shemale blogSince the earliest civilisations, the Arabian peninsula has been the home of nomadic
pastoralists who used the camel, domesticated in about 1000 BCE, to travel from oasis to oasis in the search for pasture and water for their flocks. Over the centuries, these pastoralists traversed vast distances to trade between ancient empires, and by the 7th century CE, they established great merchant town of Mecca.
Before the advent of Islam, the Bedouin traders chief obligation was to their tribe and not wider society, with disputes between clans, tribes and merchants often degenerating into bloody feuds.
Islam, founded in 622CE, supplanted the anarchy of tribal rule with a single code of laws based on universal obligations of moral and social behaviour. In the centuries following founding of the religion, Muslim rulers built empires that were to stretch from China in the east to Spain in the west. Muslim cities became world centres of great learning, where artisans, merchants and traders could live free from the arbitrary laws of the old societies.
The rise of the Muslim empires created new centres of Islam with their capitals in Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and Granada. Mecca was to remain the spiritual home of the religion, but over time the Arabian Peninsula would slip into isolation.
The hajj pilgrimage, however, remained a point of contact with the global Muslim community. Over the centuries, waves of pilgrims brought with them many variants of Islam, often fused with pre-Islamic cultures and practices. Islam itself developed distinct schools of interpretations and, after a bloody struggle for succession, the religion split into two branches, the Sunni and the Shia. A mystical branch of the religion, known as Sufism, also gained many adherents.
In the 1740s, a religious reformer from the Najd, Sheikh Muhammad ibn Wahab (1703-91), began to denounce religious practices he considered contravened the true teachings of Islam. Ibn Wahab preached that Muslims had to return to the founding principles of the religion, and adopt the simple lifestyle of the ‘noble ancestors’, known as the Salaf.
Central to Ibn Wahab’s message was that the Tawhid, the union with god, could only be achieved by the strict acceptance of the teachings of the Koran, the Muslim holy book. The religious establishment and the Shia, who Ibn Wahab denounced as apostates, shunned this new reform movement.
Persecuted, ibn Wahab sought refuge in the oasis of Diriyya in the Najd, a province nominally under the control of the Ottoman Empire (now part of central Suadi Arabia). Ibn Wahab found a willing convert in Muhammad Ibd Saud, the ruler of Diriyya. The two men forged an alliance that would combine zealots and tribesmen into a powerful military and ideological force. Ibn Saud, his son and grandson, used the sword to spread Wahabism, and their rule, across the Arabian Peninsula.
After ibn Wahab's death in 1792, the chiefs of the al-Sauds assumed the title of Wahabi imams—political and religious figures whose rule had religious authority. The descendents of Ibn Saud and Ibn Wahab—know as the al-Sheikhs—would dominate the religious and civil authorities of future Saudi kingdoms.
Between 1744 and 1818, the Sauds conquered the Najd, seized the holy city of Mecca, and founded their first kingdom. Ibn Saud’s great camel army reached as far as the Shia holy city of Kaballa in southern Iraq, where they sacked the tomb of the Imam Hussein, the founder of the Shia branch of Islam. Meanwhile Wahabi privateers raided the merchant ships of non-believers along the Trucial Coast until the British Navy halted their activities.
The raid on Karballa and the capture of Mecca shocked the Ottoman Sultan, while the growing influence of Wahabism threatened the religious authority of the empire. Enraged by the actions of these desert raiders, the Sultan called on Muhammad Ali, the ruler of Egypt, to crush the Wahabis and their allies. In 1819, Muhammad Ali marched his army on Dirriya and defeated the Bedouin tribes. The Saudi chief was taken in chains to the Ottoman capital and executed.
In 1824, Turki ibn Abdullah, a descendent on Ibn Saud, raised a new Bedouin army and drove the Egyptians out of the Najd. The second kingdom flourished under Turki until he was assassinated by his cousin in 1834. His murder ushered in an era of internecine fighting until Turki’s son Faisal restored their power in 1843.
Faisal ruled the Najd until his death in 1865, but his kingdom did not survive him. A rival Najdi clan, the al-Rachids, allied itself with the Ottoman Empire to depose the al-Sauds. Faisal’s heir, Abl al-Rahman, attempted to regain power in 1891, but his uprising was crushed and he fled to Kuwait.
Abd al-Rahman never realised his dream to rule the Najd, but in 1902 his 20-year-old son, Ibn Aziz al Saud (known in the West as Ibn Saud) set out with a band of 70 men for Riyadh, and according to official Saudi history, scaled the walls of the capital, ambushed the governor and declared himself the ruler of the Emirate of Najd.
In 1905, the young Ibn Saud forged an alliance with Britain, a powerful ally against the Ottoman Empire. Over the next 20 years he build a formidable army of 50,000 Wahabi warriors, known as the Ikhwan, a force to match that of his ancestor Mohammad Ibn Saud. With his army, Ibn Saud conquered province after province of the Arabian Peninsula.
In 1916, at the height of the First World War, the British-backed ruler of the Hijaz, the Hashmite Sherif Hussein, led a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1924, the Sherif Hussein declared himself the Caliph of Islam, a move that incensed Ibn Saud and his Wahabi warriors.
Ibn Saud launched his army on the Hijaz, and after a series of bloody battles captured Mecca, Madina, and al-Taif. The Ikhwan now had control of the holy cities, and set about destroying all manifestations of Islam that did not adhere to the doctrine of Tawhid. In January 1926, the last stronghold of the Hashemites, the port city of Jeddah, fell to Ibn Saud.
The capture of Jeddah marked the end of the era of conquest, and in agreement with Britain, Ibn Saud began to mark out the borders of his new kingdom. When Ibn Saud declared himself the ruler of the Kingdom of Hijaz and the Sultanate of Najd in the great mosque in Mecca, he laid the foundations of modern Saudi Arabia. In September 1932, the king renamed the country the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Power in the new kingdom rested on two pillars, the House of Saud and the Ulema, a religious body with authority over all aspects of social and legal life. The Ulema would colonise the ranks of lawyers, judges and civil service, and although they were free to dispense law according to the Wahabi principles, they had little influence over the kingdom’s economic and foreign policies.
The rise of the third kingdom drew little interest from the outside world until the discovery of oil in 1933. This oil would elevate Saudi Arabia from one of the poorest countries in the Middle East into the world’s largest producer of oil. This transformation was to place a strain on the founding principles of the kingdom and the alliance that brought it to power. Oil wealth, however, would also allow the Wahabi doctrine to spread across the Muslim world.
The Ikhwan Movement
The Ikhwan (Brethren) were the supporters of Ibn Saud and followers of Wahabism. They established communities, which also served as military garrisons, where they could put into practice the principles of Salaf, the simple lifestyle of the first convert of Islam.
Ibn Saud supplied the communities with seeds, tools, money and weapons. By 1915, there were more than 200 settlements of 60,000 men ready to heed Ibn Saud's call for holy war.
The Ikhwan became the dedicated striking arm of the young king. In 1921, the Ikhwan defeated the Saud’s traditional rivals the al-Rachids. Other expeditions succeeded in conquering the Asir and the Eastern Region.
The Ikhwan, however were known for their lack of discipline. Often they would raid British protectorates in defiance of Ibn Saud’s orders. One such raid on Transjordan, now the Kingdom of Jordan, was met by a devastating counterattack by the British army.
By 1927 Ibn Saud was finding it difficult to control his unruly army, and their continued raids compromised his alliance with Britain. Tensions finally spilled over into open revolt when Ibn Saud introduced the telegraph into his territories. The Ikhwan denounced the new invention as a work of the devil and rose in revolt.
With the help of the British, Ibn Saud crushed the rebellion. In 1930 the survivors were offered posts in a new military body, the White Army, that swore loyalty to the king.