At the end of the century my birthplace, Zubair, was a bustling, prosperous town, lying on the main trade route from Iraq on Najd, in Arabia. For the Arabs, Zubair was the gateway to Iraq and beyond, and the town was almost entirely populated by Najdi merchants. My father, who was himself originally from Najd, dealt in Arab horses; his main customers were Indian maharajas and the British cavalry. When I was ten, he took me to live with him in Bombay. Although I spent the next twelve years of my life in India, first at an English school and then travelling for the family business, I maintained a keen interest in the affairs of my native Arabia, where a great new leader by the name of Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud had arisen. I was fascinated by the exploits of this extraordinary man, I determined to serve both him and my country.
When I left school, my father tried to persuade me to stay in India and study medicine. However, my mind was made up: I wanted to return to Arabia. Meanwhile, I tried to find a job with the merchant community in Basra, but nobody would employ me; I was told that I was too highly qualified! (In those days, very few people spoke English, with the exception of the Jews and a few Christians.)
During this period, and indeed even when I was in India, I wrote several letters which were accepted for publication by the Basra Times. The editor at that time was a young Welshman, and we soon became friends. He offered me a job as a clerk, with a view to writing articles for the paper soon afterwards, due to rivalries within the office. I was very nearly destitute; my father had refused to help me as I had not listened to his advice. That night I prayed hard and long. While I was praying, a visitor entered the house where I was staying in Zubair. He turned out to be a relative of mine. When I discovered that he had come via Basra, I asked him to give me all the latest news. To my delight, it transpired that two men from the Court of Ibn Saud were there at the time.
I went straight to the editor of the Basra Times and asked if he would be interested in publishing an interview with one of Ibn Saud’s ministers. He agreed enthusiastically, and even suggested several questions I might ask. I left for Basra the next day, and he had a long and pleasant discussion with Minister Abdullah Al-Damlujy and Hafiz Wahba. After the interview, upon a sudden impulse, I asked Al-Damlujy if there might be a position for me at the Court of Ibn Saud. I explained that I had received a good education at an English school in India and that I spoke fluent English and Urdu as well as my native Arabic. Al-Damlujy promised to see what he could arrange, and a fortnight later I received a telegram granting me an appointment as translator to the Court of the King. His Majesty was in Mecca at the time. I arrived there on 26 May 1926, still scarcely believing my luck, and started my period of service with the King.
I was to remain in the Court as a translator for a full nine years, during which time I was constant companion on His Majesty on all his travels and expeditions. It was an eventful period, which saw the meteoric rise and subsequent rebellion and destruction of the religious brotherhood known as the Ikhwan, war with the Yemen and the beginnings of the great Arabian oil story. Naturally, when I eventually left the Court I had many tales to tell of my experiences and my friends urged me to write a book on the subject. I often thought of doing this, but only recently made a start on it. I was finally persuaded after several of my English friends approached me and told me they were tired of reading books and articles about Arabia and the Arabs by Europeans who had appointed themselves experts on the subject after visiting our country for only a few weeks. It was about time, they thought, that a native Arab wrote a book in English, giving an Arabian view of his country’s recent history. Thus I set about writing this book, which takes as its theme the unification of Arabia and tells the story of Ibn Saud from his capture of Riyadh in 1902 to the middle of the 1930s, when the oil saga began.
There are already several excellent works in English about the life and times of Ibn Saud, particularly those written by that remarkable Englishman, Harry St John Philby. It was not my intention in writing this book merely to duplicate information which could be read elsewhere. My hope is that I can fill in some of the gaps which history has left; for this reason, I have concentrated on recounting in some detail the events with which I was personally involved during my nine years’ service with the King. I have told the story of what happened before then only in outline, for the benefits of those who are not familiar with it. Where I describe events with which I was not connected personally I have attempted to do so, wherever possible, by recording what was told to me by people who actually participated in these events, rather than by referring to written accounts by other authors.
Alas, it is now over forty years since I left the King’s Court and with the passage of time my memory is not as fresh or complete as it once was. Nevertheless, I have done my best; I hope the reader will forgive any inaccuracies which may prove to have crept into my text, and also any idiosyncrasies of style which may have arisen through my use of a language which is not my own.
Finally, I should mention my principal motive in writing this book, which is to make my own personal tribute to the memory of the man I came to admire above all others, His Majesty King Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Ibn Faisal Ibn Saud.
- 1 | Arabia Frequens
- 2 | The capture of Riyadh
- 3 | The fall of AL Rashid
- 4 | The expanding frontiers
- 5 | Hejaz and Asir
- 6 | The rise of the Ikhwan
- 7 | The battle of Sibillah
- 8 | The end of the Ikhwan
- 9 | St John Philby
- 10 | The King’s Court
- 11 | Personalities
- 12 | The Yemen
- 13 | The oil story
- 14 | Ibn Saud
- APPENDIX 1: The Āl Sa‘ūd dynasty
- APPENDIX 2: The Āl Sa‘ūd dynasty: a brief résumé to 1865
- APPENDIX 3: The Āl Rashīd dynasty
- APPENDIX 4: Important battles and events during the life of His Majesty King ibn Sa‘ūd
- APPENDIX 5: The men who took part in the Capture of Riyāḍ in 1902 (A.H. 1319)
- APPENDIX 6: Ikhwan settlements
- APPENDIX 7: The Palestine question
- APPENDIX 8: The dreams