AS an expert in Saudi Arabia’s modern history, I come across specific dates that are significant in the country’s history. When these dates are put together, we see that the unification of Saudi Arabia was for a particular purpose and had divine help behind it.
Although the Arabian Peninsula was the birthplace of Islam and the supply source of foot soldiers who spread its message, the peninsula reverted to tribal traditions and unobtrusiveness after the death of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in 622 A.D., and more specifically after the death of the Caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Othman, and Ali (May Allah bless their souls).
The focus of the Muslim state shifted to the newly conquered territories. Successive Islamic states were formed in Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo while the Arabian Peninsula for the most part remained in the periphery from 661 until the 20th century, with no political significance, except Makkah and Madinah that maintained a spiritual importance, until it was united by King Abdul Aziz in 1932.
The chronological history of the world shows that while the world was in the making, so was Saudi Arabia. Events across the world were ushering in a new era marked by tremendous scientific and technological advancement which impacted the world in ways humanity hadn’t experienced in terms of political, social and economic changes, which continue until the present day.
The first Saudi state started with a pact between Mohammad Ibn Saud, ruler of Ad-Diriyah, a small village in Najd on one side and the religious reformist Mohammad ibn Abdul Wahab on the other. Initially, Ibn Abdul Wahab was under the protection of Ibn Muammar, another ruler of a small village near Riyadh, but the powerful ruler of Al-Ahsa commanded Ibn Muammar to end his hospitality to Ibn Abdul Wahab as his reformist call was perceived as a political threat. Ibn Abdul Wahab turned to Ibn Saud.
The pact, forged between Ibn Saud and Ibn Abdul Wahab was for a noble purpose, which brought about the unification of the Arabian Peninsula under the rule of Al-Saud. Mohammad Ibn Saud adopted the reform call and its movement, and eventually expanded his control beyond his small village to include the entire Najd, and ultimately, during the reign of his son Abdul Aziz, the domination of the Saudi first state spanned over almost the entire Arabian Peninsula, which continued from 1744 to 1818.
The rise of the first Saudi state witnessed the European scientific and industrial revolution. Europe was the center of the world, while the rest was on the marginal periphery, including Saudi Arabia. However, neither Europe nor Saudi Arabia was ready for a full bloom.
Europe hadn’t fully reaped the byproducts of its scientific and industrial revolution with respect to the formation of military might and world economic influence, whereas the Arabian Peninsula was wobbling in its efforts to forge a territorial unity and political existence. The first Saudi state was destroyed by the Ottoman’s viceroy, Mohammad Ali Pasha.
The second Saudi state resurrected briefly, when Al-Saud returned to power in 1824. However, their control was restricted to Najd region, and it was contested by Al Rasheed. In 1891, Al-Saud were forced to go into exile in Kuwait. On the other side, Europe had taken firm control of the peripheral world.
During the 19th century, the Ottomans were controlling most of the Arabian Peninsula and almost the entire Arab world. This situation challenged the European powers, specifically France and Britain. When the World War I broke out, Ottoman Empire was a power to reckon with. While the Sharifs of Makkah were seeking to establish pan-Arab state by breaking off from the Ottomans, France and Britain encouraged them to revolt against the Ottomans, which they did in 1916. In the meantime, King Abdul Aziz returned from exile in Kuwait in 1902, and captured Riyadh from Al-Rasheed in 1906. Subsequently, King Abdul Aziz took control of much of the Arabian Peninsula in 1932.
By matching the world historical chronology of main events with that of Saudi Arabia, one may say that the unification of this country was not a coincidence rather it was done with the divine help to serve noble humanistic purposes.
• The pact between Mohammad Ibn Saud and Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahab that set in motion the early phases of the unification of Saudi Arabia could not have happened hadn’t Ibn Muammar forced Ibn Abdul Wahab to leave and go to Ibn Saud in Ad-Diriyah.
• The first Saudi state was established at a time when the European industrial revolution was taking place.
• The second Saudi state was short-lived and stayed away from the European dominance.
• The unification of Saudi Arabia by King Abdul Aziz in 1932, marking the third Saudi state, coincided with the discovery of oil in this country in the same year. This indicates it was a blessing for the entire Arabian Peninsula and the rest of the world.
• While the Sharifs of Makkah were supported by the British, and Al-Rasheed by the Ottomans, King Abdul Aziz was not supported by any superpower. In fact, initially, the British had no interest to deal with him. Consequently, the Sharifs and Al-Rasheed were in a much better position to expand their control over the entire Arabian Peninsula.
• King Abdul Aziz had a message of Tawheed, which is an Islamic ideology that calls for the application of the laws of Allah, and the entire population rallied around it. However, neither the Sharifs nor Al-Rasheed had an Islamic ideological message. They had a political message that promoted personal objectives, specifically political control.
Saudi Arabia and its people carry a noble message for the world. They have been blessed with the discovery of oil. We ought to act as messenger of humanistic values. One couldn’t have imagined what Saudi Arabia would be like today, without the God-gifted blessing of oil. Blessings of God ought to be appreciated, otherwise they wouldn’t last.
n Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan is a Saudi academician based in Riyadh. This article is exclusive to