Si Kaddour Benghabrit
Si Kaddour Benghabrit
عبد القادر بن غبريط
Abdelkader Ben Ghabrit
|Born||November 1, 1868|
Sidi Bel Abbès, Algeria
|Died||June 24, 1954 (aged 85)|
|Relatives||Nouria Benghabrit (great-niece)|
Abdelkader Ben Ghabrit (Arabic: عبد القادر بن غبريط; Sidi Bel Abbes 1868 - 1954 Paris), commonly known as Si Kaddour Benghabrit (سي قدور بن غبريط) was an Algerian religious leader, translator and interpreter who worked for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was the first rector of the Great Mosque of Paris.
Si Kaddour Benghabrit came from a prominent Andalusian family of Tlemcen. After his secondary education at the Madrasa Thaalibia in Algiers and the University of al-Karaouine of Fez, he started his career in Algeria, in the field of judiciary.  Benghabrit received the typical education of the son of a Muslim notable in the Maghreb at the madrasa, memorizing the Koran and learning classical Arabic (the language of the Koran, which is very different from modern Algerian Arabic). At the same time, he also received an education that reflected the ideology of France's mission civilisatrice ("civilizing mission") under which France would "civilize" the Algerians by assimilating them into the French language and culture. Benghabrit was a Francophile who embraced the ideal of France's mission civilisatrice in Algeria, and as such he was deeply loyal to France and its values. The American historian Ethan Katz described Benghabrit as bicultural, a man who was equally comfortable with both aspects of his identity as French and Muslim who "moved seamlessly" between the cultural worlds of France and the Maghreb. As a cosmopolitan, sophisticated man, able to straddle two very different cultural worlds, Benghabrit was able to make himself useful to those who held power, and in turn he came to enjoy power.
In 1892, he became assistant interpreter at the Legation of France to Tangier; he served as a liaison between North African officials and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served as chief of the French Legation in Tangier in the period 1900-1901. Benghabrit was fluent in Moroccan Arabic (which is closely related to Algerian Arabic), which gave the French legation an immense advantage over the legations of other European powers who lacked personnel capable of speaking Moroccan Arabic, and furthermore he was always well informed about Moroccan affairs. The French diplomat Charles de Beaupoil, comte de Saint-Aulaire rated Benghabrit as one of the most ablest diplomats he had ever worked with, and as the most able in Morocco.
In 1901, he served on the Franco-Moroccan commission to delineate the Algeria–Morocco border. He served the French delegation at the 1906 Algeciras Conference, which formalized French preëminence in Morocco. In Morocco, Benghabrit held a position in the court of Sultan Abd al-Hafid as an unofficial French diplomat.
Treaty of Fes
In 1912, he interpreted the negotiations between Sultan Abd al-Hafid of Morocco and the French diplomat Eugène Regnault which culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Fes, which established the French Protectorate in Morocco. Resident General Hubert Lyautey then rewarded him with a position as head of protocol to the sultan.
World War I
In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War on the side of Germany. The Ottoman Sultan-Caliph Mehmed V, regarded as the spiritual leader of the entire Sunni Muslim world, issued a declaration of jihad (holy war) on 4 November 1914 urging all Muslims throughout the world to fight against Russia, Britain and France. France had millions of Muslims in its colonial empire, and there were serious worries in Paris about the loyalty of Muslims under French rule after the declaration of jihad. Benghabrit used all of his influence to argue that French Muslims should remain loyal to France, which endeared him to the French government. For the most part, French Muslims remained loyal to the republic during World War One and disregarded the Ottoman declaration of jihad, which improved his standing in Paris. During the war, Benghabrit urged Muslim men to enlist in the French Army and gave speeches before Muslim soldiers to tell them that they were fighting for the right side by fighting for France.
In 1916, France sent him to Hijaz as head of the French diplomatic mission to Mecca to facilitate the Hajj and ensure the well-being of his fellow citizens during their time in the holy places of Islam, and to convince Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca to break with the Ottoman Empire and join the Allies, assuring him of French support for a caliphate headed by himself.
In 1917, Si Kaddour founded in the Mahkama of Algiers (civil court or qadi), the Society of Habous and the Holy Places of Islam, in order to facilitate the pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims from French North Africa. The Society acquired two hotels in Medina and Mecca for use by pilgrims.
Throughout his career, Ben Ghabrit supplied France with valuable information about Muslim populations. The Quai d'Orsay's Africa-Levant division described him as one of its "most trusted Arab informants." In April 1920, he supplied the French premier and foreign minister Alexandre Millerand with a 23 page report on Muslim attitudes in North Africa and the Levant toward France, arguing for more autonomy in French colonies and support for the Paris Muslim Institute as a vital source of intelligence.
Grand Mosque of Paris
In 1920, the Society of Habous and Holy Places of Islam established the Algiers prefecture. It intended to apply for authorization to construct an Institute and a Mosque in Paris, to have a structure to symbolize the eternal friendship of France and Islam, and memorialize the sacrifice of the tens of thousands of Muslim soldiers who died fighting in support of France during World War I, including at the Battle of Verdun. The Great Mosque of Paris was built in the 5th arrondissement, completed in 1926. At the opening of the Great Mosque, Benghabrit in his speeches in both French and Arabic praised the "eternal union" of France and Islam.
The Muslim Institute of the Paris Mosque was opened in Paris to aid all Muslims living in or visiting the area. It provided services and spiritual direction but also aided people with direct welfare if needed, as well as supporting new immigrants and acclimating them to the city.
A sophisticated man and frequenter of Parisian salons, Ben Ghabrit was dubbed "the most Parisian Muslim". During World War II and after the fall of France, Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit worked to protect his people, both Muslims and Jews, arranging for forged papers for an estimated 100 Jews to certify them as Muslim. He also arranged to have Jewish refugees hidden in the mosque at times of German roundups, and transported by the Resistance out of the country. In addition, during the war in France, many Muslims joined the French Resistance movement.
World War II and Jews
During World War II, Si Kaddour Benghabrit saved the lives of at least five hundred Jews, including that of the Algerian singer Salim Halali, making the administrative staff grant them certificates of Muslim identity, which allowed them to avoid arrest and deportation.
In a documentary entitled Mosque of Paris, the forgotten, produced for the show Racines de France 3 in 1991, Derri Berkani reports that it was the Algerian partisans, mainly composed of workers, who had led the Jews to the Paris Mosque for protection. The mission of these Algerian partisans was to rescue and protect the British SOE agents and find them shelter. The Partisans subsequently provided assistance to Jewish families, from the families they knew, or at the request of friends, by accommodating them in the mosque, waiting for papers to be provided to get them to the Zone libre or cross the Mediterranean to the Maghreb.
The figures for the number of Jews saved by staying in the Mosque of Paris during this period differ according to the authors. Annie-Paule Derczansky, president of the Association des Bâtisseuses de paix, states that according to Albert Assouline, as stated in the Berkani film, 1600 people were saved. On the other hand, Alain Boyer, former head of religious affairs in the French Ministry of Interior, has stated that the number was closer to 500 people.
The Bâtisseuses de Paix, an association of Jewish and Muslim women working for inter-community harmony, submitted a petition in 2005 to Yad Vashem's Council to recognize that the Mosque of Paris saved many Jews between 1942 and 1944, and that Yad Vashem should thus recognize Si Kaddour Benghabrit as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. This request remains unfulfilled, as no survivors have been found; apparently the mosque had worked with false passports.
Si Kaddour Benghabrit also inspired Mohamed Fekrane in his short film Together, released in 2010. The role of the imam is played by actor Habib Kadi.
Legacy and honors
The French drama film Les hommes libres (Free Men, 2011) featured Ben Ghabrit and his work, and tells the story of Muslim contributions to the French Resistance. It starred French actor Michael Lonsdale as the Muslim rector.
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