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Fragmented Sovereignties in the Colonial Age: ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jazāʾirī (1808-1883) and the Making of an “Arab Hero” (Project funded by the SNSF)

Who was ʿAbd al-Qādir?

ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jazāʾirī (1808-83) lived in turbulent times. As a young man, ʿAbd al-Qādir faced the invasion of his western Algerian homeland by France, against which he offered stubborn military resistance as the unexpected leader of an Islamic jihad in the 1830s and 1840s. ʿAbd al-Qādir built his own state, carried out military reforms, and fought French claims to rule over Muslim populations on behalf of the Moroccan sultan. After several military successes, however, he was defeated by superior French forces and eventually denounced as a rebel even in official Moroccan pronouncements,

After his surrender, ʿAbd al-Qādir arrived in France as a political prisoner, where he witnessed the Revolution of 1848 and the rise of Louis Napoléon, later Napoléon III. After the latter released him in 1852, ʿAbd al-Qādir went into exile in the Ottoman Empire, where he soon settled in Damascus and enjoyed transregional influence as a local notable, wealthy merchant, and Sufi scholar. Twice during his lifetime, ʿAbd al-Qādir achieved worldwide fame: first, in the course of his military campaigns against the French and, second, during the anti-Christian riots in Damascus in 1860 as the heroic savior of local Christians.

The dramatic breaks he experienced did not end his career, but rather changed its direction. The span of his life coincided with a crucial phase in the colonial expansion of European states, during which the Muslim Mediterranean was profoundly transformed by the establishment of direct and indirect colonial rule in the south and east of the Mediterranean. Important processes in this development were also the intensification of global trade as well as the strengthening of individual mobility, global knowledge circulation, and competition between empires.

  • Napoleon

    ʿAbd al-Qādir, BNF-Gallica

  • Abdelkader

    ʿAbd al-Qādir, BNF-Gallica

  • Portrait

    ʿAbd al-Qādir, BNF-Gallica

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