views updated May 18 2018


HEJAZ (Ar. Ḥijāz), a region N.W. of present-day *Saudi Arabia, from the Gulf of 'Aqabah in the north to 'Asir in the south along the Red Sea. The narrow coastal stripe (Tihāmah) is a dry, barren land, while the mountain chain (2100–2400 m and peaks topping 3000 m) is fertile due to plenty of precipitations. Because of its being the site of *Islam's holy cities *Mecca and *Medinah, it is significant in the Arab and Islamic historical and political landscape. The name Hijāz means sequestration, impoundment, signifying the mountain bar between the sea and the hinterland. Scattered oases, drawing water from springs and wells in the vicinity of the wadis, permit some settled agriculture. Of these oases, the largest and most important are Medinah and *Khaybar. According to a legend of Jewish source, but kept in Muslim writings, the first Jews arrived at the Hijāz when Moses dispatched an army to expelthe Amalekites from the land of Yathrib (in time: Medinah). According to another legend, the second Jewish immigration took place in 587 b.c.e. with the destruction of the First Temple. Jews settled then in Wādī al-Qurā', Taymā, Yathrib, and Khaybar. However, from epigraphic evidence recently excavated, the earliest Jewish settlement in the Ḥijāz dates from the reign of Nabonidus, son of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (6th century b.c.e). Nothing is known about later times, but Aramaic and Judeo-Arabic inscriptions at 'Ullā (biblical Dedan) and Madā'in ṣālih (Ḥijrah) from the late third and early fourth centuries c.e. attest to the existence of Jewish settlements in the Ḥijāz at that time. Jewish sages such as 'Anan b. Ḥiyya of Ḥijrah are cited in the Talmud (Yev. 116a). These communities strictly observed Jewish practical commandments and were even much more meticulous in questions of purity and impurity.

At the beginning of the seventh century c.e., there were three Jewish tribes living in Yathrib: Banū *Qaynuqa', *Banū Naḍīr, and Banū *Qurayẓa. All three tribes were rich and powerful, and, also, were more civilized than the Arabs. Whereas the Arabs were all farmers, the Jews were the entrepreneurs of industry, business and commerce in Arabia, and they controlled the economic life of Yathrib. The two Arab tribes – Aws and Khazraj – were debt-ridden to the Jews perennially. Besides Yathrib, the strong centers of the Jews in Ḥijāz were Khaybar, Fadak, and Wādī al-Qurā' (Aylah, Maqnā, Tabūk). The lands in these valleys were the most fertile in all Arabia, and their Jewish cultivators were the best farmers in the country. Moreover, Arabs settling among the populous Jewish communities of Medinah, Taymā, and Khaybar often adopted Judaism.

The rise of Islam gradually resulted in the complete disappearance of Jews from the Ḥijāz. Already in *Muhammad's time the three Jewish tribes in Yathrib were destroyed, forcefully converted to Islam or expelled. The Jewish settlement in Khaybar and Wādī al-Qurā', whom Muhammad recognized as protected people, existed as agricultural centers at least until the 11th century, as attested by letters sent by them to a gaon in Iraq regarding religious issues of agriculture. Since then there has not been any Jewish settlement in the Ḥijāz. Islamic tradition even invented a *ḥadīth ascribed to Muhammad, who said to his wife before his death: "There shall not be two religions in the Ḥijāz". In days to come, the 16th to the 18th century, that saying would be the main religious argument for expelling the Jews of *Yemen, based on the claim that in this matter Yemen should be referred to like the Ḥijāz.


Baron, Social2, 3 (1957), 60–80; H.Z. Hirschberg, Yisrael be-Arav (1946), index; I. Ben-Zvi, The Exiled and the Redeemed (1958), index; eis2, 3 (1969), 362–4; Y. Tobi, in: Ben 'Ever La-'Arav, 2 (2001), 17–60; idem., "The Orthography of the Pre-Saadianic Judaeo-Arabic Compared with the Orthography of the Inscriptions of Pre-Islamic Arabia," in: Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 34 (2004), 343–49; G.D. Newby in jqr, 61, 214–21; idem., A History of the Jews in Arabia (1988); M. Lecker, Jews and Arabs in Preand Early Islamic Arabia (1998).

[Yosef Tobi (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 21 2018

Hejaz Region in nw Saudi Arabia, on the Red Sea coast. The centre of Islam, it contains the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina. It has been part of Saudi Arabia since 1932. Area: 388,500sq km (150,000sq mi).