Arabian Peninsula (Arabic:جزیرة العرب) is the largest peninsula on earth which is located southwest of Asia. It is surrounded by the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, Oman Sea and Arabian Sea in east and Gulf of 'Aden in south. As it is almost surrounded by water, considering the Euphrates River in north, Arabian Peninsula is mostly like an island. Most of earlier and recent historians and geographers called this land Arabian Island.
According to Islamic narrations, tawhid appeared for the first time in Arabian Peninsula, especially in Mecca, in the time of Prophet Ibrahim (a). Islam originated in Arabian Peninsula and Prophet Muhammad (s) started inviting people and preaching Islam in Hijaz.
Arabian Peninsula is situated between the Persian Gulf, Oman Sea in east, Indian Ocean and Gulf of 'Aden in south and the Red Sea in west. There are disagreements on the northern borders of Arabian Peninsula. Some believe the Euphrates River is considered as the border, some believe the imaginary line between Gaza Strip to Persian Gulf is the border and some believe the imaginary line from Gulf of 'Aqaba to bank of Arvand River is the northern border of Arabian Peninsula.
Countries in Arabian Peninsula
Arabian Peninsula includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen in south, Oman and United Arab Emirates in east, Kuwait in north and Qatar in southern region of Persian Gulf. Geographically Bahrain is not included in Arabian Peninsula, however in a number of sources Bahrain is regarded within Arabian Peninsula, which covered a different land comparing to the present territory of Bahrain.
The exact area of Arabian Peninsula cannot be measured regarding uncertainties over its northern borders. However it is said Peninsula covers 2.590.000 square kilometers. The territory of Saudi Arabia occupies forty five percent of this area.
Riyadh, Mecca, Medina, Ta'if, Dhahran, Sana'a, 'Aden, Muscat, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Doha are the important cities within Arabian Peninsula. The road connecting these cities to each other are considered the main roads in Arabian Peninsula.
Climate of Arabian Peninsula is generally hot and dry with high evaporation except the mountainous areas in east and southwest regions, especially western area of Yemen. The annual rainfall in Yemen goes over 400 millimeter while annual rainfall in other areas of Arabian Peninsula is less than 100 millimeter. Different climates and annual average temperature over Arabian Peninsula is affected by geographical situations, rugged topography, distance from sea and winds.
Arabian Peninsula in Pre-Islamic Era
Arabian Peninsula In Ancient Greek Works
Arabian Peninsula is divided into three parts in ancient Greek works: stone land in north, affluent land which had pleasant climate especially in south and desert land in central areas of Arabian Peninsula.
Based on classification of Ibn Khurdadbih in which he categorized land into four types, Arabian Island was included in Utopia. Also based on seven climates principle, southern regions of Arabian Peninsula (Dhofar, Oman, Hadhramaut, Najran, 'Aden and Sana'a) are included in the first climate and the rest of Arabian Island (Yamama, Bahrain and Hijaz) are included in the second climate.
Arabian Peninsula is regarded among the first place human settled in and Semitic people initially started living in Arabian Peninsula. Early civilizations in Mesopotamia and Arabian Peninsula flourished in this region.
Formation of Tribal Governments
Ancient history of Arabian Peninsula is connected to formation of tribal governments. Probably the tribe of 'Ad who lived near Oman or Hadhramaut was the oldest tribal government in Arabian Peninsula. Holy Quran mentioned other tribes in Arabian Peninsula as well including Thamud who lived between Hijaz and Syria as well as Saba' (Sabaeans) who lived in southern region of Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Ba'ida and Al-Baqiya Arabs
'Ad, Thamud and Saba' as well as other tribes like Amalek in southern and western regions, Midian, tasm, Jadis in Ta'if; Amim in Al-Yamama and Banu Shehr are the ancient Arab tribes who had tribal government in Arabian Peninsula. These tribes are called Al-Arab al-Ba'ida or the perished tribes who are regarded highly important in studies on Arabian tribes.
The tribe of Jurhum in Yemen and Mecca, Khuza'a in Hijaz, Quda'a in Tihama, Banu Lakhm, Juzam and Ghassanid in western regions of Arabian Peninsula, Kinda in center, Aws and Khazraj in Yathrib are among the important and famous Arab tribes who had tribal governments in Arabian Peninsula, they are called Al-Arab al-Baqiya.
Migration from Arabian Peninsula
In the first centuries of Arabian Peninsula, a number of tribes migrated to Syria and the Mesopotamia. The era of migration from Arabian Peninsula is regarded highly important. The migration of Akkadian and Assyrian from Peninsula to Mesopotamia in 3500 B.C.E. led to formation of significant civilizations. The migration of people of Canaan and Amorites from east of Arabian Peninsula to Syria (Levant) took place in 2500 B.C.E. Also Arameans migrated from west of Peninsula to Syria and a number of Nabataeans migrated to Syria in 500 B.C.E.
Tanukhids, another ancient Arab tribe, migrated to northern regions and formed an independent government. In addition, Qahtan and 'Adnan tribes from Yemen migrated to northern region of Mesopotamia and Rabi'a and Mudar took control of some regions there. These two tribes were significantly important among other Arabian tribes.
In the aspect of religion, Monotheism (Tawhid) appeared for the first time in Arabian Peninsula in the time of Prophet Ibrahim (a), mainly in Hijaz and Mecca. After Ibrahim (a), Jewish people entered Arabian Peninsula in three different periods:
• Migration of Jews to Hijaz after the conquests of Babylonians and Assyrians in Syria (Levant).
• Migration of Jews in the first century C.E. to Arabian Peninsula, where they lived near other Jewish tribes.
In the following centuries, Christian ministers started preaching their religion in Arabian Peninsula especially in Yemen and Najran. In that time Christians were living near Jewish people and early followers of idolatry, it formed a new mixture of religions in early centuries C.E. which led to conflicts at times.
Political, social and cultural situations in Jahiliyya era is crucially important in history of pre-Islamic era, especially centuries before the emergence of Islam. Jahiliyya era is mentioned and disapproved four times in Quran. In fact, social, religious and ethical aspects of Arab tribes in Jahiliyya era were mainly based on instincts. They were had a basic level of life and they emphasized on tribal and familial relations.
In Jahiliyya era there was no religious or political unity in Peninsula, and a number of powerful and influential governments were ruling over different regions. Local governments were ruling in tribal bases except for monarchy government in south. Kinda was the most powerful and influential government in the center of Arabian Peninsula at that time.
Quraysh tribe in Hijaz was the main tribe in Mecca and over Peninsula. Commercial trades and idolatry were regarded highly important to them. According to Sura Quraysh in Holy Quran, Quraysh had two commercial migrations one in summer to Syria (Levant) and Iraq and another in winter to Yemen and Abyssinia (Habasha). Nabataeans expanded their territory to southern region of Syria and they ruled over northwest of Arabian Peninsula.
Arabian Peninsula in Jahiliyya era and after the emergence of Islam experienced great number of battles, some of them which were significant were known as Ayyam al-'Arab (epics of Arabs). Tribal disagreements, conflicts on water and land as well as taking revenge were the main reasons of these battles.
Basus, Bu'ath and Jabala were the most famous tribes in Ayyam al-Arab. The battle of Jabala took place in that time in which the tribe of Tamim and their allies were defeated by 'Amir b. Sa'sa'a. Also the battle of Fijar took place between Quraysh, Banu Kinana and a number of Qays b. 'Aylan tribes; the battle was fought when Prophet Muhammad (s) was thirty years old.
Arabian Peninsula after the Emergence of Islam
In the Time of Prophet Muhammad (a)
Islam originated in Arabian Peninsula. It was initially preached in Hijaz especially Mecca. Then Prophet Muhammad (s) started public invitation in cities around Mecca including Medina, Ta'if as well as among other Arab tribes in Arabian Peninsula. Aws and Khazraj were among the first tribes who accepted Prophet's (s) invitation in the time of Hajj and converted to Islam. It was a milestone in development of Islam in Peninsula, as Muslims in Mecca were threatened by Quraysh, they migrated to Yathrib (where Aws and Khazraj were living) to preach and expand Islam.
When Prophet Muhammad (s) was staying in Medina, Quraysh and Jews continued opposing Islam for years in Arabian Peninsula. These oppositions led to a number of battles including the Battle of Badr, the Battle of Uhud, the Battle of Banu Qaynuqa', the Battle of Banu Nadir, the Battle of Khaybar and the Battle of Trench (Khandaq). Because of their importance, some of these battles as well as a number of these events were known as Ayyam al-Arab in Islam.
Prophet Muhammad (s) made huge efforts to eradicate superstitious and idolatrous manners and rituals in Jahiliyya era and he founded community of Muslims based on Islamic relations rather than relative or tribal relations. Mecca and Medina were also significantly important bases in the aspect of culture, religion and commercial trades in Arabian Peninsula.
In Rashidun Caliphs Era
After the demise of Prophet Muhammad (s) in Safar 11/May 632, some people in Arabian Peninsula especially in eastern regions of Oman, Yamama and Bahrain committed apostasy (Irtidad), subsequently Abu Bakr launched a number of battles known as Ridda and suppressed apostasy. Then he appointed Emirs for every region of Peninsula especially in Mecca, Ta'if, Yamama and Bahrain. Then he turned his attention to Syria and Mesopotamia.
In the time of 'Umar b. al-Khattab, Muslims have conquered Iraq, Syria and the majority of the territory of Iran. Because of the conflicts provoked by non-Muslims, it was ordered to all people living in Arabian Peninsula and territory of Islam to convert to Islam. Therefore, all the treaties between Muslims and followers of other religions were terminated as a result. Accordingly Jews of Khaybar migrated to Syria and Christians of Najran migrated to Iraq and Syria. 'Umar b. al-Khattab appointed five governors for different regions of Arabian Peninsula.
In the time of caliphate of 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) a number of companions broke their promise and moved to Basra. As Mu'awiya was provoking conflicts in Damascus and he caused political turmoil in Syria and Iraq, Imam 'Ali (a) moved the capital of caliphate from Medina to Kufa in Rajab 36/Jan. 657; it was the first capital of government outside Arabian Peninsula. After the martyrdom of Imam 'Ali (a), Imam al-Hasan (a) returned to Medina; as a result Arabian Peninsula became the center of Islamic government again.
In Umayyad Era
Damascus was chosen as the political capital of Islamic government in Umayyad era which declined the significance of political role Arabian Peninsula, especially Hijaz, played. However Umayyad caliphs regarded Peninsula highly important. They carefully chose Emirs for different regions of Peninsula so that they could dominate over the whole Peninsula.
The migration of Ibadiyya, who were members of Kharijites, to eastern region of Arabian Peninsula and Basra in order to preach and expand their ideas was one of the important events Arabian Peninsula experienced in Umayyad era.
'Abd Allah b. Zubayr also launched an uprising in Hijaz and people of Hijaz and Tihama supported him. Finally the rise was suppressed by Hajjaj b. Yusuf al-Thaqafi, the Umayyad governor, in 73/692 Peninsula experienced a number of other uprisings in that era as well.
In Abbasid era (132/750 - 656/1517) political capital of government was moved from Damascus to Baghdad, meanwhile Arabian Peninsula faced great changes. The events in Hijaz, Yemen and eastern regions of Peninsula, which were the center of attention to Abbasid, faced significant changes.
In 134/752 Abbasid governors suppressed Ibadiyya independent government in Oman and killed their leaders. However they took control of Oman again and ruled over the region for centuries.
In 145/762 Alavis led by Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah b. Hasan b. Hasan b. 'Ali, known as al-Nafs al-Zakiyya launched an uprising against Abu Ja'far al-Mansur the Abbasid caliph in Medina. It was regarded as one the important events in the 2nd/8th century in Arabian Peninsula.
The rise of 'Abd al-Rahman Ahmad in Yemen in 207/822 and the rise of Qarmatians in east of Peninsula in 286/899 are among the most important events of the 3rd/9th century. Initially Qarmatians dominated the Bahrain and formed an independent government. Later they managed to dominate over Mecca and the majority of Arabian Peninsula in the 4th/10th century. Only Fatimids were ruling over some parts of Peninsula and Banu Ziyad were ruling over Yemen.
Fatimids were ruling over western regions of Arabian Peninsula from the 4th/10th century to 6th/12th century. Also Banu Ziyad ruled over Yemen from the 3rd/9th century to 407/1017. Then Banu Najah dominated the southwest regions of Peninsula from 412/1021 up to the middle of 6th/12th century.
Banu Mahdi was the next independent government who ruled in Yemen from 553/1158 to 569/1174; they were defeated by Ayyubids who ruled over some regions of Peninsula up to the middle of 7th/13th century. Banu Rasul who ruled over Yemen until 858/1454 or 859/1455 suppressed and defeated Ayyubids especially in Taiz and Zabid.
After Banu Rasul, Tahirid dynasty took control of Yemen until 922/1516. Mecca was ruled by the governor sent by Abbasid caliphs, but then later Mecca was ruled by Nobles of Mecca for almost a thousand years.
From a political point of view, western regions of Arabian Peninsula especially Hijaz was in the center of attention for rulers and governments. It was ruled by Egyptian rulers from the middle of 7th/13th century to 922/1516; governors of Yemen also affiliated to Egyptian caliphs.
In 917/1512 Portuguese conquered southern and eastern region of Arabian Peninsula. In addition Ottomans dominated the majority of Peninsula from western coasts up to Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in south, including Ihsaa, Yemen and Hijaz. They expanded their territory in Peninsula until the emergence of Wahhabis.
Emergence of Wahhabism
Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism started preaching and expanding his ideas from the middle of 12th/18th century in Arabian Peninsula. At the beginning, Muhammad b. Su'ud, the governor of Dir'iya in east of Peninsula supported him which marked the start of domination of Wahhabism on eastern regions of Peninsula. Afterwards, they managed to expand their territory and ideas by means of threats, battles and killings. In 1218/1804 all over the Arabian Peninsula except for Mecca, Medina, Jeddah and parts of western coasts, were under control of Wahhabis followers.
The battles Wahhabis started, brought almost all regions of Arabian Peninsula into conflicts; only Yemen, which was ruled by Zaydis, was almost in peace. Wahhabis were fighting against Ottomans and local rulers. For example, Wahhabis fought against Nobles of Mecca over fifty times from 1205/1791 to 1220/1806. Muhammad 'Ali Pasha and Ibrahim Pasha fought against Wahhabis many times in Peninsula. Even Muhammad 'Ali Pasha defeated Wahhabis and took control of Mecca and Medina in 1228/1813; he ruled over Hijaz for some time.
Al Saud initially took control of Najd, Ihsaa and then northern regions of Arabian Peninsula including Jabal Shammar, Ha'il and Tayma. Later they conquered 'Asir, Hijaz and Rub' al-Khali. Finally in 1331/1913 they formed the country of Saudi Arabia.
After the foundation of Saudi Arabia and growth of their power in different regions of Peninsula, the borders of this country was specified. The borders between Saudi Arabian and Yemen was agreed after the treaty of Ta'if in 1315/1936.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from جزیرة العرب in Farsi WikiShia.