On Saturday, September 19, a remarkable event took place involving international relationships. For the sixth year, the Abdelkader Education Project held its international forum, “Why Emir Abd-el-Kader Matters in Today’s World”, which brought together education, business and culture.
Who was Abd-el-Kader, you may ask? Abd-el-Kader was an Algerian “Sharif” religious and military leader who led a struggle against the French colonial invasion and founded the modern Algerian state in the 19th century.
His courage and concern for human rights shown in his treatment of prisoners of war and his protection of Christians in Damascus in his own home during a massacre of Christians inspired admiration around the world at the time. President Lincoln honored him as a great humanitarian. In 1883 the New York Times pronounced him “One of the few great men of the century.”
His exploits were heard of by land developer Timothy Davis in 1845, when he began a settlement along the Turkey River and he named the town after the Emir, “Elkader”.
Since then the town and Algeria has had some limited relations.
until in 2008 when the Algerian government invited Bethany Lutheran member, Kathy Garms, to come to Algeria where she met with government officials and attended a humanitarian conference.
It was not long after she returned that the Turkey River flooded and Algeria responded with relief funds of $150,000. She was then contacted by John W. Kiser, author of a biography of Abd-el-Kader called, “Commander of the Faithful”.
Together they came to found the Abdelkader Education Project which seeks to “promote cultural literacy, civility and respectful engagement between all people through education and outreach drawing on Emir Abd-el-Kader’s life story and values – courage, integrity, intellect, humility and compassion – that transcend culture and faith traditions.”
Kathy Garms is now a member of ELCA LEIRN (Lutheran Ecumenical and Inter-Relations Network) and through that relationship, the Northeastern Iowa Synod council voted to recognize the work of the Abdelkader Project and partner with it in ministry.
Every year the project hosts an essay contest based on the life of the Emir and awards scholarships to both college and high school students. The awards are presented to the winners at the forums which promote educational programs and business opportunities between Iowa and Algeria.
I was proud and honored to serve as one of the judges of this year’s essay contest.
The day’s special guest was the Ambassador to Algeria, Madjid Bouguerra. Representatives of several educational organizations shared new curriculum which uses the life of Abd-el-Kader to teach history, ethics and tolerance. There were also several representatives of the Iowa and Algerian business communities.
All of this in a little town in Iowa, because of the imagination and determination of a Northeastern Iowa church member!
2013 New York Times Article:
Iowa Town Named for Muslim Hero Extols Tolerance