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Home > Teen Books > The Compassionate Warrior

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The Compassionate Warrior:
Abd el-Kader of Algeria
author: Elsa Marston
foreword by: Barbara Petzen
Subject(s): Grade level(s) / Lexile:

Juvenile Non Fiction; Biography & Autobiography

8-10 / Lexile measure: 1160L

Format: Size / page count:


6" × 9" / 184 pages

ISBN: Date available:


Available now




A brilliant military strategist, superb horseman, statesman, philosopher, Muslim hero … Emir Abdel Kader (1808-1883) 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. This fascinating biography of the heroic Arab who led the resistance to the French conquest of Algeria, endured betrayal and imprisonment, and in 1860, in Syria, saved thousands of innocent people from mob violence brings a vital message for our times.

Elsa Marston is the author of almost two dozen books of fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. She grew up in Boston, and from a young age was fascinated with the stories of ancient Egypt and the Middle East. She attended Harvard, the American University of Beirut, and Indiana University. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

The Compassionate Warrior is the 2013 co-winner of the Middle East Book Award for best Youth Nonfiction, awarded by the Middle East Outreach Council. The Middle East Book Award “recognizes quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures.”


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

Reviews (hide/show)

“…Elsa Marston has spent years 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… 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

“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
“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
“Abd el-Kader, who fought for nearly two decades against occupation and oppression, refused the oppression of others, and believed that despite all our differences, we were brothers and sisters in humanity. His many battles, as a resistance fighter, as a prisoner, as an intellectual, and as a believer, embodied this simple and yet revolutionary idea. His message, in a world with more interaction than ever before, is not only still relevant, but key for us to preserve our ability to coexist and to work together for a better future. I think he is more needed today than in the 19th century.”
Majed Bamya, descendant of Abd el-Kader, diplomat and social activist
“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)

Table of Contents (hide/show)

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


For the Classroom: Teaching Materials

Several free resources are available for teachers who are using The Compassionate Warrior in the classroom. Click on the links in the items below.

  • There are twenty questions from which teachers can select those most appropriate for the level of their students, time constraints, etc. By clicking on the following link, teachers will be able to open or download a pdf document of which they have free use. Click here to access the free discussion guide for teachers.
  • For teachers who would like to edit or copy and paste the discussion questions above, click here to download an rtf document with the questions. The document can be opened in a word processing program. There are also some tips on ways to use these and other questions in the classroom.
  • The book The Compassionate Warrior includes a timeline of events in the Emir's life. We have put this timeline into an rtf document for easy copying and editing. We have also included some suggestions on how to use the timeline in a classroom. Click here to download the timeline.
  • The Abd el-Kader Education Project website has a number of excellent resources for teachers. Click here to go to their website in a new window or tab.

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