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SA’UD, ABD AL-AZIZ IBN ABD ALRAHMAN AL (15 January 1875(1880) – 9 November 1953), founder of the present Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its first ruler. His father was the youngest of the three sons of the renowned Imam Faysal. A self-defeating family feud enabled the rival Al Rashid of Hail to extinguish the second Saudi polity and to establish themselves as rulers of central Arabia. Subsequent paternal involvement in an abortive insurgency against Al Rashid forced the Sa’ud family to flee Riyadh. They eventually accepted asylum in Kuwait and spent ten years there.

Although reared in the stern principles of Unitarianism (a rigorous monotheism, often imprecisely referred to as “Wahhabism,” promoted by Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab in the mid-eighteenth century), `Abd al`Aziz showed scant interest in becoming an `alim (religious scholar) like his father. Rather, frequent attendance at the majlis (parliament) of successive rulers of Kuwait taught him the intricacies of governance of Arabian tribal societies, inculcated a more cosmopolitan outlook than was generally prevalent among xenophobic Najdi tribesmen, and reinforced his ambition to recover the Al Sa’ud patrimony.

In 1901, with help from the ruler of Kuwait, `Abd al`Aziz led forty companions in a successful attack against the Al Rashid governor of Riyadh, thereby enabling the reestablishment of a Saudi polity. Proclaimed imam by his Unitarian followers, he nevertheless chose to delegate religious authority to his father during the latter’s lifetime (d. 1928), as `Abd al `Aziz devoted himself to consolidating and expanding the Saudi domains.

Al-Hasa Province was conquered from the Turks in 1913, the al-`Aydh emirate of ‘Asir was annexed in 1919, -and the Rashds were decisively defeated in 1921. The British-supported Hashemite family of the Hejaz (al-Hijaz) was forced to abdicate in 1925, leaving `Abd al-`Aziz in possession of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca (Makkah) and Medina (Madinah). Henceforth, the Hanbali interpretation of share ah (the divine law) would dominate the legal structure of the expanded state. In 1932 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was formally proclaimed. Two years later, after a successful war against Yemen, a border between them was vaguely arranged. By then `Abd al-`Aziz was widely recognized as the paramount ruler in the Arabian Peninsula.

As the Saudi polity grew, the religio-political legitimacy of `Abd al-`Aziz came to be rooted in the promotion of Unitarian doctrines. As early as 1909, in an attempt to bring the fractious central Arabian tribes under greater control, he began settling the tribes in permanent hijar (paramilitary settlements). Mutauwwa’in (religious tutors) were sent to instruct the tribesmen in the principles of Unitarianism. Strategically placed, fervidly devoted ikhwan (“brethren”) tribal forces were now available to further his expansionist goals.

Yet, by the late 1920s, various tribal ikhwdn had become restive over constraints placed on them by their ruler. Raiding into Transjordan, Kuwait, and Iraq, they killed and looted Sunnis and Si!’is alike. British military action was needed to expel them. Belatedly realizing the threat they posed, `Abd al-`Aziz managed to mobilize other indigenous forces, defeated his erstwhile tribal allies, and razed their settlements.

The Unitarian seizure of Mecca (Makkah) in 1925 also created widespread concern in the Islamic world lest Muslims of other schools and sects suffer Unitarian harassment when making their obligatory pilgrimage. Efforts by Egyptian, Indian, and other Muslim communities to place the haramayn (holy cities of Mecca and Medina) under international Muslim jurisdiction were aborted, following assurances from `Abd al-`Aziz that Muslims from anywhere, regardless of school or sect, could perform their pilgrimage rites without harassment. That commitment was scrupulously honored.

`Abd al-`Aziz was sometimes charged by conservative `ulama’ (religious scholars) and ikhwan with introducing bid’ah (innovation) into the Saudi polity. His assumption of the regnal title, for reasons of external relations, offended their Unitarian sensibilities. As late as the 1940s, they rejected it as inconsistent with Islam and continued to refer to him as imam or, secularly, as shaykh al-shuyukh. Similarly, his introduction of the telephone, telegraph, and various transport improvements initially aroused strong opposition. This was overcome by demonstrating that Qur’dnic passages could be transmitted by these instruments.

A further source of Unitarian misgiving was the award by `Abd al-`Aziz of an oil concession in 1933 to the Standard Oil Company of California, which introduced non-Muslim petroleum engineers to al-Hasa Province. It also opened the door to the progressive, if slow, infrastructural modernization of Saudi Arabia. `Abd al`Aziz’s towering leadership abilities were required to surmount such criticisms.

The immediate post-World War II era heard speculation in the emergent Arab world that an Islamic caliphate might be reestablished. `Abd al-`Aziz was prominently mentioned as a putative candidate, but nothing came of the idea. `Abd al-`Aziz’s meeting with President

Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy in 1945 accorded him international stature.

During his lifetime, `Abd al-`Aziz sired thirty-six sons and at least twenty-one daughters. He died in 1953, before vast oil wealth eroded many traditional social values. His sons continue to rule the Saudi state.

[See also Saudi Arabia; Wahhabiyah.]


Almana, Mohammed. Arabia Unified: A Portrait of Ibn Sa’ud. London, 198o.

Benoist-Mechin, Jacques. Arabian Destiny. Translated by Denis Weaver. Fair Lawn, N.J., 1958.

Howarth, David. The Desert King: A Life of Ibn Saud. London, 1964.


SA`UD, FAYSAL IBN `ABD AL-`AZIZ AL (1906-1975), king of Saudi Arabia during the crucial period between its unification and its transformation into one of the world’s most influential oil-producing powers. Faysal was born on 9 April 19o6, at a time when his father, `Abd al-`Aziz ibn `Abd al-Rahman Al Sa`ud, was unifying the Najdi tribes. Because Faysal’s mother, Tarfah, died in 1912, the young prince’s education was entrusted to his maternal godfather, Shaykh `Abdullah ibn `Abd al-Latif Al al-Shaykh. The latter, a grandson of Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of the Muwahhidun (Unitarian) movement that gave religious legitimacy to Saudi rule, was a leading `alim (religious scholar) who instilled in Faysal strong religious beliefs. At the age of fourteen, Faysal commanded his father’s forces in `AsIr Province (he also distinguished himself militarily by leading an assault on Yemen in 1933). In 1930, Faysal became Saudi Arabia’s first foreign minister and held the office until his death in 1975, save for a two-year period during King Sa’ud’s rule. He led the Saudi delegation to the April 1945 San Francisco conference that established the United Nations, and signed the UN Charter on 26 June 1945, making Saudi Arabia a founding member of the world body.

Faysal shaped Saudi foreign policy by giving it an ideological base, insisting on a strict balance with internal developments and adopting a level of consistency unparalleled throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. This consistency was amply visible throughout the 1960s and early 1970s when the kingdom faced the Nasserist challenge. Riyadh responded to the rising wave of Arab nationalism by emphasizing Islamic values. Rejecting both secularism and socialism, Faysal supported Yemeni tribes who favored the monarchy and, in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, sought a rapprochement with Egypt to end the Arab Cold War (1957-1967). By early 1973, however, Faysal perceived the need to link the kingdom’s oil power to the unending Arab-Israeli conflict, especially as Washington failed to note Saudi pleas. Following the outbreak of the 1973 war, and the U.S. decision to create a weapons airbridge to Israel, Faysal authorized an oil embargo against both the United States and the Netherlands. But ever the astute statesman, the king rescinded his decision when Washington reactivated its moribund peace efforts. However, his lifelong wish to pray at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque never materialized.

Although few members of the Al Sa’ud ruling family challenged Faysal on foreign policy questions, his rule was not free from turmoil. The most significant conflict was the rivalry between then Crown Prince Faysal and King Sa’ud (r. 1953-1964). The king was inward looking, and chiefly interested in tribal affairs, whereas Faysal was outward looking, aiming to enhance the kingdom’s position on both the regional as well as world scenes. Faysal perceived his brother’s accommodation with revolutionary Egypt to be ill advised and, at a time when regional upheavals-including the 1956 Suez crisis, the Egyptian-Syrian union, the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy, and the civil war in Yemen-threatened the kingdom, he considered Sa’ud’s positions to be intolerable. Such policies, coupled with disastrous financial mismanagement, encouraged Faysal to take over. In November 1963, the Council of Senior Princes, supported by a fatwd (formal legal opinion) from the `ulama’ called on Sa’ud to abdicate in favor of Faysal, who acceded to the throne on 2 November 1964. Faysal’s ten-point reform program to abolish slavery, modernize the administration, reorganize the country’s religious and judicial institutions, revamp labor and social laws, utilize natural resources soundly, build efficient infrastructures, and establish consultative as well as local councils, won him widespread praise. Many reforms were gradually introduced and others were implemented by successor rulers. When, for example, the grand mufti died in 1970, Faysal abolished the post, replacing it with two separate and less-autonomous institutions. The Ministry of justice was established to integrate the Saudi judiciary into the government, and the Council of Senior `Ulama’, comprising seventeen members appointed by the king, was created to provide the ruler with appropriate religious opinions and approvals. Significant socioeconomic reforms were embodied in the first five-year development plan, which was followed by a second, more ambitious, plan in 1975. Assassinated by a nephew on 25 March 1975, Faysal died before the actual implementation of his second plan, but he left his successors effective institutions to carry on his legacy.

[See also Saudi Arabia; and the biography of the elder Sa’ud. ]


Beling, Willard A., ed. King Faisal and the Modernisation of Saudi Arabia. Boulder, 1980. Thirteen essays covering the creation of the Saudi state, its modernization, currents of social change, and the role of Islam in the conduct of its foreign policy.

Benoist-Mechin, Jacques. Faycal, roi d’Arabie: L’homme, le souverain, sa place dans le monde, 1906-19’75. Paris, 1975. Classic work by an “insider.”

Bligh, Alexander. From Prince to King: Royal Succession in the House of Saud in the Twentieth Century. New York, 1984. Thorough academic examination of political participation in the kingdom’s decision-making process.

De Gaury, Gerald. Faisal, King of Saudi Arabia. New York and Washington, D.C., 1967. Thought-provoking essay on Faysal’s remarkable accomplishments.


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Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/saud-abd-al-aziz-ibn-abd-alrahman-al/

  • writerPosted On: July 22, 2017
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