Iowa High School Honors Muslim Freedom Fighter
A 19th century Muslim hero, a small midwestern town, a Virginia author and a high school essay contest have become part of a global cultural adventure that began in 1846, the year Timothy Davis decided to name a settlement after the "chivalrous Arab chieftain," Emir Abdelkader. Algerians consider him their George Washington.
President Obama has declared that the U.S. is not at war with Islam and that we share the same basic values. Students at Central High School in Elkader, Iowa, are saying "amen." In her prize winning essay A Servant of God, Stephanie Fox-Dixon observed, "Since learning about his life, I now regard Abd el-Kader as one of the forerunners of some of the world's greatest humanitarians, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. for whom faith was their rock...The emir's compassion toward his adversaries is typical of Gandhi's notion of Satyagraha--that the way a person behaves is more important than what he achieves."
In June, Elkader celebrated its unique namesake thanks to a new Abd el-Kader Essay Prize, established by author John Kiser. His book, Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader, 1803-1883 (Monkfish Books), has reinvigorated interest in the man whose legacy for the world had been forgotten outside of some Arab countries and France, where he is still honored today. Not since the class of 1915, have Elkader students reflected on the life of this great warrior scholar. His crowning humanitarian achievement was the rescue of the European diplomatic community and the protection of thousands of Christians in Damascus, threatened by a Turkish inspired pogrom in 1860.
"The Abd el-Kader Essay Prize is a wonderful addition to our list of scholarships, especially for those students who like history, civics and possess higher order thinking and writing skills," guidance counselor Diane Malcom noted. Miss Fox-Dixon has always been interested in international affairs and in different cultures and "…reading Commander of the Faithful made me feel as if I now have a stronger connection to the world around me."
To learn more about the man who was praised by President Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Pope Pius IX and French prisoners of war, and the students whose essays were recently honored see www.TrueJihad.com, ReadTheSpirit.com, and PeacexPeace.org.