A historic and admirable royal order was recently issued by His Highness King Salman bin Abdulaziz designating 22 February as the annual Saudi Founding Day.
This decision will not only lay the foundations for a new and reviving narrative of Saudi Arabia’s early days, but it will also restructure priorities and set the record straight.
Contrary to the narrative that prevailed for decades, the Saudi state, or the concept thereof, date back to the days when the people of the Arabian Peninsula, starting from the central region of Najd, aspired for stable governance and a state that runs their affairs, guarantees their safety and security, and facilitates their lives.
The Saudi state was founded by the Royal Family ancestor Mohammad bin Saud in 1727. That was the true moment of foundation, not any other. So, who is Mohammad bin Saud?
Imam Mohammad bin Saud (died in 1765) is the hero and true founder of the Saudi legacy. He was the descendant of a noble family that ruled the city of Diriyah. Under some of his ancestors, the rule of the family sometimes expanded beyond the city’s borders.
The oldest known ancestor to the Saud family was Mani’ al-Muraydi, who established the emirate of Diriyah in 1446. However, it was only in 1744, nearly 300 years later, that Mohammad bin Saud met Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab.
Mohammad bin Saud was a man with intent, ambition, and political wisdom. Many local and foreign historians have detailed his life and story, most notably, the late historian Mounir al-Ajlani.
Al-Ajlani called for reaffirming appreciation to the founding emir and refuted the prevailing narrative claiming Mohammad bin Saud had no knowledge of the Islamic reformism and da’wah of Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdul Wahab. Rather, the accounts of Ibn Bishr and other historians claim he willingly embraced it and by no means did it come as a surprise to him.
Al-Ajlani says Diriyah was no stranger to Sheikh Abdul Wahab and his da’wah, for the latter had close connections to and frequent communication with many of its men way before he sought refuge in the city. Among them was Mohammad bin Saud’s son and successor, Abdulaziz. As such, al-Ajlani wonders, did Mohammad bin Saud let his son Abdulaziz exchange letters with the Sheikh without his knowledge?
Al-Ajlani cites whom he calls the great French historian Mengin, who obtained his information from those exiled from Saudi Arabia to Cairo, as saying that the Sheikh shared his plan entirely with the emir of Diriyah beforehand, and that his migration to Diriyah in the first place was preceded by many precise arrangements and an initial invite from the emir, who sent knights to welcome and accompany him before he reached the city (“History of the Saudi Arabian country”, Munir al-Ajlani, volume 1, page 94).
Al-Ajlani wrote his book in the era of King Faisal, relying on multi-lingual documents and local sources, as well as personal interviews with senior members of the Saudi Royal family and senior officials in the Saudi state since the era of King Abdulaziz.
This is but a small insight into the life and journey of the First Founder, Muhammad bin Saud.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.