Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, which had witnessed its golden era during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the thirty years of the unprecedented glorious rule of the four Pious Caliphs, better known as “Khilafat-e-Rashida”, later degenerated into a regrettable state of disintegration and discord, lasting for about a thousand years.
With the decline of the Abbaside Caliphate, the Arabian peninsula was left to its fate, culminating into tribal rivalries and discord which led to its degeneration. The Ottomans, no doubt, did take interest in the building of Holy Shrines in the cities of Makkah and Madina, but they paid little interest to the welfare of the Arabs, who were groaning under poverty and tribal strife. They acted on the well-known maxim of divide and rule by setting one tribe against the other. The Western powers, too, had shown their interest in Arab affairs, particularly in the Gulf States by the end of 18th Century A.C. The British people, who entered Arabia as peacemakers, later proved to be exploiters of Arab interests and were responsible for installing Sharif Hussain as King of Hejaz and his two sons as Rulers of their protectorates in Iraq and Trans-Jordon. They had, under Balfour Declaration, planned setting up a Jewish State in the heart of the Arab World (Palestine) which proved to be a trouble spot in the Middle East and continues to be a threat to world peace.
There was born in 1703 A.C. in Najd a great Muslim visionary, Muhammad Abd al-Wahab, who later started a Muslim puritan movement in Najd which aimed at bringing Islam to its pristine glory. This interpretation of Islam was later adopted by the Saudi Ruling family in 1744 A.C. The Wahabi movement was aimed at purifying Islam of the superficial and superstitious practices which had crept into it due to non-Islamic influences.
The Mowahhid (Wahabi) movement started by Muhammad Abd al-Wahab found its great exponent in the Ruling Saudi family, and his great disciple Sheikh Muhammad Abduh later became one of the leading intellectuals of the Islamic world.
Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd al-Rehman ibn Faisal al-Saud, the Founder in 1932 of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was born in 1880 A.C., at the Saudi Capital of Riyadh in Najd. In the turbulent society of Arabia, occasional tribal leaders have influenced the world scene. Such a leader was Abd al-Aziz. He ranks among the foremost figures of his age-a person who has left ineffaceable prints on the pages of world history. Not since the Arabian Prophet and his Four Companions (Pious Caliphs) called a nation into being, had so much of the Arabian Peninsula been assembled under one man. He was greatly instrumental in bringing about the unity and solidarity of the Arabs, inhabiting the vast Arabian Peninsula, and has earned for them an honorable place in the comity of nations. The House of Saud, later on, had a chequered career, witnessing occasional rise and fall until the emergence of Abd al-Aziz to power, who founded the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.
By the beginning of the 20th century A.C., the youthful Abd al-Aziz, better known as Ibn Saud, with 200 comrades-in-arms undertook the reconquest of his Saudi patrimony. On 15th January 1902, Abd al-Aziz, with 15 warriors, captured Riyadh in a dramatic surprise attack. His parting words to his father were: “You will see me victorious or will never see me again”. But his father did see him victorious. This exceptionally courageous feat of young Abd al-Aziz which will go down as one of the most daring exploits recorded in history makes the starting point in the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. During the next decade, he proceeded to reconquer Najd and other cities and provinces from Rashidi’s.
Before he could settle down, Abd al-Aziz had to solve three outstanding problems:
- Hostility of neighboring Arab States,
- Ottoman opposition supported by Rashidis and Sharif Hussain, appointed Amir of Makkah in 1908, and
- British policy of keeping status quo in the Persian Gulf. He was successful in tackling all three problems.
His first move was to strengthen ties between his dynasty and descendants of Wahabis. He founded a military religious organization of Ikhwan (Brethren). The Ikhwan in their first major operation expelled Turks from Al-Hasa in 1913, thus giving Abd al-Aziz direct access to the Persian Gulf. During 1921-22 Abd al-Aziz conquered Hai’l, and all Rashidi territories and assumed the title of Sultan of Najd and its dependencies.
Meanwhile, his relations with Sharif Hussain of Makkah who, during the Great War I, had become the King of Hejaz and self-proclaimed Caliph in 1924, had rapidly deteriorated. This unwise step by Sharif Hussain was much resented by the Arabs and the Muslim world. This necessitated military action by Abd al-Aziz, who captured Jeddah in December 1925. Sharif Hussain abdicated and his son Ali surrendered on January 8, 1926. Abd al-Aziz ruled the Holy Land as a Trust till the inhabitants themselves chose him as their King. He was proclaimed as the King of Hejaz in the Great Mosque of Makkah. In September 1932, he unified the Kingdoms of Najd and Hejaz, under the title of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In 1930, he added one more province to his Kingdom, when he incorporated the northern half of the Red Sea principality of Asir, over which he had recently established a protectorate.
Repeated Yemini aggression against Saudi Arabia, resulted in a seven-week war between the two countries in 1934 in which his two sons, Saud and Faisal won a brilliant victory.
The development of Saudi Arabia has few parallels in history. The fact that a single person, namely Abd al-Aziz welded four separate provinces, inhabited by scores of independent tribes into one Nation is a marvelous achievement. The rapid transition of a poor country with almost unknown areas of the desert, torn by tribal conflicts to the position of a respected member of the United Nations is a great achievement.
Abd al-Aziz consolidated his State, by dividing it into four divisions of
- Hasa, and
each headed by one Ameer. Each Ameer of the division commanded over a considerable military force that served as Escort, Police, and Reserve.
Immediately after becoming King of Hejaz, Abd al-Aziz convened an Islamic Congress at Makkah in 1926, to conciliate adverse sectarian opinion and gave a guarantee for the welfare of Muslim pilgrims, visiting Holy cities. His generous settlement with Imam Yahya of Yemen, despite the latter’s aggression and ultimate defeat in 1934, is a testimony of his magnanimity and Islamic brotherhood.
His wise administration was acclaimed throughout the world, and between 1926-31, Saudi Arabia was accorded diplomatic recognition by all major European countries, including Russia, and also by the U.S.A. This was a diplomatic triumph of King Abd al-Aziz who had won an honorable place for his country in the comity of nations.
His neutrality during World War II, despite pressure from His Majesty’s Council to side with the Germans, speaks volumes on his farsighted policy which was vindicated in the end.
After the unification of the two Kingdoms of Najd and Hejaz under the name of Saudi Arabia in 1932, King Abd al-Aziz embarked upon an unprecedented development work which immensely added to the peace and prosperity of his great country. Earlier, he settled Bedouins as agriculturists in suitable oasis and welded them into a nationally conscious community. The first Ikhwan colony, Artawiya, established in 1912, became the prototype of nearly 100 agricultural settlements.
In 1933, he took a momentous step by granting oil concessions to an American Oil Company, later known as ARAMCO after January 1944. This, and a subsequent concession, of 1939, allocated 440,000 sq. miles of Saudi territory for oil exploration. This added immensely to the revenue of Saudi Slate through increasing royalties from oil.
Before his death, King Abd al-Aziz had launched his first medical, irrigation and flood control projects. He built new ports, good roads, 300 miles long DAMMAN Riyadh railway and initiated the first elaborate School programme, radio communication network and an Air Force Training Centre. This amounted to a veritable social and economic revolution which was inaugurated in Saudi Arabia by the King.
King Abd al-Aziz was a great exponent of the unity of the Arabs and the Islamic world at large. His magnanimous and chivalrous peace with the defeated Yeman inaugurated a good neighbourly policy. He opened an era of constructive statesmanship of rapprochement with neighbouring Arab states of Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq and Trans-Jordon, the last two ruled by the sons of his erstwhile opponent Sharif Hussain of Makkah. The famous Treaty of Arab Brotherhood and Alliance made in 1936, was later adhered to by Yemen. He mediated in Palestine Arab national strike of 1936, jointly with the Rulers of Iraq, Transjordan and Yenian. In 1936, the Saudi King negotiated a treaty with Egypt.
The active role played by King Abd al-Aziz in uniting the Arabs and working for the Arab cause made him an international figure and the Leader of the Arab World.