|Posted by Sam Salama P.M. on May 6, 2009 at 8:59 PM|
Please see photo in the photo section.
Freemasonry can count many extraordinary members in its history, but surely one of the greatest must be Abd El-Kader ? an Algerian nationalist, a Sufi Saint, and a towering figure of nineteenth-century Islam.
Abd El-Kader was born at Guetna near Mascara in Algeria in 1808. He was a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed and by the age of fourteen he memorized the entire Koran. In November 1832 he succeeded his father as Emir of Mascara and henceforth he led a skilful insurgency against the French who had invaded Algeria in July (France occupied Algeria for 132 years). In October 1852, after several years of imprisonment in France, Abd El Kader was exiled to Turkey. Three years later he resettled in Ottoman-controlled Damascus along with his family and a thousand-strong Algerian bodyguard. And it was there, in the ancient Syrian capital, that the Emir would subsequently perform a remarkable deed that not only elevated him to the status of international celebrity, but one that also led him to become a Freemason.
In Damascus, Abd El Kader devoted most of his time to his philosophical and religious studies, and he also established a new Islamic school which employed more than sixty scholars, but when violent rioting erupted in July 1860 he personally intervened with his bodyguard to try and prevent a rampaging mob from massacring the city?s Christians. At some considerable risk to himself and his men, and with the Christian quarter already ablaze, the Emir began rescuing as many Christians as he could, using his own house and lands as a safe refuge. And when the mob demanded that he should hand over all the Christians for execution, he angrily unsheathed his sword and ordered them to disperse, or otherwise his guards would open fire. Reluctantly, the mob backed down and, as a result, an estimated 12000-15,000 Christians were saved.
News of his actions reverberated around the world and he was feted by several governments and associations, one of which was the Parisian-based Henry IV Lodge (registered with the Grand Orient of France) who, on 16 November 1860, wrote to the exiled Emir and congratulated him on his brave and tolerant act; they also enclosed a jewel inscribed with his name as a token of their heartfelt admiration. The Emir was evidently moved by their letter and on 27 January 1861 he replied and thanked the brothers for their ?noble? sentiments and expressed a wish to join their fraternity.
What greater honor can excel the love of man for mankind? [he wrote] ? If there were no love in us, would we belong to a right religion? Of course not. Love is the unique foundation. God is the God of all: we must, therefore, love this All.
Accordingly, in July 1861, the officers of the Henry IV Lodge wrote again to Abd El-Kader and this time enclosed the traditional questions put to potential members. Two months later they received his reply, which included some remarkable responses to their questions. Regarding man?s duty to his fellow man, the Emir wrote: he must advise them, ? show respect to the elderly, be kind to children, ? not be jealous, do good and resist evil. All religions rest on two foundations: the first one consists in glorifying God, the second one in being good to His creatures.
?All men?, he mused, ?come from one soul that became manifest under different aspects?, and this ?universal soul? ? ?is like the center of the circle, and the particular souls like the circle.? ?Man?, he continued, ?must also take into account the rights of the body ? to neglect the body and expose it to death is one of the greatest sins and a way to oppose one?s Creator and the wisdom of the Most High.? ? the perfection of man?s condition is to know truth in oneself, and to practice it.
On 18 June 1864, at nine in the evening, the Abd El Kader was finally initiated in the Lodge of the Pyramids (Grand Orient of France) in Alexandria, during a sojourn in Egypt. During the ceremony he was informed that Freemasonry did not advocate any particular worship, only in God, and that everyone was ?free to believe, according to his convictions?.
He was also told informed that Freemasonry was dedicated to the ?propagation of universal morals and the practice of benevolence? and that a true mason is someone who ?makes his heart a pure temple so that the divine spirit takes pleasure in it?; ?Nobody more than you?, he was told, ?illustrates a truer brother?. The Emir then received the second and third degree, before the lodge was finally closed at midnight.
On 30 August he did manage to attend a special meeting of the Henry IV Lodge in Paris and talk to his new brothers in person. After witnessing an initiation, the Emir was asked about the future of Freemasonry in the Middle East. Answering, he explained that the society was misunderstood and mistrusted in the region, and that before he had read the Order?s statutes he too had ?shared the same opinions?.
?But?, he added, ?after having looked further into its goals and its laws, I was convinced that it is the most admirable institution in the world.?
His words were received with loud applause and he was then presented with a diploma which confirmed the ranks that he had received in Alexandria.
Sadly, little further is known about the Emir?s involvement with the craft, although it is known that three of his sons subsequently joined lodges registered with the United Grand Lodge of England.
Abdelkader died and burried in Damascus in 1883, his remains later exhumed and transported to Algeria after independence from France (1962).
Sources: Freemasnry Today magazine.