When studying the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in my school days, I remember always being curious to know the lessons learned from King Abdulaziz back in the day; namely at the time of the first Saudi state with its capital Diriyah.
We believe that Imam Abdulrahman Al-Faisal named his son after Imam Abdulaziz bin Mohammed bin Saud, a great historical figure of the first Saudi state who passed through the history of the Arabian Peninsula and was known for administering justice.
Abdulaziz the son made his father proud, as he shifted the course of Saudi history, just like the first Saudis did earlier. A question in this context arises: What did he actually gain?
King Abdulaziz clearly inherited the brilliance of the leaders of the past. According to the conditions of neighboring areas, he is one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.
However, one must think about the lessons learned by King Abdulaziz to move forward and obtain knowledge of his national project, just as his ancestors the imams did in terms of successfully leading the Arabian Peninsula 300 years ago within the family that was known for ruling in Diriyah.
What weaknesses did Abdulaziz notice in the early periods of the Arabian Peninsula’s history in past centuries? How did he manage to address them in favor of the region? What was developed? Did his contribution ever address weaknesses?
King Abdulaziz attempted to unify the Arabian Peninsula and worked on establishing and unifying the Saudi state for around three decades. He recaptured Riyadh, unified the rest of Nejd, and annexed the territories of Al-Ahsa, Ḥail, Hejaz, Najran, Jazan, Asir, Al-Jouf and Tabuk.
Citizens find themselves in a modern state clearly related to the goals and mission of the first Saudi state. This historical unity would not have been seen if it had not been for Abdulaziz the imam, and Abdulaziz the king. A great country has been established between the eras of both.
The king issued a royal decree in September 1932 which said: “In response to the wish of our public, and as an expression of our support to the unification of the parts of this Arab Kingdom, we have ordered to change the name of the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd and its annexes into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
King Abdulaziz also handled the affair of the Two Holy Mosques. He addressed several issues, including the kiswa (covering) of Kaaba and combining prayers according to one single imam. Sectarian fanaticism had ruled among worshippers of different sects, which had resulted in an unfortunate division prior to the first Saudi state period. Thanks to King Abdulaziz, worshippers unified their prayers.
He also invested in the economy of the Arabian Peninsula that had been neglected for centuries. In 1927-1928, King Abdulaziz ordered the establishment of the first factory for the kiswa at Makkah.
Mention must also be made of the Al-Badia settlement project. I never thought twice before selecting this project as one of the greatest social projects conducted in the last century.
In fact, after the unification of the Kingdom, King Abdulaziz exerted considerable efforts to the settlement project, taking considerable care for the tribes living in the desert.
He provided them with a stable life, including housing, and a means of work and agricultural and educational support to ensure the society’s development. The Kingdom benefited from this stability as a result.
This social project was effective even before the discovery of oil in large quantities which made it commercially viable.
King Abdulaziz took some strength from the example of the first Saudi state: The spread of culture and education in Diriyah and the process of emphasizing the principles of the state.
After the establishment of security and the unification of the country, the king developed the state in terms of education, meeting several scientists from Makkah to discuss methods of spreading knowledge throughout the Kingdom.
The first step toward widening education was taken in 1925 when the king established the Directorate of Knowledge. This represents the date when the state’s preoccupation became spreading modern education to all corners of the Kingdom.
The king attached great importance to culture and knowledge through the policy he drafted by referring to other policies of Saudi state imams.
There is a wonderful saying by King Abdulaziz that expresses the great efforts he exerted at both cultural and knowledge levels.
He said: “Education is the cornerstone of our country that can help achieve our people’s aspirations toward more progress and advancement in knowledge and science.”
Abdulaziz improved the development of the country economically, politically and culturally. He was keen to build on the foundations of his predecessors to build a civilized society in the name of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
• Dr. Badran Al-Honaihen is the cultural and historical validation director at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.