Our greatest civilizations emerged from the basins of the Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Yellow River and the Indus. Most of the world’s great cities are still intimately connected to a river or a sea. Southern Arabia and its people, in contrast, were fortunate instead to be blessed with a largely barren desert and the summits of the prophets. The Arab wandering the desert while marveling at the endless sky had, like its animal inhabitants, to pay great attention to the little water, shrubbery and flowers of the desert he came across to live another day. It is this particular environment that bred a very special spirit and a peaceful mind located between the vastness of the sky and the barrenness of the land. Our region received the prophets of Judaism, Christianity and, finally, Islam. Their message was always the same: One of peace and submission to the singleness of a creator identified as God or Allah.
The Prophet Muhammad, the last of these prophets, offered us Islam, which in Arabic literally means submission. In Surah Ali’ Imran Verse 110 of the Qur’an, Allah tells the people of Arabia: “You are the best nation produced for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.”
Upon the initial messages he received from Allah, our Prophet came to the valley of Makkah, a rocky place with few resources, except for a famous well that generously offers water to the thirsty at any time of year to this day. Islam and Arabia are both rooted in this spirit that looks up to the sky while remaining conscious of the great value of that which emerges from a barren land. It is no coincidence that so many stars carry Arabic names, as Arab astronomers were particularly trained in looking at and interpreting the sky. The location of Makkah encapsulates the sacredness of the spirit we have described, as we see in Surah Ibrahim Verse 37 of the Qur’an: “Our Lord, I have settled some of my descendants in an uncultivated valley near Your sacred House, our Lord, that they may establish prayer. So make hearts among the people incline toward them and provide for them from the fruits that they might be grateful.”
Today’s Kingdom has the innate confidence of its unique heritage combined with the confidence of engaging with the rest of the world and its different ways
Hassan bin Youssef Yassin
The message of Islam spread wide and fast, taking only a few decades — in an age without radio, television or the internet — to reach the Atlantic coast of Africa and Spain in the west and the Pacific and Indian Ocean coasts of Asia and Africa, respectively, in the east. Today, Islam counts almost 2 billion followers around the world, with hundreds of millions of Muslims bowing toward Makkah five times every day, fulfilling the same pillars of Islam our Arab ancestors did almost 1,400 years ago. Islam is perhaps the most meaningful fraternity and sorority in the world, uniting people not only through specific values and historical references, but also through the language of the Qur’an. Most Muslims, whether they are in Mongolia, Alaska or Somalia, have at least one Arabic name, weaving us all together in the magnificently colorful carpet of Islam.
The Saudi Arabia we know today, then, emerges not from fertile riverbeds as most ancient civilizations, but from the ascetic quality of its land and its vast sky. We Saudi Arabians carry the heritage of our land and of our prophets within us, as we have also welcomed the outside world, particularly through the wonderful global tapestry of Islam. The name of our country, however, only dates back to 1932 and those past 90 years represent a truly extraordinary destiny and trajectory. We have been blessed as much with the values, the strength and the empathy of Islam as we have been blessed by our strong and wise leaders. After decades of struggles, holding firm against adverse concepts spreading around the world, we are again telling the world who we are. Certainly, we missed some opportunities for progress in our history, but today’s Saudi Arabia has the innate confidence of its unique heritage combined with the confidence of engaging with the rest of the world and its different ways.
King Salman and his talented Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have been particularly adept at navigating this era, in which we highlight our identity while allowing progress, evolution and transparency in areas where it is important for us to move forward as a modern society. None of us are infallible but, when mistakes are made, they are corrected as quickly as possible, with constant adjustments bringing us ever closer to our goals. We are so busy establishing a new reality, a new frontier, that we have very little time to applaud or to pontificate about how it all happened. There is a joy and eagerness among the people of Saudi Arabia that is delightful to see; it is a country that is smiling and dancing to the tune of hope. It all goes to show that wise leadership and good policies will be met with the enthusiastic support of the people, bringing unity, strength and tolerance to society.
Saudi Arabia has taken a commanding new turn, adopting a wise, moderate and stabilizing role, examining new formats for moving forward and for resolving issues while confronting it all with the tolerance of being fair. In the days of Prophet Muhammad, Allah chose our land and our people for his most important message. Today, Saudi Arabia is a success because of its people, grounded in that message and in that land. We are grateful for everything our barren land has given us as we lift our eyes up toward the sky.
• Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked closely with Saudi petroleum ministers Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani from 1959 to 1967. He headed the Saudi Information Ofﬁce in Washington from 1972 to 1981, and served with the Arab League observer delegation to the UN from 1981 to 1983.