Tomorrow, Saudi Arabia will celebrate for the first time a new national holiday, Founding Day, which will commemorate a key date in the establishment of a precursor to the modern Saudi state. (The country only came into being in its present form in 1932, but its rulers descend from the same dynasty that reigned in the 18th century.) By choosing this particular date, Riyadh appears to be rewriting its national narrative so as to downplay the importance of Wahhabism—a puritanical and often extreme denomination of Islam—to the kingdom’s identity, as Simon Henderson explains:
For many years, scholars have described the historical origins of Saudi Arabia in terms of an alliance between a tribal leader named Mohammad bin Saud, who ruled the area around the town of Dariyah in central Arabia, and an Islamic preacher named Mohammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, who had sought refuge in 1745 after fleeing from nearby villages for preaching an Islamic orthodoxy that criticized local practices. Together, the men became allies and hatched a plan to combine Mohammad bin Saud’s tribal leadership and fighting prowess with Abdul Wahhab’s religious zeal to have a jihad (campaign) to conquer and purify Arabia.
But now, according to a decree issued by King Salman on January 27, the first Saudi state has been declared to have been founded in 1727, eighteen years before Abdul Wahhab fled to Dariyah. The year 1727 reflects when Mohammad bin Saud took over local leadership upon the death of his father, Saud bin Mohammad.
An article in the Saudi English-language daily Arab News on January 31 describes how Saudi historians have conducted extensive research to support the significance of the new date. The article describes Dariyah, now a historical site on the northwest edge of the modern capital, Riyadh, as then itself a city-state and says Mohammad bin Saud was determined to transform it into a nation-state and “bring peace and unity to the wider Arabian Peninsula.”
Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy
More about: Islam, Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism