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Islam / Orientations / Wahhabism /
Arabic: ikhwān

Ikhwan troops

In Najd (now part of Saudi Arabia), tribal militia 1912-1930, central in the territorial conquests from which the kingdom of Saudi Arabia was formed. The Ikhwan conquered Hasa, Ha'il and Hijaz to the king of Najd, Ibn Saud.
The Ikhwan, which means "Brethren", was formed and organized by the Mutawwa'a, the Islamic specialists and teachers of Wahhabism, and recruiting mainly nomadic and semi-nomadic Bedouins.
What distinguishes the Ikhwan was both their strict religious training, as well as their relocation to brand new settlements.
The training the Ikhwan received from Mutawwa'a was fully religious in nature, but could be quite practical in content.
The Ikhwan formed new settlements, colonies called hijra that were located to wells and in desert oases. This had practical reasons, liberating them from tribal allegiances and being easy to administer. But there was a deeper meaning to the hijras, nomadic life was declared incompatible with the requirements of Islam, and the hijras were involved in reclamation of land and the establishment of important structures like schools and medical facilities. The largest hijras had up to 10,000 inhabitants.
Their war, although fought against other Muslims, was defined as jihad, holy war. Their outspoken goal was the purification of Islamic practice, as this was understood through the teachings of the 18th century scholar Abd al-Wahhab.
Being so effective in war, the Ikhwan would prove dangerous when war was over. The dismantling of the Ikhwan around 1930 emerged from the conflict between them and the king; following a short civil war. The Ikhwan had strongly opposed the practices of the king, who had allowed the introduction of the telephone, the telegraph and automobiles into society. But all in all, this was also a battle over who should have influence in the new kingdom, the king feared groups that were as independent as the Ikhwan had become.

1912: The Ikhwan is organized by Ibn Saud, aiming at forming a stable elite army.
1919: The Ikhwan wages war against the Hashimid kingdom of Hijaz.
1920: Conquers Asir.
1921-1922: Wages wars against Hashimid rulers of Transjordan and Iraq. In the process, Ha'il is conquered.
1924: Attacks At-Ta'if and Mecca, claiming that Husayn who had declared himself Caliph, had acted heretical.
1925: Forces Jeddah and Madina to surrender, with this the Arabian conquests are completed.
1926: The Ikhwan criticizes Ibn Saud in several questions, and emerges as a group that can question the position and decisions of the king.
1929: Massacre by the Ikhwan of a group of merchants, and a small war between several Ikhwan groups and the king begins.
1930: The final battle between the king and an Ikhwan militia is at Sabilla, where the Ikhwan is crushed. Thereafter they are forcibly incorporated into the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

By Tore Kjeilen