Saudi Arabia in the 19th Century: Customs, Culture, and Traditions
The development of Saudi Arabia as a state revolves around different historical, cultural, and societal changes that transpired in the 19th century. The period is considered important in the nation’s history because it establishes the political, economic and social sphere. That is why to better understand Saudi Arabia’s history one must look at these areas to appreciate the role of history and people in the development of a nation.
Given these aspects, Saudi Arabia in the 19th century caters to the developments that shaped the country to become a modern state and includes areas related to religion, culture, and lifestyle.
Political and Economic History To better identify Saudi Arabia in the 19th century, one must look at its political and economic history. Through this process, it can be seen how the country evolved into a modern state and what factors remained important in shaping what Saudi Arabia is now. Tracing its political structure, Saudi Arabia was influenced by the Ottoman Empire and the Al Saud Wahhabi emirate particularly in the area of Najd (Al-Rasheed, 2002, p. 14). The process here then revolves around the different campaigns of Saud as he sought to expand the territory conquering different areas.
Among successful campaigns during the 19th century were Mecca, Medina, Egypt and Syria (Weston, 2008, p. 103). The second influential aspect of change in Saudi politics takes into account the development of the second Saudi State. From the period of 1824-1887 there were military campaigns that have sought to legitimize expansion and influence of the al-Saud family and promote the Wahhabi legacy among communities in the Middle East. Though these political campaigns were not as wide, it provided stability among territories that each family/group controls.
In particular, Weston (2008) provides that “it kept the Wahhabi movement alive, ready to influence Muslims again in the twentieth century – and in the twenty first” (p. 107). On the other hand, the economic developments during the 19th century revolved around conventional trading patterns and barter. Prior to the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia, the 19th century featured trade involving caravans’ transportation of agricultural goods among different areas. Specifically, spices are traveled into specific trade routes and create opportunities among different merchants to sell items (Saudi Embassy, 2010).
Also, there are also various goods that are most sought after by different communities especially the rich ones. Saudi Embassy (2010) points out that “these items included almonds from Taif, dates from the many oases, and aromatics such as frankincense and myrrh from the Tihama plain” (p. 1). Lifestyle, Trends, and Community Development Looking at the lifestyle and trends of the Arab people in the 19th century, it can be seen that people determine their identity according to the factions they belong to.
Since specific boundaries and determination of the state at that time has not yet been established, groups and communities continue to be a way to differentiate one from another (Federal Research Division, 2004). This then enables better ways for people to communicate and interact with one another. Also, this is used to create associations and relationships with different tribes and pattern lifestyle according to this idea. Similarly, since the inhabitants of the Saudi Arabia live in the desert, they had to equally adjust to the weather and climate.
Due to this, their clothing and manner of travel among communities remain to be the same. Specifically, people wear long piece of clothing both in the body and head to protect them from the harsh winds, hot sunlight, and cold weather at night (Long, 2005). At the same time, they also wear sandals to keep them cool and comfortable during travels and their daily work. Moreover, groups also take care of camels because it serves as an instrument for travel and trade (Long, 2005).
With regards to community development, it can be seen that settlement continued to occur along the oases present in the Saudi Arabia’s desert. Here communities are sustained by the availability of drinking water and also serve as protection against other tribes who may pose as a threat to the security of its inhabitants (Al-Rasheed, 2002). Likewise, the place is used to develop food supplies and sustain community growth. Under this process, this provided stability among communities and helped them develop a specific customs, traditions, and culture.
Specifically, Saudi Embassy (2010) argues that “settlements became more permanent, leading to the foundations of what we call civilization – language, writing, political systems, art and architecture. Religion and Culture It can be argued that the spread of Islam in the Middle East particularly in Saudi Arabia served as an important process that shape the culture of communities and groups within the region. Specifically, customs, traditions, and how people behave is rooted in the rules provided by the Koran and the Muslim faith (Federal Research Division, 2004).
These Islamic rules and expectations provided believers a guide on how to live their life and determine establish relationships with other people. Seeing this, it can be argued that Islam provided a huge mark in the Middle East and shaped how people interact and relate ideals with one another. In particular, religious customs revolved around the five pillars of Islam. These five pillars symbolized how people should interact with one another and become good followers of Allah (Long, 2005). One concrete example of this is the practice of Hajj.
This involves an obligation for any Moslem to visit the holy city of Mecca and renew their religious commitment to their faith (Al-Rasheed, 2002). Other expectations also include the manner of worship, observance of fasting and abstinence during Ramadan. Lastly, Moslem culture can also be seen in Muslim art and architecture. Their influence help shaped the depiction of the arts which includes poetry, dance, literature, and language. Specifically, the development of a universal language in the Middle East (Arabic) created opportunities to unify and create communities of faith.
In essence, these common elements shaped the further development of Saudi Arabia’s culture in the 19th century and strengthened how people identify themselves (Long, 2005). Important Personalities One important personality who was essential in the development of Saudi Arabia as a modern nation state was Shaikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab. It can be seen that he both a leader and scholar of the Wahhabi faction. During his leadership, he sought to promote the restoration of the traditions and customs of the original principles of Islam (Weston, 2008).
His influence provided the necessary means to create unification among different communities and sought to establish order on how Muslims view the teachings of the Koran and applying it in their religious life and other affairs such as politics. Another important figure during this era was Muhammad bin Saud. He was the emirate of Diryah. His contributions to Saudi Arabia’s history was that he founded the first Saudi state and coordinated his efforts in protecting and pursuing the restoration of the Islam among the Muslim communities in the Arabian peninsula (Saudi Embassy, 2010).
Through his effort he was able to stabilize the region until his defeat in 1818 with the invasion of the Ottoman Turks. The last relevant figure that shaped Saudi Arabia’s political history in the 19th century was Turki bins Abdullah Al-Saud. He was the one responsible for creating the Second Saudi State and legitimized the formulation of specific laws and mandates that are still applied today (Weston, 2008).
Through his leadership, he transferred the capital city from Diryah to Riyadh and sought to re-establish the control of territories lost during the fall of the first Saudi State (Saudi Embassy, 2010). His efforts remain to be crucial because he started the transformation of Saudi Arabia into becoming prosperous and successful on various aspects related to economic growth and political stability. Conclusion To conclude, the 19th century proved to be an important period for Saudi Arabia politically and socially. This is because it is in this time that the nation state was created.
Similarly, this era shaped the ability to shift and develop new political ideals and the birth of a nation state. This also was an important time for redefining the tenets of Islam as it applies to Saudi’s culture and beliefs. Lastly, the leadership of key political figures served as important channel in establishing balance and control in areas of politics, economy and society, shaping the region during the period. All these elements in turn are all beneficial to what Saudi Arabia is today in both the Middle East and the World.