by Muslims in Damascus in 1860. Having killed Christians earlier himself, he drew the distinction between Christians who invaded and sought to destroy Algeria, and those who merely professed strong faith in Jesus. For the latter, he had high regard, by virtue of his own strong faith. He wrote, "that which we did for the Christians, we did to be faithful to Islamic law and out of respect for human life. All creatures are part of God's family and those loved most by God are those who do the most good for his family. All the religions of the book rest on two principles--to praise God and to have compassion for his creatures. The law of Mohammed places the greatest importance on compassion and mercy, and on all that which preserves social cohesion and protects us from division" (p. 302).
Too often contemporary Christians and Muslims, trained to view each others as enemies for centuries, interpret points of convergence as threatening the purity and integrity of personal and collective (read tribal) belief. Easier to label the other as infidel or unbeliever than to seek peace and mutual tolerance. As a Christian, can't I affirm truth that is in Islam even if I do not affirm all that Islam teaches? Muslims regard Jesus as prophet even if they do not regard him as Lord. While that might not constitute full confession of faith, it certainly is enough to work with for the sake of the common good on earth. Moreover, can either say for sure what the full will of God is for the other? It's as a quote from el-Kader carried by a Catholic Sister read: "If you think that God is what the different communities believe--the Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc.--He is that, but also more. ... None of His creatures worships Him in His entirety" (p. xvii).