Encounter: Al-Sanusi and Abdul Qadir al-Jazairi

Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri’s meeting with Al-Sanusi

Abdul Qadir al-Jazairi’s grandfather, the sharif Mustafa, received the Qadiri and Akbari tariqas in the Eastern lands of Islam, before returning to Algeria where he founded a religious center, Qaytana. His son Muhyiddin, a great scholar, became the main Qadiri shaykh in Western Algeria. His son Abdul Qadir was born in Qaytana in 1807.

In 1826, at the age of 19, he accompanied his father to the Hijaz for the Hajj. In 1827, they went to visit the great scholar and Sufi, sayyidi Muhammad ibn Ali as-Sanusi, who was of Algerian origin. Al-Sanusi invited them to his zawiya in Mecca, on the mountain of Abu Qubays, and invited them to some Couscous.

“Al-Sanusi himself was too ill to partake of this rather filling dish, but he stayed with his guests at the table. He folded his hands and watched the young Abd al-Qadir eating, keeping track of how much food he took. When he had finished fourteen mouthfuls, Abd al-Qadir stopped. Al-Sanusi urged him to eat more, but the latter excused himself, saying he was not able to eat another bite. Al-Sanusi insisted, “My son, (eating) more will make you greater,” but Abd a-Qadir still refused, and the former said, “This is what God has prescribed.” The youngster did not understand this prediction, which referred to the land that Abd al-Qadir was later to rule….

Al-Sanusi then said to Abd al-Qadir’s father Muyi’l-Din:

The religion of Islam requires every Muslim to defend it, as far as he is able to, and forbids the Muslim to surrender to the enemy. I say to you that I have the best wishes for this our son Abd al-Qadir, indeed he is of those who are going to make the sacred lands of Islam expand and raise the banner of jihad.

According to the historian al-Libi, this was the reason that three years later, Muhyiddin and Abdul Qadir would decide to begin the revolt, the jihad, against the French invaders of Algeria.(1) Indeed, Abd al-Qadir would lead the resistance against the French for almost 15 years.

On the way back from the Hajj, they joined the caravan to Damascus, and met shaykh Khalid an-Naqshbandi, who let them enter the Naqshbandi path. (2) While they only took this path for the sake of blessing, another great man who would later meet and correspond with Abd al-Qadir took this Naqshbandi-Khalidi path as his main tariqa: Imam Shamyl of Daghestan. Abd al-Qadir and his father then traveled to Baghdad to visit the tomb of shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, and then returned to Algeria.

Abd al-Qadir’s father Muhyiddin began the revolt against the French invaders, and benefited greatly from the networks created by Sufi tariqas. His son Abd al-Qadir succeeded him as the leader of the resistance, and fought the French for almost 15 years. During this time he created a fully-functioning state in the areas that he controlled, in which he enforced the Shari’a very strictly. A saying became popular, that a child with a crown of gold on his head could cross all the lands under his jurisdiction without fear. He also established weapons factories, and was able to fight the French bravely until he was forced to sign a treaty with them in 1847. The french broke their treaty and tricked him, sending him to jail in France, and then in 1855 they allowed him to move to Damascus, where he would teach the hadith and the ideas of Ibn Arabi.

In 1860, severe anti-Christian riots broke out in Damascus, mostly because of the wealth they were acquiring from their relations with the West, and Abd al-Qadir used his influence with the notables of Syria to contain the violence, and, when the massacre begun, he organized his compatriots and supplied them with arms, saving the remaining survivors, more than 30,000 Christians, and leading them to safety in Beirut. This led the French, who used to hold him as their greatest enemy, to give him their highest honors and awards. But probably more important for him, he received a letter of praise from Imam Shayml, the Naqshbandi-Khalidi leader of the resistance in the Caucasus, telling him that his action complied with the Shari’a.

In 1862, he went to Hajj, and took shaykh Muhammad al-Fasi of the Shadhili-Madani tariqa as his guide on the Sufi way. He quickly rose through the spiritual stations until he reached his goal on Mount Hira, after which he went into seclusion at the Prophet’s tomb, salla Allahu alayhi wa aalihi wa sallam.(2)

Upon his return to Damascus, he dedicated himself to teaching from the hadith and the Futuhat al-Makkiyya of Ibn Arabi. When he died in 1883, he was buried next to Ibn Arabi, as he had requested. But in 1962 the Algerian government, celebrating its 4th anniversary of independence, moved the body of their national hero back to Algeria.

During the Russian-Ottoman War of 1877-1878, a group of notables from Beirut asked him to be the King of Syria in case the Ottomans were defeated and the independence of the country was jeopardized. He agreed as long as the people gave him allegiance, and the kingdom maintained an attachment to the Ottoman Caliphate. This never happened.

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