To an extent, the Guide du Voyageur appears willing to respect Islam and its influence on the Algerian population. The author(s) generally refer to Mohammed as “the Prophet” and appear to take quite seriously the Algerian nobility’s claims to descend from him; at one point, they note that the marabouts (the highest religious authority) “have often prevented the shedding of blood by reconciling enemy tribes…their protection (aânnaya) is often enough to protect travelers and carats from any attack.” This quotation makes it clear that the French are aware of the value of being supported by the marabouts, and see them as an entryway into influencing Algerian society. Very likely this show of respect and appreciation is driven by mostly political motives, to flatter the “religious nobility” and thereby make it an ally of the French government.
This ambivalent attitude is illustrated in a lengthy quoting of the French Abbott Suchet’s 1841 visit to Abd-el-Kader, a powerful Algerian marabout and head of the resistance against the French invasion. Suchet claims himself to be overall impressed by Abd-el-Kader, claiming that he “received me very graciously”, that his physique “is majestic…his gray-blue yees are beautiful and very expressive…his manners are humble, and he even appears embarrassed by his own grandeur.” Suchet describes the two men as being full equals, negotiating the release of French and Arab prisoners and enjoying a pleasant conversation.
Yet simultaneously, he apparently cannot restrain himself from preaching to Abd-el-Kader, and appears to believe that much of his grandeur comes from his interest in Catholicism; Suchet proudly notes that Abd-el-Kader, noting his crucifix, asks who is Jesus. Suchet answers that Jesus “is the word of God…and that Word became man to save the world, for our God is the father of muslims as well as christians.” When asked another, apparently neutral question about the organization of the Catholic Church, Suchet enthusiastically claims “their ministry [in Algiers] is to do good unto all men, whom we regard as our brothers, no matter their religion.”
Suchet’s insistence on describing Muslims and Christians as brothers equal under God is a double edged sword; while reiterating his respect for Islam, he is simultaneously preaching to Abd-el-Kader, seeking to justify the implantation of French missionaries - and, by extension, of France in general - in Algeria. The authors of the guidebook cite Suchet’s account as apparent proof that the French respect Islam, and that individual Muslims can be noble and trustworthy figures. Yet they cannot hide their belief in their own religion’s superiority; describing a Catholic ceremony in Algiers, they note that “the host, blessed by [the priest’s] hands, seems descended from heaven to purify this land of Africa, which had been lost for so many centuries .” The claim that Africa must be “purified” suggests that practicing non-Christian religions has made it impure; saying it has been lost calls on Catholic priests to “find” it. Their professed respect for Islam does not prevent the French writers from considering Christians, and therefore themselves, superior to Muslims, thus justifying the physical and spiritual colonization of Algeria.