Najd (Arabic: نَجْد, pronounced [nad͡ʒd]) or Nejd is a geographical central region of Saudi Arabia that accounts for about a third of the population of the country. Najd consists of the modern administrative regions of Riyadh, Al-Qassim, and Ha'il.
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In ancient times, the region of Najd was settled by numerous tribes like the Kindites, Tayy and many others. Led by Usma bin Luai, the Tayy invaded the mountains of Aja and Samra from Banu Tamim in northern Arabia in their exodus from Yemen in CE 115. These mountains are now known as Jabal Shammar. The Tayy became nomadic camel herders and horse breeders in northern Najd for centuries.
In the 5th century AD, the tribes of North Arabia became a major threat to the trade line between Yemen and Syria. The Ḥimyarites decided to establish a vassal state that controlled Central and North Arabia. The Kindites gained strength and numbers to play that role, and in AD 425 the Ḥimyarite king Ḥasan ibn 'Amr ibn Tubba’ made Ḥujr 'Akīl al-Murār ibn 'Amr the first King (Ḥujr) of Kindah. The Kindites established a kingdom in Najd in central Arabia unlike the organized states of Yemen; its kings exercised an influence over a number of associated tribes more by personal prestige than by coercive settled authority. Their first capital was Qaryat Dhāt Kāhil, today known as Qaryat al-Fāw.
The Ghassānids, Lakhmids and Kindites were all Kahlānī and Qaḥṭānī vassal kingdoms appointed by the Byzantines, Persians and Ḥimyarites to protect their borders and imperial interests from the raids of the then-rising threat of the 'Adnānī tribes. In the 5th and 6th centuries AD, the Kindites made the first real concerted effort to unite all the tribes of Central Arabia through alliances, and focused on wars with the Lakhmids. Al-Ḥārith ibn 'Amr, the most famous of their kings, finally succeeded in capturing the Lakhmid capital of al-Ḥirah in southern modern-day Iraq. Later however in about 529, al-Mundhir recaptured the city and put King Ḥārith and about fifty members of his family to death.
In 525, the Aksumites invaded Ḥimyar, and this Kindites, had a knock-on effect with the Kindites who lost the support of the Ḥimyarites. Within three years the Kindite kingdom had split into four groups: Asad, Taghlib, Qays and Kinānah, each led by a prince of Kindah. These small principalities were then overthrown in the 530s and 540s in a series of uprisings of the 'Adnānī tribes of Najd and Ḥijāz. In 540, the Lakhmids destroyed all the Kindite settlements in Nejd, forcing the majority of them to move to Yemen. The Kindites and most of the Arab tribes switched their alliances to the Lakhmids.
The era of Muhammad
During the Islamic Prophet Muhammad's era, Muhammad carried out military expeditions in the area. The first was the Nejd Caravan Raid against the Quraysh, which took place in 624. The Meccans led by Safwan ibn Umayyah, who lived on trade, left in summer for Syria for their seasonal trade business. After Muhammad received intelligence about the Caravan's route, Muhammad ordered Zayd ibn Haritha to go after the Caravan, and they successfully raided it and captured 100,000 dirhams worth of booty.
The Invasion of Nejd, happened in Rabi‘ Ath-Thani or Jumada Al-Ula, 4 AH (i.e. in October AD 625). Muhammad led his fighters to Nejd to scare off some tribes he believed had suspicious intentions. Some scholars say the Expedition of Dhat al-Riqa took place in Nejd as part of this invasion.
The most authentic opinion according to "Saifur Rahman al Mubararakpuri", however, is that Dhat Ar-Riqa‘ campaign took place after the fall of Khaibar (and not as part of the Invasion of Nejd). This is supported by the fact that Abu Hurairah and Abu Musa Al-Ash‘ari witnessed the battle. Abu Hurairah embraced Islam only some days before Khaibar, and Abu Musa Al-Ash‘ari came back from Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and joined Muhammad at Khaibar. The rules relating to the prayer of fear which Muhammad observed at Dhat Ar-Riqa‘ campaign, were revealed at the Asfan Invasion and these scholars say, took place after Al-Khandaq (the Battle of the Trench).
The Expedition of Qatan also took place in Nejd. Banu Asad ibn Khuzaymah tribe (not to be confused with the Banu Asad tribe), were the residents of Katan, in the vicinity of Fayd, was a powerful tribe connected with the Quraysh. They resided near the hill of Katan in Nejd. Muhammad received intelligence reports that they were planning a raid on Medina. So he dispatched a force of 150 men under the leadership of Abu Salama `Abd Allah ibn `Abd al-Asad to make a sudden attack on this tribe.
After Muhammad's death, previously dormant tensions between the Meccan immigrants, the Muhajirun, and the Medinan converts, the Ansar, threatened to split the Ummah. Other Arabic tribes also wished to revert to exit from Islam to local leadership and split from Medina's control. In some places, people claiming prophethood started to establish leaderships to oppose Medina, e.g. Al-Aswad Al-Ansi and Musaylimah. All of which are events that led to splitting the Muslim community. The Ansar, the leaders of the tribes of Medina, met in a hall or house called saqifah, to discuss whom they would support as their new leader. When Abu Bakr was informed of the meeting, he, Umar, Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah and a few others rushed to prevent the Ansar from making a premature decision. During the meeting Umar declared that Abu Bakr should be the new leader, and declared his allegiance to Abu Bakr, followed by Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, and thus Abu Bakr became the first caliph. Apostasy and rebellion in central Arabia were led by the Musaylima in the fertile region of Yamamah. He was mainly supported by the powerful tribe of Banu Hanifa. At Buzakha in north central Arabia, another claimed prophet, Tulaiha, a tribal chief of Bani Asad, led the rebellion against Medina aided by the allied tribes of Banu Ghatfan, the Hawazin, and the Tayy. At Najd, Malik ibn Nuweira led the tribes of Banu Tamim against the authority of Medina. On receiving intelligence of the Muslims preparations, Tulayha too prepared for a battle, and was further reinforced by the contingents of the allied tribes. Before launching Khalid against Tulayha, Abu Bakr sought ways and means of reducing the latter's strength, so that the battle could be fought with the maximum prospects of victory. Nothing could be done about the tribes of Bani Assad and Banu Ghatafan, which stood solidly behind Tulayha, but the Tayy were not so staunch in their support of Tulayha, and their chief, Adi ibn Hatim, was a devout Muslim. Adi was appointed by Abu Bakr to negotiate with the tribal elders to withdraw their contingent from Tulayha's army. The negotiations were a success, and Adi brought with him 500 horsemen of his tribe to reinforce Khalid's army. Khalid next marched against another apostate tribe, Jadila. Here again, Adi ibn Hatim offered his services to persuade the tribe to submit without bloodshed. Bani Jadila submitted, and their 1000 warriors joined Khalid's army. Khalid, now much stronger than when he had left Zhu Qissa, marched for Buzakha. There, in mid-September 632, he defeated Tulayha in the Battle of Buzakha. The remaining army of Tulayha retreated to Ghamra, 20 miles from Buzakha, and was defeated in the Battle of Ghamra in the third week of September.
Several tribes submitted to the Caliph after Khalid's decisive victories. Moving south from Buzakha, Khalid reached Naqra in October, with an army now 6000 strong, and defeated the rebel tribe of Banu Saleem in the Battle of Naqra. In the third week of October, Khalid defeated a tribal mistress, Salma, in the battle of Zafar. Afterwards, he moved to Najd against the rebel tribe of Banu Tamim and their Sheikh Malik ibn Nuwayrah. At Najd, getting the news of Khalid's decisive victories against apostates in Buzakha, many clans of Banu Tamim hastened to visit Khalid, but the Banu Yarbu', a branch of Bani Tamim, under their chief, Malik ibn Nuwayrah, hung back. Malik was a chief of some distinction: a warrior, noted for his generosity, and a famous poet. Bravery, generosity, and poetry were the three qualities most admired among the Arabs. At the time of Muhammad, he had been appointed as a tax collector for the tribe of Banu Tamim. As soon as Malik heard of the death of Muhammad, he gave back all the tax to his tribespeople, saying, "Now you are the owner of your wealth." Moreover, he was to be charged because he signed a pact with the prophet Sajjah. This agreement stated that first, they would deal with local enemy tribes together, and then they would confront the state of Madinah. His riders were stopped by Khalid's army at the town of Buttah. Khalid asked them about the signing of pact with Sajjah; they said it was just because they wanted revenge against their terrible enemies. When Khalid reached Najd he found no opposing army. He sent his cavalry to nearby villages and ordered them to call the Azaan (call for prayers) to each party they meet. Zirrar bin Azwar, a squadron leader, arrested the family of Malik, claiming they did not answer the call to prayer. Malik avoided direct contact with Khalid's army and ordered his followers to scatter, and he and his family apparently moved away across the desert. He refused to give zakat, hence differentiating between prayer and zakat. Nevertheless, Malik was accused of rebellion against the state of Medina. He was also to be charged for his entering in an anti-Caliphate alliance with the prophetess Sajjah. Malik was arrested along with his clan men, Malik was asked by Khalid about his crimes. Malik's response was "your master said this, your master said that" referring to Abu Bakr. Khalid declared Malik a rebel apostate and ordered his execution. Khalid bin Walid killed Malik ibn Nuwayra. Ikrimah ibn Abi-Jahl, one of the corps commanders, was instructed to make contact with Musaylima at Yamamah, but not to engage in fighting until Khalid joined him. Abu Bakr's intention in giving Ikrimah this mission was to tie Musaylima down at Yamamah. With Ikrimah on the horizon, Musaylima would remain in expectation of a Muslim attack, and thus not be able to leave his base. With Musaylima so committed, Khalid would be free to deal with the apostate tribes of north-central Arabia without interference from Yamamah. Meanwhile, Abu Bakr sent Shurhabil's corps to reinforce Ikrama at Yamamah. However, Ikrimah attacked Musaylima's forces in early September 632 and was defeated. He wrote the details of his actions to Abu Bakr, who, both pained and angered by the rashness of Ikrimah and his disobedience, ordered him to proceed with his force to Oman to assist Hudaifa; once Hudaifa had completed his task, to march to Mahra to help Arfaja, and thereafter go to Yemen to help Muhajir. Meanwhile, Abu Bakr sent orders to Khalid to march against Musaylima. Shurhabil's corps, that was stationed at Yamamah, was to reinforce Khalid's corps. In addition to this Abu Bakr assembled a fresh army of Ansar and Muhajireen in Medina that joined Khalid's corps at Butah. From Butah Khalid marched to Yamamah to join with Shurhabil's corps. Though Abu Bakr had instructed Shurhabil not to engage Musaylima's forces until the arrival of Khalid, shortly before the arrival of Khalid, Shurhabil engaged Musaylima's forces and was defeated too. Khalid joined with the corps of Shurhabil early in December 632. The combined force of Muslims, now 13,000 strong, defeated Musaylima's army in the Battle of Yamama, which was fought in the third week of December. The fortified city of Yamamah surrendered peacefully later that week. Khalid established his headquarters at Yamamah, from where he despatched columns to all over the plain of Aqraba to subdue the region around Yamamah and to kill or capture all who resisted. Thereafter all of central Arabia submitted to Medina. What remained of the apostasy in the less vital areas of Arabia was rooted out by the Muslims in a series of well planned campaigns within five months.
Post-Ridda wars, until the 10th century
Muhammad's followers rapidly expanded the territory under Muslim rule beyond Arabia, conquering huge swathes of territory (from the Iberian Peninsula in west to modern day Pakistan in east) in a matter of decades. In so doing, Arabia soon became a politically peripheral region of the Muslim world as the focus shifted to the more developed conquered lands. From the 10th century to the early 20th century Mecca and Medina were under the control of a local Arab ruler known as the Sharif of Mecca, but at most times the Sharif owed allegiance to the ruler of one of the major Islamic empires based in Baghdad, Cairo or Istanbul. Most of the remainder of what became Saudi Arabia reverted to traditional tribal rule.
16th-century to the unification of Saudi Arabia
In the 16th century, the Ottomans added the Red Sea and Persian Gulf coast (the Hejaz, Asir and Al-Ahsa) to the Empire and claimed suzerainty over the interior. One reason was to thwart Portuguese attempts to attack the Red Sea (hence the Hejaz) and the Indian Ocean. Ottoman degree of control over these lands varied over the next four centuries with the fluctuating strength or weakness of the Empire's central authority. The emergence of what was to become the Saudi royal family, known as the Al Saud, began in Nejd in central Arabia in 1744, when Muhammad bin Saud, founder of the dynasty, joined forces with the religious leader Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of the Wahhabi movement, a strict puritanical form of Sunni Islam. This alliance formed in the 18th century provided the ideological impetus to Saudi expansion and remains the basis of Saudi Arabian dynastic rule today. The first "Saudi state" established in 1744 in the area around Riyadh, rapidly expanded and briefly controlled most of the present-day territory of Saudi Arabia, but was destroyed by 1818 by the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, Mohammed Ali Pasha. A much smaller second "Saudi state", located mainly in Nejd, was established in 1824 by Turki. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, the Al Saud contested control of the interior of what was to become Saudi Arabia with another Arabian ruling family, the Al Rashid. By 1891, the Al Rashid were victorious and the Al Saud were driven into exile in Kuwait.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire continued to control or have a suzerainty over most of the peninsula. Subject to this suzerainty, Arabia was ruled by a patchwork of tribal rulers, with the Sharif of Mecca having pre-eminence and ruling the Hejaz. In 1902, Abdul Rahman's son, Abdul Aziz—later to be known as Ibn Saud—recaptured control of Riyadh, bringing the Al Saud back to Nejd. Ibn Saud gained the support of the Ikhwan, a tribal army inspired by Wahhabism, and which had grown quickly after its foundation in 1912. With the aid of the Ikhwan, Ibn Saud captured Al-Ahsa from the Ottomans in 1913.
In 1916, with the encouragement and support of Britain (which was fighting the Ottomans in World War I), the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein bin Ali, led a pan-Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire to create a united Arab state. Although the Arab Revolt of 1916 to 1918 failed in its objective, the Allied victory in World War I resulted in the end of Ottoman suzerainty and control in Arabia.
Ibn Saud avoided involvement in the Arab Revolt and instead continued his struggle with the Al Rashid. Following the latter's final defeat, he took the title Sultan of Nejd in 1921. With the help of the Ikhwan, the Hejaz was conquered in 1924–25 and on 10 January 1926, Ibn Saud declared himself King of the Hejaz. A year later, he added the title of King of Nejd. For the next five years, he administered the two parts of his dual kingdom as separate units.
After the conquest of the Hejaz, the Ikhwan leadership's objective switched to expansion of the Wahhabist realm into the British protectorates of Transjordan, Iraq and Kuwait, and began raiding those territories. This met with Ibn Saud's opposition, as he recognized the danger of a direct conflict with the British. At the same time, the Ikhwan became disenchanted with Ibn Saud's domestic policies which appeared to favor modernization and the increase in the number of non-Muslim foreigners in the country. As a result, they turned against Ibn Saud and, after a two-year struggle, were defeated in 1930 at the Battle of Sabilla, where their leaders were massacred. In 1932 the two kingdoms of the Hejaz and Nejd were united as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Arabic word najd literally means "upland" and was once applied to a variety of regions within the Arabian Peninsula. However, the most famous of these was the central region of the Peninsula roughly bounded on the west by the mountains of the Hejaz and Yemen and to the east by the historical region of Eastern Arabia and the north by Iraq and Syria.
Medieval Muslim geographers spent a great amount of time debating the exact boundaries between Hejaz and Najd in particular, but generally set the western boundaries of Najd to be wherever the western mountain ranges and lava beds began to slope eastwards, and set the eastern boundaries of Najd at the narrow strip of red sand dunes known as the Ad-Dahna Desert, some 100 km (62 mi) east of modern-day Riyadh. The southern border of Najd has always been set at the large sea of sand dunes known today as Rub' al Khali (the Empty Quarter), while the southwestern boundaries are marked by the valleys of Wadi Ranyah, Wadi Bisha, and Wadi Tathlith.
The northern boundaries of Najd have fluctuated greatly historically and received far less attention from the medieval geographers. In the early Islamic centuries, Najd was considered to extend as far north as the River Euphrates, or more specifically, the "Walls of Khosrau", constructed by the Sassanid Empire as a barrier between Arabia and Iraq immediately prior to the advent of Islam. The modern usage of the term encompasses the region of Al-Yamama, which was not always considered part of Najd historically.
Najd is a plateau ranging from 762 to 1,525 m (2,500 to 5,003 ft) in height and sloping downwards from west to east. The eastern sections (historically better known as Al-Yamama) are marked by oasis settlements with lots of farming and trading activities, while the rest has traditionally been sparsely occupied by nomadic Bedouins. The main topographical features include the twin mountains of Aja and Salma in the north near Ha'il, the high land of Jabal Shammar and the Tuwaiq mountain range running through its center from north to south. Also important are the various dry river-beds (wadis) such as Wadi Hanifa near Riyadh, Wadi Na'am in the south, Wadi Al-Rumah in the Al-Qassim Province in the north, and Wadi ad-Dawasir at the southernmost tip of Najd on the border with Najran. Most Najdi villages and settlements are located along these wadis, due to ability of these wadis to preserve precious rainwater in the arid desert climate, while others are located near oases. Historically, Najd itself has been divided into small provinces made up of constellations of small towns, villages and settlements, with each one usually centered on one "capital". These subdivisions are still recognized by Najdis today, as each province retains its own variation of the Najdi dialect and Najdi customs. The most prominent among these provinces are Al-'Aridh, which includes Riyadh and the historical Saudi capital of Diriyah; Al-Qassim, with its capital in Buraidah; Sudair, centered on Al Majma'ah; Al-Washm, centered on Shaqraa; and Jebel Shammar, with its capital, Ha'il. Under modern-day Saudi Arabia, however, Najd is divided into three administrative regions: Ha'il, Al-Qassim, and Riyadh, comprising a combined area of 554,000 km2 (214,000 sq mi).
Riyadh is the largest city in Najd, as well as the largest city in the country as a whole, with a population of more than 5,700,000 in 2010 and 5,008,100 in 2016. Other cities include Buraidah (505,845 in 2005), Unaizah (138,351 in 2005) and Ar Rass (116,164 in 2005). Smaller towns and villages include Sudair, Al-Kharj, Dawadmi, 'Afif, Al-Zilfi, Al Majma'ah, Shaqraa, Tharmada'a, Dhurma, Al-Gway'iyyah, Al-Hareeq, Hotat Bani Tamim, Layla, As Sulayyil, and Wadi ad-Dawasir, the southernmost settlement in Najd.
Social and ethnic groups
Prior to the formation of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the native population Arabian tribes, who were either nomads (bedouins), or sedentary farmers and merchants. The rest of the population consisted mainly of Arabs who were, for various reasons, unaffiliated with any tribes, and who mostly lived in the towns and villages of Najd working in various trades such as carpentry or as Sonnaa' (craftsmen). There was also a small segment of the population made up of African as well as some East and South Eastern European slaves or freedmen.
Most of the Najdi tribes are of Adnanite origin and emigrated from Tihamah and Hijaz to Najd in ancient times. The most famous Najdi tribes in the pre-Islamic era were Banu Hanifa, who occupied the area around modern-day Riyadh, Banu Tamim, who occupied areas further north, the tribe of Banu Abs who were centered in Al-Qassim, the tribe of Tayy, centered on modern-day Ha'il, and the tribe of Banu 'Amir in southern Najd. In the 15th through 18th centuries, there was considerable tribal influx from the west, increasing both the nomadic and settled population of the area and providing fertile soil for the Wahhabi movement. By the 20th century, many of the ancient tribes had morphed into new confederations or emigrated from other areas of the Middle East, and many tribes from other regions of the Peninsula had moved into Najd. However, the largest proportion of native Najdis today still belong to these ancient Najdi tribes or to their newer incarnations. Many of the Najdi tribes even in ancient times were not nomadic or bedouin but rather very well settled farmers and merchants. The royal family of Saudi Arabia, Al Saud, for example, trace their lineage to Banu Hanifa. On the eve of the formation of Saudi Arabia, the major nomadic tribes of Najd included Dawasir, Mutayr, 'Utaybah, Shammar (historically known as Tayy) Subay', Suhool, Harb, and the Qahtanites in southern Najd. In addition to those tribes, many of the sedentary population belonged to Anizzah, Banu Tamim, Banu Hanifa, Banu Khalid, and Banu Zayd.
Most of the nomadic tribes are now settled either in cities such as Riyadh, or in special settlements, known as hijras, that were established in the early part of the 20th century as part of a country-wide policy undertaken by King Abdul-Aziz to put an end to nomadic life. Nomads still exist in the Kingdom, however, in very small numbers – a far cry from the days when they made up the majority of the people of the Arabian Peninsula. Since the formation of modern Saudi Arabia, Najd, and particularly Riyadh, has seen an influx of immigrants from all regions of the country and from virtually every social class. The native Najdi population has also largely moved away from its native towns and villages to the capital, Riyadh. However, most of these villages still retain a small number of their native inhabitants. About a quarter of the population of Najd, including about a third of the population of Riyadh, are non-Saudi expatriates, including both skilled professionals and unskilled laborers. Slavery was abolished in Saudi Arabia by King Faisal in 1962. Some of those freed slaves chose to continue working for their former slave-owners, particularly those whose former owners were members of the royal family. Unlike the Hejaz and Tihamah, Najd is remote and stayed outside of the reign of important Islamic empires such as the Abbasids and the Ottoman Empire. This fact largely shaped its current dissimilarity to Hejaz.
The region is known for its strict interpretation of Islam and is generally considered a bastion of religious conservatism. The founder of the strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism followed by the House of Saud, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab was born in 'Uyayna, a village in the Najd.
The people of Najd have spoken Arabic, in one form or another, for practically all of recorded history. As in other regions of the Peninsula, there is a divergence between the dialect of the nomadic Bedouins and the dialect of the sedentary townspeople. The variation, however, is far less pronounced in Najd than it is elsewhere in the country, and the Najdi sedentary dialect seems to be descended from the Bedouin dialect, just as most sedentary Najdis are descendants of nomadic Bedouins themselves. The Najdi dialect is seen by some to be the least foreign-influenced of all modern Arabic dialects, due to the isolated location and harsh climate of the Najdi plateau, as well as the apparent absence of any substratum from a previous language. Indeed, not even the ancient South Arabian language appears to have been widely spoken in Najd in ancient times, unlike southern Saudi Arabia, for example. Within Najd itself, the different regions and towns have their own distinctive accents and sub-dialects. However, these have largely merged in recent times and have become heavily influenced by Arabic dialects from other regions and countries. This is particularly the case in Riyadh.
In the early 20th century, Najd produced coarse wool cloth.
In popular culture
Bahiyyih Nakhjavani’s first novel The Saddlebag – A Fable for Doubters and Seekers describes events set in the Najd plateau along the pilgrim route between Mecca and Medina in 1844–1845. A contest held in the Middle East brought light to a new character in famed SNK Playmore videogame, The King of Fighters XIV. This character goes under the name Najd.
- History of Saudi Arabia
- Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz
- Nejd Expedition
- List of expeditions of Muhammad in Nejd
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