A militant religious movement drawn from Bedouin tribes in northern and central Arabia.
After Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd al-Rahman Al Saʿud re-conquered Riyadh from the Al Rashid dynasty in 1901, religious authorities began to spread Wahhabism aggressively. One of the main intellectual forces behind the movement was Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Abd al-Latif, a scholar and religious leader in Riyadh. After about 1906, he over-saw the dispersion of his message among the Bedouin by activist-preachers called mutawwaʿin. The Bedouin converts and their religious mentors developed a variation on Wahhabism that incorporated the military tendencies of tribal society and the extreme literalist zeal sometimes characteristic of new religious converts. Those Bedouin who espoused this version of Wahhabism were known as Ikhwan (brethren, in Arabic). In addition to being called to accept the tenets of Wahhabism, they were encouraged to give up nomadism, obey the amir/imam (Abd al-Aziz), to help other Ikhwan, and to avoid contact with Europeans and other "nonbelievers." Because the movement developed in a society that attempted to retain its tribal prerogatives, the political agenda of its leaders often clashed with those of Abd al-Aziz and his town-oriented allies.
The first Ikhwan settlement, or hijra (plural, hujjar ), was established around 1913 mainly by members of the Mutayr tribe led by Faysal al-Dar-wish in al-Artawiyya, north of Riyadh. The use of the term hijra was a conscious attempt to invoke the first Islamic community under the prophet Muhammad. The hujar were located in tribal lands near water sources, and numbered around 120 by 1929.
Abd-al Aziz saw the spread of religion and the sedentarizing imperatives of the Ikhwan movement as a way to "debedouinize" the nomads, to build stronger ties between them and the ruler, and to use their young men as a reliable fighting force. However, from the start, important segments of the Ikhwan movement chafed at the policies of Abd alAziz. For example, because by 1914 a hijra -versus-town mentality had developed, and victims of Ikhwan intolerance and violence had complained to the ruler of Najd, Abd al-Aziz was forced to issue an edict, backed by his ulama allies, that undercut Ikhwan pretensions as arbiters and enforcers of Islamic belief and practice.
Material incentives encouraged some to join the movement. Abd al-Aziz encouraged sedentarization by providing funds, agricultural supplies, and materials to build schools and mosques. In addition, although Abd al-Aziz discouraged intertribal raiding (a major activity of the Bedouin for centuries), he permitted Ikhwan leaders to carry out violent attacks against opponents, which provided a significant source of plunder: animals, tents, weapons, and household items. After World War I, several Ikhwan leaders became strong advocates of military expansion, and beginning around 1919, Ikhwan forces carried out numerous attacks on Muslim populations (some of them Shiʿite) not only in al-Hasa, Najd, and Jabal Shammar, but also in Kuwait, Iraq, and Transjordan.
Among the Ikhwan's most notorious conquests were those in Hijaz, beginning with the sack of alTaʾif in 1924 and the massacre of hundreds of the town's men, women, and children. Despite repeated efforts by Abd al-Aziz to curb such excesses, the Ikhwan continued to perpetrate acts of untrammeled violence and destruction, including the "purification" of Mecca and Medina through the destruction of many historic religious monuments and shrines, and an attack in 1926 against an Egyptian pilgrimage procession, which resulted in the Ikhwan's banishment from Hijaz. These episodes, as well as the bitter disappointment of al-Darwish and other Ikhwan leaders that their military conquests had not been rewarded by expected political appointments over the newly conquered territories, precipitated a revolt against Abd al-Aziz in 1927. The revolt—and the movement itself—eventually was crushed by the forces of Abd al-Aziz in March 1929 at the battle of Sibila.
The ideology and aims of the Ikhwan movement persisted beneath the surface of official Saudi politics and resurfaced during the attack in November 1979 on the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The leader of the siege, Juhayman al-Utaybi, came from the hijra of Sajir, and his followers adopted the dress and violent and doctrinaire methods of the Ikhwan. Like their predecessors, these "neo-Ikhwan" were motivated by a sense that Islam was being perverted, that the Al Saʿud ruling family were corrupt, and that they alone held the key to a pure and true renewal of the Muslim community.
See also utaybi, juhayman al-
Glubb, John Bagot. War in the Desert. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960.
Habib, John S. Ibn Saʿud's Warriors of Islam: The Ikhwan of Najd and Their Role in the Creation of the Saʿudi Kingdom, 1910–1930. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1978.
Vassiliev, Alexei. The History of Saudi Arabia. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
malcolm c. peck
updated by anthony b. toth