Ḥijāz (Arabic: حجاز) is a land located at the west of Saudi Arabia, having a littoral border with the Red Sea. This land is the area where Islam emerged from and is regarded as the most important part of Arabian Peninsula. Having embraced the two cities Mecca and Medina, it has always been significant in Islamic geography; many important events of newly established Islam and Shi'a had occurred there.
The word "Hijaz" means something standing between. It is said that this land was named Hijaz since it was positioned between "Najd" and "Tihama".
There are different ideas about the width of Hijaz. Generally, it is 1200 kilometers from North to South, and it starts from Jordan and Saudi Arabia borders, stretching from the Red Sea to "'Asir" region in South of Saudi Arabia. The area of this land is about 436,454 square kilometers. The important cities of Hijaz are Mecca, Medina, Jeddah, Ta'if, Tabuk, and Yanbu'.
Hijaz is divided into three parts from a natural perspective:
- Coastal plains of Red Sea by the name of Tihama.
- The mountainous region which brings the highest degree of precipitation to Hijaz. The mountain ranges in this region are the most important mountains of Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula.
- Hijaz plateau which stretches from the East of Madyan Mountains to the great "Nafud" plain and "Aja" and "Salma" Mountains. The plateau slopes towards North and East.
Hijaz has a dry climate. The Red Sea brings about humidity and fog in Tihama and little precipitation in mountainous regions. There is no perennial river in Hijaz; nevertheless, but floods sometimes occur in its valleys after precipitation which results in great loss and damage. The plants growing after rain and floodwater are so much valuable for the people of Hijaz.
Wells and springs of Hijaz had always been well-known in Arabian Peninsula, in particular Zamzam Well which had been of great importance from a long time ago.
Due to lack of rain, Hijaz does not have rich agriculture. However, agriculture had always been present there, as Ta'if is known as one of the richest regions of Hijaz. Currently, thanks to the development of science some dams and deep wells have been constructed, leading to the development of agriculture. Nowadays, planting grain, wheat, corn, and various vegetables is prevalent in the cities around Hijaz such as Ta'if, Jeddah, Medina, and Yanbu'. Medina is famous for its date. Animal husbandry is prevalent in mountainous regions and high plateaus.
In the past, the geographical location of Hijaz had made it a talented area for commerce. The long coasts of Red Sea in Hijaz, and being neighbor with Syria in North and Yemen in South had prepared a very good circumstance for merchants of Hijaz in term of making deals with merchants of other lands. The commercial caravans traveling from Yemen to Syria or Egypt had to pass Hijaz, making their way to the North. Hijaz had always been the host for commercial ships from Ethiopia, China, India, and Egypt. This had made Mecca, Medina, Ta'if, and Jeddah famous cities for trade and commerce. In references, Mecca was said to be an area for trading. It also provided caravans with water and financial assistance to continue their travels.
Ka'ba played an important role in the economy of Hijaz. The importance of Ka'ba was raised after Islam, since millions of Muslims visit Ka'ba every year from different parts of the world, trading along with performing Hajj. The adjacency of Mecca to Jeddah harbor has resulted in developing the trade of Jeddah.
Nowadays, this region is active in the industry because of having numerous factories.
Hijaz was the scientific center of Arabian Peninsula when Islam emerged. It had always had a fundamental role in preserving Islamic sciences and inheritances. During the time of Hajj, when Muslims assembled in Hijaz from different lands, scientific debates and meetings were held in Mecca. Scientific meetings in al-Masjid al-Haram and al-Masjid al-Nabawi constituted a significant part of the cultural and scientific activities. Many religious schools existed there whose purpose was to raise the importance of religious sciences and to teach Qur'an interpretation (tafsir).
Before Islam, there were two lifestyles in Hijaz, one was living in deserts, and the other was urbanity. Primitive lifestyle was more prevalent in Hijaz, for a vast part of it was dry and desert-like the rest of the areas of the Arabian Peninsula. Cities and villages were developed in fertile oases or on the way of caravans and rest positions. Great primitive tribes such as 'Adnan, Qahtan, and Quda'a lived in Hijaz. Quraysh tribe lived in Mecca, Thaqif tribe inhabited Ta'if, and Aws and Khazraj tribes dwelled Yathrib (Medina).
Jewish tribes lived in the following cities: Wadi al-Qura, Yathrib, Khaybar, Fadak, Tayma', and Adhrah. In Yathrib, in addition to Aws and Khazraj tribes, three Jewish tribes were prominent by the names of Banu Qaynuqa', Banu Nadir, and Banu Qurayza. Some Iranians and Romans, and some Ethiopian Jews and Christians who had commercial activities lived in Mecca as well.
Hijaz was the religious center because of Mecca and al-Masjid al-Haram, and that is why it was so important. Yet worshiping idols was common before Islam; temples and their numerous idols were respected by Arabs.
Emergence of Islam
After Islam emerged, Hijaz became more respectful and noteworthy. The Islamic government established by the Prophet (s) caused the whole Arabian Peninsula to get united. After the Prophet (s) passed away, caliphs focused their efforts on expanding governance of Islam over the Arabian Peninsula and other regions. After 'Uthman b. 'Affan's death, Imam 'Ali (a) became caliph. He moved the capital of the Islamic government to Kufa. At this point, many tribes migrated to Kufa. In 41/661-2, Mu'awiya became the ruler of Muslims. He then selected Syria as the center of his government and Dimashq (Damascus) was his capital.
Although the capital in Umawi age was Syria and in Abbasid age was Baghdad, it did not lower the importance of Mecca and Medina. Hijaz was a province under the control in Umawi and Abbasid ages, yet it still was significant and worthy in view of Muslims.
In 145/762-3, Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah, well-known as al-Nafs al-Zakiyya whose ancestor was Imam al-Hasan (a), rebelled against al-Mansur al-'Abbasi in Medina. He took the control of Medina, Mecca, and Yemen, but he was defeated by the Abbasid army after two months and a half and was killed. Abbasid rulers were famous for their cruelty with Imam 'Ali (a)'s family. Al-Mansur had deprived Imam Ali (a)'s family of receiving properties. At the same time, Hijaz was experiencing poverty and misery. The poverty and other parameters resulted in the science being stagnant and disregarded; however, fiqh and hadith sciences were not influenced that much.
In 301/913-4, Alawids accessed the lands under the control of 'Abbasids by using the precious time of Hajj when Muslims always assembled. Their leader was Muhammad b. Sulayman who announced himself the caliph of Muslims. He was a grandchild of Sulayman b. Dawud whose father was Hasan al-Muthanna who was the son of Imam al-Hasan (a).
When 'Abbasids grew weaker and weaker, people in Hijaz began to rebel against the government. They were tortured by famine, hunger, and Qaramatah of Bahrain who attacked caravans of Ka'ba pilgrims. For a period of time, Hijaz was governed by a number of different rulers.
In 358/968-9, after Egypt was conquered by Fatimids, Ja'far b. Muhammad b. Hasan, who was a grandchild of Imam al-Hasan (a), declared his independence in Mecca, and the name of Fatimi caliph was mentioned in the sermon (khutba) of Friday Prayer. In 360/970-1, Tahir b. Muslim Husayni declared independence in Medina and delivered the sermon in Friday Prayer in the name of the Fatimid caliph, al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah. Therefore, some of the Alawids became rulers in Mecca and Medina. Because of the dignity (sharafat) of having relation with the Prophet (s), the rulers were named Sharif, and their government became known as Shurafa' (plural form of the word "sharif").
Their ruling over Hijaz lasted for about 1000 years, yet they were often under the control of great empires and never were independent.
Fatimids started to lose their control over Egypt and Hijaz since 567/1171-2. At this time, Salah al-Din Ayyubi attacked Hijaz and Yemen in 569/1173-4. The commander of his army was his brother, Turanshah. Turanshah accessed to Mecca without facing any defense or obstacle. Sharif 'Isa b. Khalifa accepted him with open arms. He then promised to mention Salah al-Din instead of the name of caliph in his sermons.
One of the notable measures taken by Ayyubids was guarding holy places against crusaders. In 577/1181-2, the ruler of Kirk province (located in the east of the Dead Sea) who was a crusader attacked Hijaz in order to expand the territory of crusaders, to attack holy places of Muslims, and to gain control over the marine lines where pilgrims of Ka'ba passed. In 578/1182-3, when the crusaders' navy set out for Hijaz from 'Idhab harbor, Ayyubids defended the holy places.
Banu Rasul Government
In the first half of the seventh/thirteenth century, the Ayyubids government collapsed and Banu Rasul (Rasulids) gained control instead of them. The rulers of Medina conformed to the orders of Banu Rasul kings. In 656/1258, 'Abbasids were thrown by Mongols, resulting in Banu Rasul ruling all over Hijaz.
About three centuries (from the middle of the sixth/twelfth century to the first half of the ninth/fifteenth century), Hijaz was ruled by Mamluk rulers and Charkas Egyptians. At the beginning of the tenth/sixteenth century, Hijaz became part of Ottoman Empire territory.
In 1218-1221 / 1803-4; 1806-7, Wahhabis attacked Mecca and Medina. Muhammad 'Ali Pasha was ordered by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to defeat them, they were defeated in 1233/1817-8. Hijaz was governed by Egypt until 1261/1845. After that, Ottoman Empire appointed rulers for Hijaz. In this age, the railway of Hijaz was constructed from Dimashq to Hijaz in order to make commuting easier for pilgrims.
Kingdom of Saudi
In 1335/1916-7, Sharif Husayn b. Ali, the ruler of Mecca, took the power of Mecca from Ottoman Empire. He established an independent country which Great Britain guaranteed its independence. At the same time, Britain had promised the third 'Abd al-'Aziz, Ibn Sa'ud, to support him in ruling the country. Therefore, Ibn Sa'ud declared war against Sharif Husayn in 1343/1924-5 by attacking Hijaz. He conquered Mecca, Medina, and Jeddah, and then introduced himself as the king of Hijaz and Najd. He called himself officially the king of Saudi Arabia in 1932.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from حجاز in Farsi Wikishia.