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Letter from Imam Shamil to Emir Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri and the Amirs' response

Letter from Imam Shamil to Emir Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri and the Amirs' response
Photo: Imam Shamil and two of his disciples.


Background to Letters

After his long fight against the French, his capture and then his exile, Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri settled in Syria. "He spent most his time in prayer, contemplation, and instruction in the finer points of the faith. When war broke out between the Druzes and the Christians in Lebanon, the Emir heard that there were signs of an impending attack on the Christians of Damascus. He wrote letters to all the Druze shaykhs, requesting them not to 'make offensive movements against a place with the inhabitants of which you have never before been at enmity.'The Emir's letters proved to no avail. When the Druzes- whose numbers were now swelled by members of the Damascus mob- were approaching the Christian quarters of the city, the Emir confronted them, urging them to observe the rules of religion and of human justice. 'What,' they shouted, 'you, the great slayer of Christians, are you to come out and prevent us from slaying them in our turn? Away!' 'If I slew the Christians,' he shouted in reply, 'it was in accordance with our law- the Christians who had declared war against me, and were arrayed in arms against our faith.'This had no effect upon the mob. As the Turkish authorities stood by, either unable or unwilling to intervene, the Christian quarters were mercilessly attacked, and many Christians killed. The Emir and his band of Maghrebi followers sought out the terrified Christians, giving them refuge in his own home. News of this spread and on the morning of the 10th of July, an angry crowd gathered outside the Emir's house, demanding that he hand over the Christians. Alone, he went out to confront them, and fearlessly addresses them thus: 'O' my brothers, your conduct is impious... How low have you fallen, for I see Muslims covering themselves with the blood of women and children? Has God not said: 'There is no compulsion in religion, the right way is clearly distinguished from error'' [Quran, 2:56].This only enraged the mob further. The leaders of the crowd replied to him: 'O holy warrior! We do not need your advice...Why are you interfering in our affairs? You, who used to fight the Christians, how can you oppose our avenging their insults? Disbeliever, deliver up those you have hidden in your house; otherwise we will strike you with the same punishment we have meted out to the disbelievers: we will reunite you with your brothers.' Further words were exchanged, the Emir retorting that 'I did not fight Christians, I fought the aggressors who called themselves Christians.'The anger of the mob increased and at this point the tone of the Emir changed, his eyes flashed with anger, he sensed the possibility of battle, for the first time since he had left Algeria. He hurled one last warning to the crowd, saying that the Christians were his hosts, and for as long as one of his valiant Maghrebi soldiers lived, the Christians would not be handed over. Then addressing his own men: 'And you, my Maghrebis, may your hearts rejoice, for I call God to witness: we are going to fight for a cause as holy as that for which we fought before!' The mob dispersed and fled in fear."


Upon hearing about these events Imam Shamil of Dagestan, hero of the wars against Russian imperialism, wrote this letter to the Emir (excerpt):"Know that when my ears were struck with that which is detestable to hear, and odious to human nature- I allude to the recent events in Damascus concerning the Muslims and Christians, in which the former pursued a path unworthy of the followers of Islam...a veil was cast over my soul...I cried to myself: Corruption has appeared on the earth and at sea, because of what men's hands have wrought [Quran, 30:41]. I was astonished at the blindness of the functionaries who have plunged into such excesses, forgetful of the words of the Prophet, peace be upon him, "Whoever shall be unjust towards a tributary, whoever shall do him wrong, whoever shall deprive him of anything without his own consent, it is I who will be his accuser on the day of judgment." Ah, what sublime words! But when I was informed that you have sheltered the tributaries beneath the wings of goodness and compassion; that you have opposed the men who militated against the will of God Most High...I praised you as God Most High will praise you on the day when 'neither their wealth nor their children avail' [Quran, 3:10]. In reality, you have put into practice the words of the great apostle of God Most High, bearing witness to compassion for His humble creatures, and you have set up a barrier against those who would reject his great example. May God preserve you from those who transgress His laws!"Emir Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri responded (excerpt):"When we think how few men of real religion there are,how small the number of defenders and champions of the truth - when one sees ignorant persons imagining that the principle of Islam is hardness, severity, extravagance and barbarity -it is time to repeat these words:'Patience is beautiful, and God is the source of all succour.' (Qur'an, XII:18)"




Recommended Reading:

'Emir Abd El-Kader: Hero and Saint of Islam'
By Eric Geoffroy (Foreword), Ahmed Bouyerdene  (Author)

Purchase Book:



Abd el-Kader: Hero and Saint of Islam is an exceptional and fascinating biography of the great Algerian hero and mystic Emir Abd el-Kader (c. 1807/8-1883). Ahmed Bouyerdene is a researcher in history, and a specialist on the Emir Abd el-Kader. He completed his PhD on the life of Abd el-Kader at the Universite Marc Bloch, Strasbourg. He has published two books and several articles on the Emir in his native French, including Abd el-Kader par ses contemporains (Ibis Press, 2008). This is his first work to be translated into English.
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