In the heart of the Middle East is a country known by many Westerners for its oil production and, often, extremist beliefs of groups within the country. The country is Saudi Arabia, and though it is thought of by many as a rather backward country, Saudi Arabia has a rich history and culture, and it is a country that revolves around Islam and the worship of Allah as the one true God.
For about fifteen hundred years, Saudi Arabia’s history has centered on one major theme: Islam. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was born around 570 A.D. in the city of Mecca. Early in the 7th century A.D., according to Islamic belief, Muhammad, while meditating in a cave on Mount Hira, was visited by the angel Gabriel. Gabriel called Muhammad to serve as prophet and proclaim the message of God to his people. He began his ministry in his home city of Mecca. At this time, most of the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula worshipped many gods, and since Muhammad’s messages taught that there is only one God, he gained many adversaries in Mecca. As a result, he moved to the city of Medina in 622 and had more success converting people here than he did at Mecca. This journey is known to Muslims as the hijrah, and it marks the first year of the Islamic calendar. Muhammad returned to Mecca in 630 A.D., with an army, and conquered the city. By the time Muhammad died in 632, much of the Arabian Peninsula was under Islamic rule.
After Muhammad’s death, Muslims were guided by caliphs, or successors. Throughout the next 1100 years, as various peoples began controlling different parts of the Arabian Peninsula, a drifting away from the teachings of Islam was apparent. Then, in the mid 1700s, Saudi ruler Muhammad ibn Saud, from the Saud dynasty, forged an alliance with a religious reformer named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was discontent with the growing disregard for Islamic teachings in Arabia. He taught that the people should return to strict observance and practice of Islamic laws. Adherents to this belief, called Wahhabis, were backed by the armies of the Saud dynasty, and together, these forces began a movement. Areas that converted to Wahhabi beliefs were taken over by the Saud family, thus increasing the size of the Saudi State. However, by 1891, most Saudi control of Arabia was taken by tribal chiefs and by the Ottoman Empire. Then, in 1902, a young Saudi leader named Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud began to reclaim land that his ancestors had lost. He also sought diligently to revive the Wahhabi movement, which heavily emphasized the Islamic beliefs and strict adherence to them. In 1932, Ibn Saud unified the regions he conquered into one state- an Islamic state that he dubbed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Throughout the next fifty years, under the reign of Ibn...