The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sits at the heart of the Arab and Islamic World, spiritually and geographically.
It is a huge country, the size of Western Europe, stretching from the Red Sea in the West to the Arabian Gulf in the East with its geography dominated by the biggest sand desert in the world, the Rub Al Khali.
Today Saudi Arabia has a rapidly growing population of more than 31.5 million people, more than 50 per cent of whom are under the age of 25.
At the heart of the Kingdom is Makkah, the birthplace of Islam and the centre to which the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims turn to pray daily.
The Birth of Islam
Around the year 610, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), a citizen of Makkah, received a message from Allah (God) through the Angel Gabriel. He was told to proclaim the oneness of God universally, and began to preach. The revelations Prophet Muhammed received form the verses of the Qur’an. As well as the Qu’ran, Mohammed’s teachings and practices form the basis of Sharia law.
In 622 the Prophet led his followers to the town now known as Madinah. This was the Hijrah, or migration, which marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
The Modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
The modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in 1932 under King Abdulaziz Al-Saud who brought peace and stability to the region, re-uniting it under the banner of Islam.
In 1902, the Al Saud family was living in exile in Kuwait, its lands occupied by the Al-Rashid family. The young Abdulaziz, – accompanied by only 40 followers – undertook a daring night march into Riyadh, where the Al-Rashids had established a garrison, and retook the prized Masmak Fortress at its centre. This legendary event marks the beginning of King Abdulaziz campaign and the modern Saudi state.
Having established Riyadh as his headquarters, Abdulaziz captured all of the Hijaz, including Makkah and Madinah. The reunification of the Kingdom took 30 years and it wasn’t until 23 September, 1932, the country was named the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an Islamic state with Arabic as its national language and the Holy Qur’an as its constitution. The writing on the Saudi flag is the shahada or Islamic declaration of faith: “There is no god but God: Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”
Abdulaziz was a highly able international politician and saw the development of the Kingdom within the international community as key, a belief that resulted in Saudi Arabia becoming a founder member of the United Nations.
His relations with the United Kingdom began in the earliest days of his mission to reunite the Kingdom. Even before the final reunification of the Kingdom he had dispatched Sheikh Hafiz Wahbah as his Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to London, one of only two international emissaries appointed by the King at that time (hyperlink to the UK Saudi relationship).
Saudi Arabia’s relations with its foreign partners continued to flourish during his leadership and that of his sons; Saud, Faisal, Khalid, Fahd, Abdullah and now Salman.
Discovery of Oil
Since the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in 1938, the physical transformation of the Kingdom has been astonishing. In a few short decades, the Kingdom has turned itself from a desert nation with few roads and schools to a sophisticated, forward thinking modern state offering education, housing and health services to all its citizens. By the 1970s and ’80s, the country had become the single largest oil producer in the world.
Saudi Arabia Today
The development of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia continues to this day with new cities being built and education at the highest levels now available to all citizens. In 1970, only 8 per cent of the adult population was literate, today, over 94.4 per cent of Saudi citizens are considered literate by United Nations standards. Saudi Arabia is the eighth highest spender on education in the world.
The Kingdom’s vision for the future, Vision 2030, aims to fulfil the Kingdom’s potential, reinforcing and diversifying its economy and turning the Kingdom into a global hub for investment. The Vision 2030 programme is led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“We are determined to build a thriving country in which all citizens can fulfill their dreams, hopes and ambitions.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The current leader of the Kingdom is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who became king following the death of his half-brother King Abdullah on 23 January, 2015. On 21 June 2017, King Salman appointed Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister.