The Arabian peninsula has supported agricultural, herding, and hunting cultures for thousands of years. Living on important ancient trade routes, the ancestors of the Saudi Arabians were touched by diverse civilizations, including those of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, India, Persia, and China.
The Qur'an (Koran), the holy book of Islam, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the western Arabian cities of Makkah (Mecca) and Madinah (Medina) beginning about 610 A.D. The birth of the new faith of Islam was one of the most momentous events in history.
Inspired by Islam, the Arabs expanded out of Arabia spreading Islam and the Arabic language. Their vast empire soon stretched from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to central Asia in the east, embracing today's southern Italy, Spain, and parts of France.
The Muslim Arab civilization remained vigorous for centuries, providing stability and advancing human knowledge while Western civilization was in eclipse during the Middle Ages. The Arabs made extensive and original contributions to chemistry, physics, optics, astronomy, medicine, mathematics, literature, and philosophy. They invented algebra, whose name derives from an Arabic word. They also transmitted the number system, called Arabic numerals, to the West.
In the 13th century, the Mongol invasions dealt a devastating blow to the Arabs' eastern lands, and their empire began to decline. The history of modern Saudi Arabia begins with Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, known in the West as Ibn Saud. The Al-Saud family had reigned over much of Arabia in the early 19th century. It lost part of its territory to the Turks later in the century, however, and was driven from its capital, Riyadh, by the rival House of Rashid. In 1902 Abdul Aziz recaptured the city and began to reconquer and reunify the country, which he completed some three decades later. In 1927, Abdul Aziz was officially proclaimed king, and the country was named the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. From the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in 1938, rapid economic development and rising prominence in world affairs have dominated the most recent chapter of Saudi Arabia's history.
Saudi Arabia, with an area of about 865,000 square miles, occupies the bulk of the Arabian peninsula. It is roughly one-third the size of the continental United States, and the same size as all of Western Europe.
Saudi Arabia lies at the crossroads of three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. It extends from the Red Sea on the west to the Arabian Gulf in the east. To the north it borders on Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait, and to the south, on Yemen and the Sultanate of Oman. To the east lie the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and the island state of Bahrain.
Saudi Arabia's terrain is varied but on the whole fairly barren and harsh, with salt flats, gravel plains, and sand dunes but few lakes or permanent streams. In the south is the Rub Al-Khali (Empty Quarter), the largest sand desert in the world. In the southwest, the mountain ranges of Asir Province rise to over 9,000 feet.
|Abha||Largest city in Asir Province|
|Al-Khobar||Commercial center adjacent to Dhahran|
|Buraydah||Largest city in Qasim Province|
|Dammam||Port city and commercial center|
|Dhahran||Oil industry center and metropolitan area|
|Hafr Al Batin||Home of King Khalid Military City|
|Hail||Important trading center in northwest|
|Jeddah||Port city and entry point for pilgrims|
|Jubayl||New industrial city on east coast|
|Madinah||Holy city and burial place of the Prophet Muhammad|
|Makkah||Holiest city of Islam, toward which Muslims pray|
|Riyadh||Capital of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia|
|Tabuk||Large city near Jordan border|
|Taif||Summer capital and mountain resort|
|Yanbu||New oil shipping terminal and industrial city|
From June through August, midday temperatures in the desert can soar to 50 C (122 F). Humidity in the coastal regions may approach 100 percent at times. In contrast, weather in other areas of the country may be mild throughout the year. Winter temperatures in the northern and central regions may drop to below freezing.
The shamal, sand-laden winds from the northern deserts, is most frequent in early summer and can blow for days at 25-30 miles an hour. Rainfall ranges from none at all for up to 10 years in the Rub Al-Khali, to 20 inches a year in the mountains of Asir Province.
Islam is one of the world's great monotheistic religions. The followers of Islam, called Muslims, believe in one God (Allah in Arabic) and that Muhammad is His Prophet. Today, the worldwide community of Muslims, which embraces the people of many races and cultures, numbers nearly one billion. There are approximately two million Muslims in the United States.
Historically, Saudi Arabia has occupied a special place in the Islamic world as the very heartland of Islam. Indeed, it is toward the sacred Ka'abah in Makkah that Muslims turn devoutly in prayer five times a day. The Qur'an, the sacred scripture of Islam, was revealed and is universally recited in Arabic.
A Muslim has five obligations, called the Five Pillars of Islam. First is the profession of faith: "There is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God." Second is praying five times a day, facing the holy city of Makkah. Third is zakat (alms giving), which prescribes payment of fixed proportions of a Muslim's possessions for the welfare of the entire community and, in particular, for its neediest members. Fourth is fasting during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, at which time Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to sunset. The fifth pillar is performing the hajj, or pilgrimage, to Makkah at least once in a lifetime. The hajj is a gathering of millions of Muslims from around the world.
The Kingdom continues to dedicate considerable financial and human resources to enable even more pilgrims to perform the hajj in comfort and safety. To Saudi Arabia, the holy cities of Makkah, the birthplace of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, and Madinah, the Prophet's burial place, are a sacred trust exercised on behalf of all Muslims. Recognizing the unique and historic tradition these holy sites represent, King Fahd adopted the official title of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques as an expression of his deep sense of responsibility toward Islam.