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The Compassionate Warrior
The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria
Compassionate Warrior, The: Abd el-Kader of Algeria
Compassionate Warrior, The: Abd el-Kader of Algeria
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Inter-faith dialogue

Price:  $16.95

ISBN:  978-1-937786-10-6
Book Size:  6" x 9"
# of Pages:  184
Language:  English

Description of “The Compassionate Warrior”
This is the fascinating biography of Emir Abd el-Kader (1807-1883), the heroic Algerian who led the resistance to the French conquest of his country. He was a brilliant military strategist, superb horseman, and renowned Muslim thinker and leader. Known for kindness towards his enemies, he became an international celebrity in his own time. Today Abd el-Kader is recognized as a pioneer in interfaith dialogue. Even today, people remember that in 1860 in Syria, he saved thousands of local Christians from mob violence, earning praise from leaders as diverse as Abraham Lincoln, Pope Pius IX, and Napoleon III. This study of Abd el-Kader’s life and times was written by Elsa Marston as an accessible book particularly for young adults. However, readers of any age will appreciate Marston’s concise biography and description of the political climate of those times and places, and teachers should find in this book rich source material for studies on the beginning of modern relations between the West and the Muslim world.


  • Co-winner of the 2013 Middle East Book Award for best “Youth Nonfiction”
  • Finalist for 2013 Midwest Books Award in the categories “History” and “Young Adult Non-Fiction”
  • Finalist for 2013 Foreword Review “Book of the Year” Award in the category “Young Adult Nonfiction”
  • 2014 Eric Hoffer Award, First runner-up in the “Culture” category
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Details on “The Compassionate Warrior”

This is the fascinating biography of Emir Abd el-Kader (1807-1883), the heroic Arab who led the resistance to the French conquest of Algeria. He was a brilliant military strategist, superb horseman, and renowned Muslim thinker and leader. Abd el-Kader was an international celebrity in his own time, known for his generosity and kindness even towards enemies. Today he is recognized as one of the noblest leaders of the 19th century and a pioneer in interfaith dialogue. Even after his defeat by the French, exile from his own country of Algeria, betrayal and imprisonment, the Emir took it upon himself to save thousands of local Christians from mob violence in Damascus in 1860. His life, his actions, and his writings all offer valuable lessons to people today.

Elsa Marston’s book about Abd el-Kader, which is aimed at young adult readers, is an excellent biography of the expansive life of this great freedom fighter, but along with the included illustrations, glossary, selected bibliography, and index, it is also a very good introduction to a crucial phase of European colonial history as it clashed with the Muslim world over 150 years ago. Readers of any age will appreciate Marston’s concise biography and description of the political climate of those times and places, and teachers should find in this book rich source material for studies on the beginning of modern relations between the West and the Muslim world.

Here are some passages from Barbara Petzen’s “Foreword” to The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria, which indicate why this accessible study of one man’s life opens up so many important learning opportunities for people today:

“This book introduces us to a true Muslim hero, a man who combined the best qualities of a freedom fighter and a peacemaker. Often called the George Washington of Algeria, the Emir Abd el-Kader led his people in a long fight to resist the French conquest and colonization of their country. Although he did not achieve liberty for Algeria, Abd el-Kader stands in the company of other great modern-day heroes who championed the rights of their people—Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and many others. He led his people in war, but fought also to maintain his humanity and mercy through this long time of strife. His principles of honorable and merciful conduct in war precede the Geneva Conventions by a century.

“But it is not just as a noble warrior that Abd el-Kader won global fame and respect. Through a life of imprisonment and exile, this Sufi scholar, who led his followers on Islam’s spiritual path, met and impressed many of the leading figures of his day. He never wavered from his insistence that those of different faiths could not only coexist in peace, but should learn from one another. He believed that the truest expression of Islam is a life lived in brotherhood and generosity of spirit.

“Abd el-Kader was a man of contrasting qualities. He was a scholar and a soldier, both principled and pragmatic. He was devoutly faithful and remarkably open-minded, raised with a traditional education and yet interested in many of the most modern ideas and technologies of his day. He exemplifies the inspirational qualities of great leaders everywhere—courage, empathy, charisma, determination—bringing them together in a framework of Islamic piety and contemporary knowledge. Elsa Marston’s excellent biography presents his legacy as a model for young Muslims today searching for a way to be both true to their religious heritage and open to the best of the modern world, and for non-Muslims who are not exposed to enough Muslim voices of reason and compassion.”


  • Co-winner of the 2013 Middle East Book Award for best “Youth Nonfiction”
  • Eric Hoffer Award/Montaigne Medal Finalist
  • Finalist for 2013 Midwest Books Award in the categories “History” and “Young Adult Non-Fiction”
  • Finalist for 2013 Foreword Review “Book of the Year” Award in the category “Young Adult Nonfiction”
  • 2014 Eric Hoffer Award, First runner-up in the “Culture” category

About the Author of “The Compassionate Warrior”

Elsa Marston

Elsa Marston is an award-winning author of over 20 teen and children’s books, specializing in the Middle East and North Africa, ancient and modern. She has a master’s degree in international affairs from Harvard University with further study at the American University of Beirut, and has lived in Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia with her husband, the late Professor Iliya Harik of Indiana University. In addition to her books with Wisdom Tales (The Compassionate Warrior and, forthcoming, The Olive Tree), her recent work includes Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories About Teens in the Arab World, Women in the Middle East: Tradition and Change, The Byzantine Empire, and Muhammad of Mecca, a historical biography. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

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Barbara Petzen

Barbara Petzen is a scholar and educator who has been very involved in bridging the gap that exists between Western and Muslim societies. Ms. Petzen wrote the “Foreword” to The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria, which was written by Elsa Marston.

Barbara Petzen founded Middle East Connections, an organization that works to create a “more complex and accurate understanding of the Middle East and its people through professional development, study tours and outreach consulting,” and is currently its director.

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Reviews of “The Compassionate Warrior”

“…Elsa Marston has spent more than half a century researching this Muslim hero, a towering figure who earned laurels from friends and foes alike, and whose greatest accomplishment came not on the battlefields of his homeland, but later, while in exile, in saving thousands of Christian refugees during a civil war in Syria.… Featuring lavish illustrations with photos and portraits, Marston’s lively twelve-chapter biography is enhanced with notes, a glossary, and a timeline of el-Kader’s life. While simple and aimed at a middle-school audience, the prose is lively, colorful and at times quite exciting. It befits the subject, a dashing nineteenth-century hero who rode about the desert, robes flowing in the wind, and sword flashing in the sun.… Marston also explores the history, culture and religion of Algeria and how it shaped and was shaped by el-Kader. The book, however, is not limited to his days fighting for his homeland. Defeated by more numerous, more disciplined and technologically superior forces, el-Kader was forced to surrender and accept exile, first in France, later in Ottoman Turkey and finally in Syria. It is in these chapters that the author presents the most in-depth view of her hero, who rather than living out his final days as a bitter exile instead grows into a man of letters and a rare voice for religious tolerance and compassion for the victims of war and violence.…”
—from a review in ForeWord Reviews

The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria by award-winning children’s author Elsa Marston is the 184-page biography of a 19th-century leader, an Arab hero who led the fight in Algeria against opposing French forces. Abd el-Kader (1807-1883) was especially known for his ability as a military strategist and Muslim political leader. What is less weIl known is that in 1860 he was responsible for saving thousands of Christians from Syrian mob violence which earned him international recognition from Abraham Lincoln, Pope Pius IX, and Napoleon III. Enhanced with a section of period photography, The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria is especially recommended for young readers ages 13 to 16 and would make a significant and highly valued addition to both school and community library biography collections.”
Children's Bookwatch, a review publication of Midwest Book Review

“Abdelkader's story of chivalry, compassion, and moral courage is more relevant than ever in today's shrinking world. Elsa Marston is to be congratulated for being the first to write a lively young adult biography of this warrior scholar and humanitarian, who today's youth and leaders could beneficially emulate…”
John W. Kiser, author of Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader

“This clear and accessible biography will provide young readers with a valuable portrait of the Emir Abd el-Kader, who was so admired in 19th-century America. It is an admirable contribution to the understanding of the encounters between Muslims and Christians in the age of colonialism.”
Carl W. Ernst, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, author of How to Read the Qur’an: A New Guide, with Select Translations and editor of Islamophobia in America

“At a time when negative stereotypes dominate the public perception of Islam and Muslims, our young people are sorely in need of positive role models who embody the highest ideals of what it means to live a life of dignity and purpose. Marston has filled that void with this gripping narrative of the life of Emir Abd el-Kader, a towering figure who inspires us all to a greater sense of humanity and justice no matter what religion we may practice.”
Robert F. Shedinger, Luther College, author of Was Jesus a Muslim?

“Abd el-Kader—a man of principle, Muslim spiritual leader, diplomat, Arab luminary—led a rich and engaged life, despite decades of exile. This Algerian hero’s story provides a fascinating window into the history of the nineteenth century, reflecting social and religious values and the tumultuous political times, and helping us make connections between France’s brutal colonial policies, the Algerians’ valiant resistance, and one leader’s dignified and powerful struggle for justice. Marston’s is an important contribution to youth literature, and will doubtless be a truly lasting one.”
Zeina Azzam, Georgetown University, Director of Educational Outreach, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies

“The special merit of Marston’s very beautiful book is that the virtues and human qualities of Abd el-Kader play a central role in her story. In bringing this story to American youth, the author is offering them the chance to discover not only the values of mercy and peace within Islam, but also the life of a person who completely embodied those values. This book is not only a beautiful narrative that is based on solid documentation, but it is above all a useful book for our children who are going to inherit a world which is in urgent need of mercy and peace.”
Ahmed Bouyerdene, author of Emir Abd el-Kader: Hero and Saint of Islam

“Award-winning author Elsa Marston’s books about the Middle East are often categorized as ‘juvenile fiction and non-fiction.’ However, The Compassionate Warrior, like most of her work, is a piece of solid scholarship, engagingly narrated, that will also have great appeal for adults. The Emir Abd el-Kader is an inspirational figure from Algerian history who deserves to be better known, and this exceptional book is a welcome contribution to that cause.”
Laurence Michalak, University of California, Berkeley

“Elsa Marston’s biography illuminates the extraordinary story of Emir Abd el-Kader. This 19th century hero was tireless in his efforts to protect innocent lives and the honor of Islam. His example is an inspiration for us all.”
—Jacqueline Jules, librarian and teacher, author of Sarah Laughs and Benjamin and the Silver Goblet

The Compassionate Warrior provides us with a rich opportunity to learn about the life and teachings of a prominent Muslim spiritual teacher who resisted French colonialism. Not being content with returning violence for violence, Emir Abd el-Kader also protected Syrian Christians at a later point in his life.… This volume is highly recommended for all who seek to learn about spiritual ways of responding to the traumas of the contemporary world.”
Omid Safi, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, author of Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters

“In her engaging biography, the author shows well how Emir Abd el-Kader, head of a religious order and a fighter against colonial intrusions, preached tolerance and coexistence among communities, as was evident of his defense of the downtrodden during the exceptional Damascus riots of 1860. It is good of the author to bring to light the tolerance of a brave and compassionate hero who was needed then and is needed now as a model of leadership.”
Leila Fawaz, Tufts University, author of An Occasion for War: Mount Lebanon and Damascus in 1860

“In Elsa Marston’s story of Emir Abd el-Kader we learn about the character of a man who was regularly faced with difficult decisions. In his journey, we see that being a warrior does not always mean going to war, but can also involve simply fighting for what is right. We witness the heroism that lies in human nature, even during the horror of battle, and the compassion that makes heroism possible. There is no avoiding the strong sense of justice that permeates all of his actions, and that that commitment to justice is deeply informed by his faith and spirituality. The remarkable nature of his story only highlights the importance of being true to one’s convictions. His story is both awe-inspiring and inspirational.”
Hussein Rashid, Hofstra University, associate editor of Religion Dispatches magazine

“It is not very often that we readers and teachers come across a book that reveals so much history and biography in such an engaging and compelling way. Although the life of the great Algerian freedom fighter of the nineteenth century is the central focus of the book, the story also features French and North African colonial history, Christian-Muslim relations, and European politics. This book is an excellent vehicle for young people to explore a fast-moving story of heroic resistance to power, of nobility in times of war, of famous people and trying times, while all along learning—and probably enjoying—history, ethics, cross-cultural relations, and the inner workings of Muslim societies.”
Roger Gaetani, editor of Introduction to Sufism: The Inner Path of Islam and A Spirit of Tolerance: The Inspiring Life of Tierno Bokar, former teacher and developer of educational materials

“Elsa Marston, the author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction for young readers set in the Middle East and North Africa, offers an exciting and inspiring biography of Abd El-Kader in The Compassionate Warrior. Written for readers middle school age and up, The Compassionate Warrior highlights El-Kader’s childhood, military feats, years of imprisonment, and exile in Syria, where he played a key role in saving lives and promoting peace during the deadly riots in Damascus in 1860.…

“Marston provides a clear and balanced account of France’s colonial ambitions and indigenous resistance and doesn’t gloss over the atrocities that were part of wartime during that era – for instance, the beheading of suspected traitors and sieges that starved innocent civilians. El-Kader’s resistance to colonial domination earned him worldwide acclaim – Marston points out that the town of Elkader, Iowa received that name because its founder was an admirer of the Algerian leader – but he also gained respect because of his humane treatment of prisoners of war and vanquished populations. In fact, his actions became the foundation many years later of various provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

“In the end, however, El-Kader found himself on the run, and he surrendered to the French to protect his people from further suffering. After years of imprisonment, he was allowed to live in exile in Syria. A devout Sufi Muslim, El-Kader called for jihad – holy war – in resisting the French, but in exile, he became a spiritual teacher and risked his own life to save Christians during the Damascus riots. He counted Christians of all backgrounds, including his French captors, among his friends.

“Marston’s biography explores the costs of war upon leaders with the empathy to understand its consequences. Few people today outside the Middle East and North Africa have heard of Abd El-Kader, and in Marston’s capable hands, addressing this lack of awareness also means gaining a more nuanced view of Islam and the Muslim world.”
—from a review by author Lyn Miller-Lachmann on the website The Pirate Tree, “A General’s Life After War: Review of The Compassionate Warrior.” (accessed February 25, 2014)

“[This] book, though written for the middle grade and young adult market, is a thorough and scholarly biography. Elsa [Marston] holds a master’s degree in international affairs from Harvard University and has written more than twenty books for children and teenagers.…

“I particularly appreciate the complexity of [Marston’s] treatment of el-Kader. She doesn’t shy away from the controversial aspects of his life, such as the massacre of two hundred French prisoners of war at a camp in Morocco. While el-Kader did not order the massacre–in fact, he reviled it–it did occur at a camp under his command. Later, while in exile in Syria, el-Kader rescued thousands of Christians from Muslim rioters. The contradictions in el-Kader’s life–warrior and scholar, humanitarian and jihadist, Algerian nationalist and Francophile–are part of what makes him so fascinating.…

“Non-Muslims, too, need to read this book. The bedrock upon which compassion is built is understanding, and after reading [Marston’s] book, I have a much better understanding of el-Kader, Algeria, and Islam in general. The Compassionate Warrior is a worthy addition to your library, classroom, or bookshelf. I’ll be sending my copy to my wife’s classroom to share with her students.”
—from a review by author Mike Mullin on his website, “Review of The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria.” (accessed February 25, 2014)

Contents of “The Compassionate Warrior”

List of Illustrations


Foreword: Abd el-Kader: What Makes a Hero? by Barbara Petzen


Prologue: Algeria, December 1847

Chapter 1: Barbary Pirates and French Adventures

Chapter 2: An Unlikely Leader Emerges

Chapter 3: The Emir’s Strategy

Chapter 4: Abd el-Kader’s Vision for His People

Chapter 5: Frenchmen in the Emir’s Life

Chapter 6: War of Total Conquest

Chapter 7: The Devastating Tides of War

Chapter 8: Promises Kept and Broken

Chapter 9: The Imprisoned Celebrity

Chapter 10: Freedom and a New Life in Exile

Chapter 11: Madness in Damascus

Chapter 12: Abd el-Kader’s Vision for the World

Epilogue: Algeria After Abd el-Kader




Selected Bibliography

Biographical Notes


Excerpt(s) from “The Compassionate Warrior”

The following selection is from Chapter 12, “Abd el-Kader’s Vision for the World,”
of The Compassionate Warrior, by Elsa Marston

Abd el-Kader’s Ideas and Writings

Like his spiritual master, the medieval Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi, Abd el-Kader wrote abundantly. He started putting together his spiritual writings, many of which reflected the influence of Ibn Arabi, during his first years in Damascus. By conveying his spiritual and philosophical insights in writing, he carried forward the heritage he had received from studying the Sufi master in his youth. This vital connection is increasingly relevant today, as interest in Ibn Arabi is growing among scholars and in the Muslim world. The city of Ibn Arabi’s birth in Spain, Murcia, holds a major international film festival in his honor each year, especially for films that emphasize conciliation, understanding, and respect for diverse beliefs.

The Emir’s spiritual writings, based in Sufi mysticism, are difficult for most people to grasp; but for the purposes of this story of his life, one idea stands out clearly. Abd el-Kader firmly believed that God is a universal presence, the one enduring reality, and that all religions really worship the same God. Not just the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), but all others as well. He states: “…God addresses all those who have been reached by the Koranic revelation or earlier revelations—Jews, Christians, Mazdeans, idolaters, Manicheans and other groups professing varied opinions and beliefs with respect to Him—to teach them that their God is one.… All the beliefs which are professed about Him are for Him just different names.”[2]

To further explain, he says: “Allah [the Arabic word for God] is not limited by what comes to your mind—that is to say, your creed—or enclosed in the doctrine you profess.… If you think and believe that He is what all the schools of Islam profess and believe—He is that, and He is other than that! If you think that He is what the diverse communities believe, He is that, and He is other than that!… Each of His creatures worships him and knows Him in a certain respect and is ignorant of Him in another respect.”[3] In other words, says Abd el-Kader, no one religion or individual can know everything about God. Part of every understanding of God is true—but there’s always more. God cannot be completely understood.

Abd el-Kader reminds his readers that the holy book of Islam, the Koran, explicitly states that differences are good, that God purposely created people to be different. Diversity of human communities, with differing cultures and religious ideas, is one of God’s many blessings on humankind.

With these beliefs, Abd el-Kader could talk for hours with people who followed different religions—or no recognized religion at all. He could learn from them and share his own convictions, without having to insist that such-and-such a belief about God, or what God wanted, was absolutely right, or that a particular doctrine was wrong. The objective of dialogue was not to oppose or to win over, but to reveal the truths common to all religions.

Indeed, Abd el-Kader believed that his ability to accept “divisions” in understanding confirmed that he had a special role in bridging differences: Islam and Christianity, East and West. If both Muslims and Christians would listen to him, he said, it would prevent a lot of trouble.


[2] Michel Chodkiewicz, The Spiritual Wriings of Amir ‘Abd al-Kader (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), p. 125.

[3] Ibid., pp. 127-28.

Free Teaching Aids

The Wisdom Tales Press web site offers a free discussion guide for teachers. Click here to go to that section of the Wisdom Tales page for The Compassionate Warrior to see or download the discussion guide, which has twenty discussion-generating questions.

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