Eastern Province and Nejd Province, Saudi Arabia
“From there we traveled next to the town of al-Yamamah, also called Hajr, a fine and fertile city with running streams and trees inhabited by diffferent clans of Arabs, most of whom are of the Bani Hanifa, this being their land from old.”
Not far from here at a place called Dira’iyah, the ancestors of al-Saud established a stronghold sometime in the 15th century that eventually became seat of the First Saudi Empire. In 1744 Mohammed ibn Saud formed an alliance with Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, a fiery preacher who considered the tribesmen at best remiss in their loose adherence to strict interpretation of the Koran, and at worst to have reverted to polytheism.
The combined forces of the two men led to a subjugation of most of the local tribes and an implementation of Wahhabi principle which was based on the Hanbali canonical school, the strictest of the four schools of Sunni Islam. In 1802 the Saudi-led Wahhabis captured Mecca and not only destroyed some saints’ tombs, the visitation of which they felt was idolatrous, but turned away the hajj caravans as infidels and idolaters. The Ottoman Sultan, nominally in charge of the region and hence the pilgrims, was suitably affronted at this insult and an army was duly dispatched under Ibrahim Pasha, son of the Egyptian viceroy, to sort things out. The war lasted 6 years at the end of which in 1818 Abdullah al-Saud was defeated and sent to Constantinople where he was executed, Dira’iyah was destroyed, and the remnants of al-Saud family ended up in Riyadh, a few miles to the south.
Dira'iyah; typical painted door from Nejd province.
In 1843 Faisal al-Saud managed to eject the Ottoman forces from Nejd province, but on his death in-fighting over the succession paved the way for a Turkish alliance with the powerful al-Rashid family from Hail in the northern Nejd. Bitter rivals, they ousted al-Saud from Riyadh and ruled Nejd from 1891 until 1897. Al-Saud meanwhile had gone to Kuwait where a new, principled and charismatic leader would emerge in the form of Abdul Aziz ibn Abdul Rahman al-Saud, the eponymous founder of modern Saudi Arabia.