Abd al-Kadir was born in the town of Moascar which is located in the province of Oran. His father was a shaykh in the Qadiri sufi order. In his childhood he learned to memorize the Quran and was well trained in theological and linguistic studies, having an education far better than that of his peers.. In 1825 he set out for hajj with his father, while in Mecca he encountered Imam Shamil where the two spoke at length on different topics. He also traveled to Damascus and Baghdad, and visited the graves of famous Muslims. This experience served to cement his religious enthusiasm. On his way back to Algeria, he was impressed by the reforms carried out by Mehmet Ali in Egypt, he would return to his homeland a few months before the arrival of the French.
In 1830, Algeria was invaded by France, and replaced Ottoman control over the nation. Within two years, Abd al-Kadir was made an amir and with the loyalty of a number of tribes began a rebellion against the French. Kadir would have many victories in the beginning, and would often sign tactical truces with the French, but these would not last. He was effective at using guerilla warfare against the French. Abd al-Kadir's power base was in the western part of Algeria where he was sucessful in uniting the tribes against the French, and he was often victorious up until 1842.
However, Kadir would would eventually be forced to surrender. The French armies grew large, and brutally supressed the native population and practiced a scorched-Earth policy. Abd el-Kadir's failure to get mountain Berber tribes to unite with the Arabs also contributed to the quelling of the rebellion. On December 21, 1847, after being denied refuge in Morocco, Kadir was forced to surrender. Two days later, his surrender was made official to the French governor of Algeria: Duc d'Aumale. He then proceeded to be exiled to France.
In violation of the promise that he would be allowed to go to Alexandria or St Jean d'Acre, on the faith of which he surrendered, Abd al-Kader and his family were detained in France, first at Toulon, then at Pau, being in November 1848 transferred to the chateau of Amboise. There Abd al-Kader remained until October 1852, when he was released by Napoleon III. on taking an oath never again to disturb Algeria. The emir then took up his residence in Brusa, removing in 1855 to Damascus. In July 1860, when the Moslems of that city, taking advantage of disturbances among the Druses of Lebanon, attacked the Christian quarter and killed over 3000 persons, Abd-el-Kader helped to repress the outbreak and saved large numbers of Christians. For this action the French government, which granted the emir a pension of L. 4000, bestowed on him the grand cross of the Legion of Honour. He would devote himself to writing and philosophy until his death.
In post-indepdence Algeria, Kadir is seen as a national hero.