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Of Sand or SoilGenealogy and Tribal Belonging in Saudi Arabia$

Nadav Samin

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780691164441

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691164441.001.0001

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Ḥamad al-Jāsir: A Life in Context

Ḥamad al-Jāsir: A Life in Context

(p.19) Chapter One Ḥamad al-Jāsir: A Life in Context
Of Sand or Soil

Nadav Samin

Princeton University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the twentieth-century history of Saudi Arabia through the biography of Hamad al-Jāsir. More than any other single person, al-Jāsir was responsible for shaping the modern genealogical culture of Saudi Arabia. The chapter examines al-Jāsir's life from his birth in 1909 in a central Arabian village to the beginnings of his genealogical project in the 1970s. It considers al-Jāsir's sometimes tumultuous relationship with his patrons in the Wahhabi religious establishment, his contributions to the development of the Saudi press and public culture, and his views on Arabia's bedouin populations and on the Arabic language. It also explores al-Jāsir's turn toward scholarship and the documenting of Saudi lineages in the last third of his life.

Keywords:   twentieth-century history, Saudi Arabia, biography, Hamad al-Jāsir, genealogical culture, Wahhabi religious establishment, Saudi press, public culture, Arabic language, Saudi lineages

Ḥamad al-Jāsir’s death in September of 2000 was mourned on the pages of dozens of Saudi newspapers and magazines in hundreds of obituary columns and editorial tributes.1 Even in a culture of praise such as Saudi Arabia’s, the sheer volume of testimonials set the scholar apart as a unique phenomenon, an institution in his own right. Al-Jāsir’s editorial and literary voice had no obvious precedent or equivalent, either within the kingdom’s religious culture or its circles of political authority. There were certainly contemporaries who labored in the same pioneering mode as the scholar of Arabian history and genealogy; yet none achieved the same level of recognition.2 How, then, did al-Jāsir establish himself among so many Saudi admirers as well as detractors? How did a half-blind, orphaned son of the Najdi soil make his way to the pinnacle of Saudi public life, influencing generations of Arab and Western scholars and multitudes of ordinary Saudis in the process?

Al-Jāsir’s lasting legacy was to redefine the parameters of acceptable knowledge in the Wahhabi heartland. He did this by broadening the scope of the Islamic scholarly tradition in Saudi Arabia to encompass disciplines such as history and literature. These disciplines had possessed little utility in the scattered sedentary communities of central Arabia, where the production of knowledge rested in the hands of narrowly expert “ritual specialists.”3 In premodern Najd (central Arabia), history was little more than the terse and summary jottings of town or court scribes;4 literature was oral poetry, which followed its own logic and purpose distinct from that of the textual tradition.5 Underlying al-Jāsir’s endeavor was the effort to attach a nascent Saudi national (p.20) community to the legacy of urban Islamic civilization that had flourished for over a millennium in the distant metropolises of Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo, a legacy to which the newly emergent oil power from the desert periphery now sought a claim. It is for this reason that Ḥamad al-Jāsir is revered by so many, because he connected Najdis to the broader, documented Islamic history that somehow eluded their region. He brought them a measure of literate culture where little existed previously. He fashioned a history for them.

Summarizing his influence in outsized terms, an admirer remarked:

If the Shaykh al-Islām Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb is an embodiment of the Islamic school of thought and Islamic history, and is distinguished and respected in the history of this Peninsula, then I believe that Shaykh Ḥamad al-Jāsir is the embodiment of the other school of thought, the intellectual and cultural school, and is distinguished and respected in the history of this great Islamic nation [i.e., Saudi Arabia].6

Ḥamad al-Jāsir’s story is also that of the arrival of widespread literacy in central Arabia. Al-Jāsir was among the first to wrest textual authority away from the Wahhabi ʿulamāʾ. Ultimately, however, his challenge to central Arabia’s learned establishment would see him ostracized by the same patrons who had first adopted him.7 A biography of one of the leading Wahhabi scholars of the twentieth century, Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm Āl al-Shaykh (d. 1969), conveys conservative sentiment toward al-Jāsir in characteristically Saudi terms. In a list of Ibn Ibrāhīm’s most prominent students and disciples, the honorific shaykh is attached to all but one of these—al-Jāsir is listed as an ustādh (teacher). Intended perhaps to distinguish al-Jāsir as a practitioner of modern systems of knowledge, this is a downgrade, to be sure, in the reckoning of the pious.8

Al-Jāsir’s frequent confrontations with Saudi religious authorities and his outspoken attitudes about history and culture have cemented for him a reputation among some as a secular-minded intellectual out of step with his own society.9 While out of keeping with the devout public persona he maintained more or less consistently over seven decades of public life, there is a measure of truth to this criticism. At first a dutiful son of the Wahhabi establishment, the scholar would grow to challenge the reigning orthodoxies of his homeland. His attacks on the pieties of the Wahhabi ʿulamāʾ and their royal backers, subtle as they were at times, would eventually force the scholar to turn his gaze inward, away from political and social reform, and toward the history and culture of the society he inhabited. Yet, this inward turn would prove no less fraught with controversy, as his project of codifying the genealogies of the people of Saudi Arabia would later demonstrate. Al-Jāsir rose to prominence (p.21) in the shadow of a modernizing court where the production of culture remained invested in the hands of an appointed few. Though influential in the development of modern education and the press in the Najdi heartland, the scholar’s contributions to Saudi historiography were perhaps his most substantial. With his writings on tribal genealogies and Saudi history, al-Jāsir established a narrative foundation for a newly imagined Saudi nation and its central Arabian heartland.

This chapter examines the life and times of Ḥamad al-Jāsir from his birth through the launch of his genealogical project in the 1970s. I will discuss al-Jāsir’s early dependence on and ultimate break from his patrons in the Wahhabi religious establishment; his effort to forge a history for Saudi Arabia commensurate with its rising influence; his growing sympathy for the nostalgic ideal of bedouinism; and, finally, his retreat from political activism and turn toward scholarship and the documentation of the genealogies of the families and tribes of the kingdom, an ostensibly benign pursuit that provoked a great deal of controversy and anxiety. By looking closely at the life of a central Arabian polymath and the documentary trail he left across most of the twentieth century, this chapter also introduces readers to the modern history of Saudi Arabia.

I divide al-Jāsir’s biography into three stages, each of which corresponds to a distinctive intellectual and vocational turn in the scholar’s life. The years 1909 to 1939 mark the period of al-Jāsir’s education and early career under the patronage of the Wahhabi clerical establishment. Born into a family of peasant farmers, al-Jāsir’s intellectual promise was recognized early by important Wahhabi scholars, and he became a valued participant in the expansion of Wahhabi influence throughout the Arabian Peninsula, particularly the Hijaz (western Arabia). It is during this formative period as well, most notably during intervals of study in Mecca and Cairo, that al-Jāsir was first exposed to the modern currents of thought that would propel much of the work of his mature life. As the scholar ascended the rungs of bureaucratic responsibility in the new state, his effort to synthesize the rival intellectual currents of his early life was impeded by his Wahhabi patrons, who resisted being displaced as Arabia’s sole pedagogical authorities and arbiters of legitimate knowledge.

The second stage of al-Jāsir’s life (1939–1966) marks the scholar’s emergence as a public figure in Saudi Arabia. In the prime years of his productive life, he played a major part in the development of the kingdom’s modern social and cultural institutions, particularly in Najd. He founded central Arabia’s first printing press (Dār al-Yamāma), its first periodical (al-Yamāma) and first newspaper (al-Riyāḍ), and served as the region’s first school superintendent. As a working man, al-Jāsir was, by the contemporary standards of his society, a reformist and progressive intellectual. It was during this second (p.22)

Table 1. Chronology of Ḥamad al-Jāsir’s Life


Chronology of Ḥamad al-Jāsir’s Life


Born in al-Burūd


Moves to Riyadh to live and study at Bayt al-Ikhwān


Battle of al-Sibila (March)


Appointed scribe in hijra of ʿArwā (July)


Enrolls in al-Maʿhad al-ʿIlmī al-Saʿūdī (secondary school) in Mecca


Appointed judge in Ḍibā


Enrolls in Cairo University, College of Literature; leaves prematurely after outbreak of war


Appointed monitor for Arabic language education at Aramco’s Jabal School


Appointed education inspector for Najd


Appointed director of Arabic studies for religious high schools and colleges


Founds al-Yamāma periodical


Writes article welcoming Indian president Nehru to kingdom, fired from directorship


Imprisoned by King Saʿūd for al-Yamāma article insulting religious establishment


Departs with family for Egypt


Departs Egypt for Beirut


Stripped of control over al-Yamāma


Saudi Press Institutions Decree enacted; individual ownership of newspapers outlawed


Madīnat al-Riyāḍ


Founds Majallat al-ʿArab


Abū ʿAlī al-Hajarī


Begins work on his geographical dictionary (Al-Muʿjam al-Jughrāfī)


Son Muhammad b. Ḥamad killed in plane crash over Beirut; library destroyed


Returns to Riyadh with family


Muʿjam Qabāʾil


Jamharat Ansāb




Baldat al-Burūd


Dies in Boston, MA

(p.23) phase of his life that the scholar developed a sympathy for the countercultural agenda of Arab nationalism, which would put him at odds with both the Saudi clerical establishment and the kingdom’s political authorities.

Al-Jāsir was an Arab nationalist in a country where Arab nationalism was antithetical to political life. When his confrontations with the kingdom’s religious and political authorities reached a climax, the scholar retreated to Beirut, where he would live for thirteen years (1962–1975), and where he would beat a second retreat, into the inner sanctum of historical knowledge. In the turn from political activism to Arabian historical arcana that marked the last phase of the scholar’s life (1966–2000), one might consider simply that his Arab nationalism acquired a classical sheen, or was transmuted into something more benign. Yet to dismiss this inward turn as “sour grapes” is to miss out on the historical specificity of al-Jāsir’s genealogical project and what it reveals about twentieth-century Saudi Arabia.10 To fully understand this project, I contend in this chapter, we must first review the experiences and influences that preceded it.

For all of his liberalizing tendencies, ascribing Ḥamad al-Jāsir’s thought to one clearly demarcated intellectual tradition is an unproductive proposition. As a columnist, al-Jāsir took pleasure in provoking the ostentatiously pious;11 as a scholar, he made no secret of his preference for the historians and genealogists of the Islamic scholarly canon over its jurists and theologians (Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb excluded); and as an activist, he sympathized with the dissident Free Princes movement of the mid-century. Despite these varied progressive credentials, it would be wrong to overstate the extent of the scholar’s secular-modernist leanings. Al-Jāsir saw his project as thoroughly embedded in a wider program of Islamic revival, even if he seemed radically passive alongside other such revivalists whose reputations overtook his own during the course of the twentieth century (e.g., Abul ʿAla Maudoodi, Sayyid Qutb).12

It is a weakness of this biographical sketch of the first sixty years of al-Jāsir’s life that we are forced to rely so much on the scholar’s own recollections, particularly those captured in his serialized memoirs, Min Sawāniḥ al-Dhikrayāt (Pleasant Memories). Synthesizing these retrospective views with historical documents preserved among al-Jāsir’s private papers, Saudi government archival records, and interviews with family members and close associates (and rivals) of the scholar, however, does much to corroborate al-Jāsir’s own narrative.

Al-Jāsir’s Early Life (1909–1939)

Ḥamad al-Jāsir was born around 1909 in the vicinity of al-Burūd,13 a village in the Sirr region of Najd some 90 miles west of Riyadh.14 Al-Sirr is a sliver (p.24) of arable land set among several narrow, strip-like extensions of the Nafūd desert, which blankets large parts of northern Arabia with its distinctive red- orange sands. Like many of Najd’s scattered settlements, al-Burūd was situated at the intersection of the territories of several major bedouin confederations, including ʿUtayba and Muṭayr. Al-Burūd is just west of the ʿUtayba bedouin settlement (hijra) of Sājir, famous as the birthplace of Juhaymān al-ʿUtaybī, the bedouin- origin army truck driver who founded the group that carried out the 1979 seizure of the Great Mosque of Mecca.

Before the age of trucks and planes, al-Burūd was a stopping point along the pilgrimage route to Medina. In Najdi historiography, it is recalled as the site of an eighteenth-century battle between the Sharifian rulers of Medina and the village’s local Wahhabi loyalists. Al-Burūd’s historical inhabitants trace their origins to that city as well. In village lore, branches of the Banī ʿAlī section of the Ḥarb tribe, al-Jāsir’s paternal kin group, migrated to Najd from the outskirts of Medina around 1700.15 Al-Burūd’s sediment-rich soil made it a center of agricultural production in the area,16 and its produce still circulates in the markets of Riyadh. It was into this small community of peasant farmers that the third son of Muḥammad al-Jāsir and Hayla bint ʿAlī b. Sālim was born.

Al-Jāsir’s parents died when he was not yet a teenager, and he was placed under the care of his maternal grandfather ʿAlī b. ʿAbdallāh b. Sālim, the judge and religious leader of al-Burūd.17 His sickly frame and partial blindness made him unfit for work in the village’s date palm plantations, as was expected of his brothers and other village youth. Instead, he distinguished himself in the village Quranic school, where children were sent between harvests to acquire a basic education. In his memoirs, al-Jāsir recalled the harsh manner of the muṭawwaʿ, the village schoolteacher, whose persona he sought to emulate when appointed a teacher in al-Burūd by his grandfather several years later.18

To scrape out a living in the face of mounting debt, periodic drought, and locust infestations, Najdi peasant farmers required the full participation of the family in the work cycle, including children. Many of the young Najdi villagers who, like al-Jāsir, were sent off to Riyadh to study, were of no use in the countryside: the blind, the infirm, or those too poor for lack of gainful work. In 1926, escorted by his brother and guardian Jāsir, Ḥamad took up residence at the Bayt al-Ikhwān, a kind of boarding school for youth in Riyadh run by a senior Wahhabi scholar, Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm Āl al-Shaykh.19 Legally an orphan, he was taken into the care of the Arabian religious establishment,20 on whose patronage he would be dependent for the next thirty years. Showing himself to be a formidable student, in July 1929 al-Jāsir was invited by Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm to serve as a scribe for the latter’s uncle, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAbd al-Laṭīf, who had been appointed a judge in the (p.25)

Ḥamad al-Jāsir: A Life in Context

Figure 1.1. Ruins of al-Burūd, birthplace of Ḥamad al-Jāsir.

Courtesy of author.

bedouin hijra of ʿArwā.21 It was Ibn Saʿūd’s policy to disperse Wahhabi scholars among the recently sedentarized bedouin,22 to teach them the rudiments of the Islamic faith in hopes of securing their loyalties.23

Al-Jāsir’s teenage years coincided with a critical period in Saudi state formation. His appointment to ʿArwā came in the midst of the Ikhwān revolt, the last major challenge to Saudi rule in central Arabia, and constituted his first foray into the highly personalized world of Saudi politics.24 In 1927, after two decades of service as the Saudi ruler’s striking arm, Ikhwān leaders had become dissatisfied with their subordinate positions and began demanding a share of executive authority, including control over the newly conquered territories of the Hijaz. When their demands were rejected, they staged a series of revolts against their Saudi sponsors. To repulse this challenge, Ibn Saʿūd launched a series of attacks against the Ikhwān rebels.

ʿArwā, the settlement to which al-Jāsir had been dispatched, was the home of the ʿUtayba tribal leader Jihjāh b. Bijād, brother of the famous Ikhwān rebel (p.26) Sulṭān b. Bijād, who was captured by Ibn Saʿūd’s forces during the decisive battle of al-Sibila (March 1929).25 At the time of al-Jāsir’s arrival, ʿArwā was the largest hijra in the kingdom; the Ikhwān hotbed of Ghaṭghaṭ had been destroyed,26 and most of its inhabitants had been transferred there.27 Al-Jāsir’s close association with Jihjāh during his nine-month sojourn in ʿArwā gave him uncommon insights into the politics of the era. More significantly, it would help shape his views about bedouin culture, whose reform would become the object of many Saudi intellectuals in subsequent decades.

The most formative turn in al-Jāsir’s early life came in 1930. After accompanying a raid against Ikhwān rebels in eastern Najd, al-Jāsir was convinced by his brother to bypass ʿArwā and go instead to Mecca on pilgrimage. While there, al-Jāsir met with the chief judge of the Hijaz, ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥasan Āl al-Shaykh, who invited him to enroll in the newly formed Saudi Scientific Institute (al-Maʿhad al-ʿIlmī al-Saʿūdī).28 The Institute was one of the few secondary schools in Saudi Arabia at the time, and was considered the first modern school to be established in the Saudi era.29 Founded, in al-Jāsir’s words, “to spread the Salafi creed,” the school was staffed by Salafi and Wahhabi teachers from Egypt, Syria, and Najd.30 Exerting a more informal influence on al-Jāsir was the administrator of the Institute’s dormitory, ʿAbdallāh b. Sulaymān al-Mazrūʿ, an erudite and intellectually curious Hijazi whom the scholar credited with encouraging his interest in secular subjects.31

Al-Jāsir’s interactions at the Institute, particularly outside of the classroom, brought the young scholar into contact with non-Wahhabi currents of thought circulating in the Arab world of that period. Institute students would pass around worn copies of periodicals from Egypt and the Arab Levant—such as al-Hilāl, al-Muqtaṭaf, and al-Fatḥ32—and compete to have their poems and articles published in the two newspapers then in existence in the kingdom, Umm al-Qurā and Ṣawt al-Ḥijāz. One of al-Jāsir’s earliest publications was a praise poem he composed on the occasion of the king’s visit to the school, celebrating Ibn Saʿūd’s recent victory against the Ikhwān at al-Sibila. Al-Jāsir graduated from the Institute in 1934 with the qualifications of an Islamic judge, and the expectation that he would utilize his new credentials as a religious functionary in roles to be determined by his sponsors.

In the same year as Ḥamad al-Jāsir’s first apprenticeship under the Wahhabi ʿulamāʾ of Riyadh (1926), ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Ibn Saʿūd’s tribal conscripts were completing the capture of the Hijaz from the Ashrāf, nominal rulers of western Arabia for over a millennium. The Saudis would make Mecca the administrative capital of their new state, and Ibn Saʿūd would soon declare himself “King of Hijaz and Sultan of Najd and its Dependencies.” Yet the physical conquest of the Hijaz was only the first stage in the expansion of Saudi hegemony over western Arabia, a process that would next proceed by non-coercive means.

(p.27) In June 1930, while still a student at the Institute, al-Jāsir was asked by ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥasan Āl al-Shaykh to serve as the imam of the Abū Qubays mosque in Mecca. Abū Qubays, the highest peak in the vicinity of Mecca, held a number of important associations in Islamic history.33 According to Meccan legend, it was at the foot of the Abū Qubays hill that the famous Quranic incident known as the splitting of the moon took place, when “Muhammad called the Moon to him and bade her to split herself.”34 Most significantly, Abū Qubays was an important locus of Sufi devotion in the Hijaz. “Ḥamad b. Muḥammad b. Jāsir al-Najdī,” as he was described in the government’s appointment letter, was asked to replace the previous supervisor of the Abū Qubays mosque, a “charlatan” who had exploited pilgrims passing through during the Ḥajj season with appeals to “superstition.”35 The dubious beliefs referred to in this decree and by al-Jāsir in his memoirs had for centuries formed an integral part of the religious and economic life of Mecca and other Hijazi cities.36 At least until the end of the nineteenth century, the celebration of the birthdays of holy men and women, such as the Prophet’s wife Maymūna or Mahdalī, were significant events on the Meccan calendar.37 After the conquest of the Hijaz, the suppression of Hijazi religious beliefs and practices was made synonymous with the march of progress through Arabia.38 The young Ḥamad al-Jāsir was a loyal foot soldier in this process.

In 1934, after four years of study at the Institute, al-Jāsir was invited to take a position as a primary school teacher in the Hijazi port town of Yanbuʿ. There, he clashed with teachers and administrators, partly on account of what a biographer described as their sympathies for Sufism, an orientation toward which the scholar would maintain a lifelong hostility.39 Through calculated pressure and influence, al-Jāsir was able to push out his principal rival, though he soon found himself pressed reluctantly into another field of service, the judiciary.40 Over his protestations, the scholar was presented by Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm with two choices: to accept a position as a judge in the northern Hijazi village of Ḍibā, or face prison time. Unsurprisingly, Ḥamad chose the former.

Two years earlier, Ḍibā had been the site of the last violent uprising against Saudi authority in the Hijaz, the Ibn Rifāda revolt.41 This rebellion by a bedouin leader against Saudi rule, which was supported from the outside by Ibn Saʿūd’s exiled adversaries (the Hijazi Ashrāf), was quickly suppressed.42 It marked the Saudi state’s last use of coercive force in the Hijaz until 1979. Al-Jāsir’s appointment in Ḍibā thus reflected the beginning of a new phase in modern Saudi history, the transition to non-coercive means of state consolidation.43 As a small-town judge, al-Jāsir would contribute by legal means to the broader absorption of the Hijaz into a Ḥanbalī legal and Wahhabi creedal culture.44

In the scholar’s conception, the transition to Ḥanbalī-Wahhabi norms was a move toward greater enlightenment and orthodoxy. Yet once established, (p.28) the Wahhabi tradition was to become as contested as any other living code. This tension would be made plain in a murder case that spelled the end of al-Jāsir’s brief tenure as a judge. Confronted with an accidental killing in a bedouin community, al-Jāsir awarded the standard Islamic legal remedy of one hundred camels to the victim’s family as blood payment (diya). Considering the penalty excessive, the aggressor’s family brought the case to the chief judge of the Hijaz, al-Jāsir’s patron ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥasan, for appeal. The Wahhabi notable rejected al-Jāsir’s ruling, stating that the upper limit of the blood payment should be fixed at the rate determined by the Council of Deputies (Majlis al-Wukalāʾ), which had decided on a substantially lesser penalty. Al-Jāsir objected, arguing that the Majlis’s determination was pure whim, whereas his own ruling was delivered on the basis of a Tradition of the Prophet (Hadith). The scholar’s retort was perceived as insubordination, and he was swiftly removed from his post.45 While revealing here the first stirrings of an innately confrontational nature, this would be the last time al-Jāsir would be seen attempting to outmaneuver the reigning religious authorities on their conservative flank.

It was in the 1930s, as a student at the Saudi Scientific Institute, that al-Jāsir first confronted the contradictions engendered by central Arabia’s new relationship with the broader Islamic world, when he was first confronted by the incongruence between his upbringing in the Wahhabi canon and the varied currents of thought circulating within the halls of his preparatory school. Though enthralled by modern science and literature, the young scholar was reflexively mindful of the Wahhabi axiom of his youth, that the only ideas of value were those inherited from the Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ, the Righteous Ancestors.46 These rival dispensations, the culture of Wahhabism and the culture of the Western-influenced Arab Levant, seemed to be in agreement that the superstitions of popular religion, as practiced both by bedouin nomads and Hijazi town dwellers, had no place in a literate and God-fearing society. Yet from the perspective of the clerical establishment, which stage-directed much of al-Jāsir’s young life, there could be only one sheriff in Arabia. By this measure, the pronouncements of astronomers were just as threatening as the chicanery of Sufis, since both siphoned attention away from God’s word as echoed by his earthbound interpreters. For the first three decades of his adult life, al-Jāsir was content to help steward the Najdi ʿulamāʾ’s advance through Arabia, seeing few alternatives open to him. Yet the outspoken and assertive young scholar seemed ill-fitted for the roles he was asked to assume by his ʿulamāʾ patrons. While remaining dutifully loyal to the anti-syncretic program of his Wahhabi patrons, al-Jāsir would come to emphatically reject their monopoly on mundane authority and obtuse responses to the challenges of modern science and technology.

(p.29) By the end of the 1930s, al-Jāsir had outgrown the Saudi education system, and had set his sights on a more ambitious program of study. The culmination of the scholar’s early life was his participation in the 1939 Saudi educational delegation to Egypt. The delegation was a government program designed to produce college-educated professionals abroad who would return to serve the administrative needs of the rapidly expanding state. Al-Jāsir’s interactions with Egyptian teachers in Mecca and exposure to Egyptian publications had already left a deep mark on him, and he was eager to immerse himself further in the dynamic cultural life of early twentieth-century Egypt.47 The young Ḥamad was the first Saudi to enroll in the College of Literature at Cairo University, whose outstanding personality at the time was its recently retired dean Ṭāhā Ḥusayn. The scholar recounted his interview with Ḥusayn as a nerve-racking affair, though one that ended favorably with an offer of admission.48

Writing of his experiences as a young man in Egypt, al-Jāsir contrasted the “splendors” he encountered there with the “repression and deprivation” that constituted his prior cultural life.49 It is unlikely that the scholar could have mustered a harsher condemnation of the intellectual culture in which he had been reared. And yet, in subsequent years, he would turn his creative energies toward remedying this sense of deprivation, producing the rudiments of a modern Saudi historiography that moved beyond the annalistic accounting of the early Najdi chroniclers toward a kind of socio-historical engineering far more conscious of its purpose. The outbreak of World War II cut short al-Jāsir’s stay in Egypt, but his brief sojourn there seemed to confirm in his mind the validity of the pursuit of diverse forms of knowledge. Al-Jāsir emerged from his Cairo experience a young man intent on using his education to instill a new type of consciousness in his compatriots, one receptive to non-Wahhabi sources of knowledge and authority. When, years later, he broke definitively with his first patron, Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm, it would be over the question of the capaciousness of Saudi culture in the modern world.

Al-Jāsir as Educator and Journalist (1939–1966)

Back in Saudi Arabia, al-Jāsir bounced between teaching appointments in al-Aḥsāʾ and Jeddah, clashing with administrators and religious authorities over various issues. In 1941, he was approached by the powerful Minister of Finance ʿAbdallāh Sulaymān with the idea of establishing a school for the latter’s children and those of his attendants.50 Al-Jāsir spent three years on the project, and invited his boon companion from the Institute, the noted writer and political activist ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Juhaymān, to oversee its administration. In 1944, the king would direct al-Jāsir to take up a new position (p.30) as an inspector at the Arabian American Oil Company’s (Aramco’s) flagship school.51

Aramco, which held the concession on oil exploration in Saudi Arabia and was rapidly expanding its operations in the country’s eastern region, was interested in training Saudis to staff the lower and middle ranks of its workforce. As part of its deal with the Saudi government, the company sponsored a program of religious education for Saudi youth enrolled in its “trade preparatory schools,” with teachers to be assigned by the Saudi government. Al-Jāsir’s role was to ensure that Saudi students at the Jabal school in Dhahran received proper instruction in the Arabic language and basic religious concepts, against the wishes of Aramco administrators, who insisted that students be educated first in English so that they might interact better with their managers.52 In a report to the king, al-Jāsir vented his anger over Aramco’s unwillingness to implement any of his recommended curriculum modifications, and insisted that the Saudi Directorate of Education assume jurisdiction over the Jabal school’s administration.53 This anger was likely compounded by Aramco’s discriminatory housing policies, which prohibited al-Jāsir and other Saudi employees of the firm from living in Dahran, where the company was based, thus requiring them to commute every day from nearby Khobar. Soon to prove a harsh critic of Saudi ʿulamāʾ obscurantism, al-Jāsir was here seen defending Islamic orthodoxy against encroachment by modernizers of a different, more alien stripe. With Aramco’s growing importance to Saudi government coffers, however, his concerns were summarily brushed aside.

Al-Jāsir stayed in his Aramco post for almost five years, the single longest professional engagement of his still young life. In 1949, on orders from Crown Prince Saʿūd, Ḥamad was asked to take up the position of inspector of Najdi schools for the Directorate of Education. At the time of his appointment there were fewer than one hundred primary schools in the entire country, with the vast majority concentrated in the Hijaz.54 The Saudi education budget was on the cusp of a major expansion, however, and al-Jāsir was tasked with assessing the state of central Arabia’s schools and recommending means for their reform. The scholar performed site visits to a number of schools, where he encountered principals who waved before him signed rulings that prohibited the teaching of subjects like geography and engineering, on the orders of Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm.55 The report he produced for the court was deeply critical of the education system in Najd. It expressed the sum total of his experiences with the prevailing Saudi pedagogical authorities, the Wahhabi ʿulamāʾ. Al-Jāsir believed that the delayed spread of modern education in Najd was a consequence of the recalcitrant attitudes of these authorities. So long as pedagogy continued to be built on rote memorization and faithful transmission of the recorded expressions of (p.31) the ʿulamāʾ, he reckoned, the Saudi educational system would be stuck in a reactionary posture. In a pithy retort to a critic of modern education at that time, al-Jāsir remarked: “whenever [an air conditioner] breaks down and you need it fixed, you call Aramco, you don’t ask Shaykh Muḥammad [b. Ibrāhīm] to send one of his students.”56

As part of his report for the court, al-Jāsir recommended that an elite secondary school be established where both religious and non-religious subjects could be taught. In 1950, the scholar was asked by the Crown Prince to assist Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm in establishing a network of secondary and post-secondary religious schools in Najd. The administration was to be separate from the Directorate of Education and its growing public school system, and al-Jāsir was asked to manage its Arabic language studies division. Though profoundly disappointed by what he saw to be the government’s surrender of education to the ʿulamāʾ, al-Jāsir accepted his assignment. The scholar would remain in this post until 1956, when his clashes with Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm reached a boiling point and his appointment was abruptly terminated. These clashes come to light in al-Jāsir’s career as a publisher and journalist.

From his earliest days, al-Jāsir’s educational and professional advancement had depended on the patronage of the religious establishment, at the helm of which was Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm. Ibn Ibrāhīm had been the driving force behind most of the scholar’s academic and professional appointments, and would continue to exert a strong influence on his initiatives for decades to come. From 1939 until 1956, al-Jāsir served throughout the kingdom as a teacher and education administrator at the pleasure of Ibn Ibrāhīm and the royal court. During this same period, the scholar began participating actively in the newspapers and journals that were being established in the Hijaz. Living and working in Riyadh and Dammam, he published critical reviews, poems, and editorials in Hijazi publications such as al-Manhal, al-Bilād al-Saʿūdiyya, and al-Madīna. The disagreement between the scholar’s journalistic and professional geographies would be remedied with his move to establish the first newspaper in Najd, al-Yamāma.

With the kingdom’s center of political gravity shifting from Jeddah to Riyadh, al-Jāsir found a welcome patron for his newspaper project in Crown Prince Saʿūd.57 In 1952, the Crown Prince authorized al-Jāsir’s request to establish al-Yamāma, and supported its publication with an annual subsidy of approximately 5000 riyals.58 Journalism offered al-Jāsir a way to circumvent the monopoly of ʿulamāʾ patronage, and an opportunity to pursue his reformist agenda in print. Yet the scholar’s journalistic provocations would lead to numerous confrontations with the religious and political authorities. These confrontations proved to al-Jāsir the impossibility of politics in a society suffocated by royal patronage and religious policing.

(p.32) When Ḥamad al-Jāsir founded al-Yamāma in 1954, the outward-looking culture of western Arabia’s coastal towns had yet to achieve much influence in Najd.59 Launched initially as a monthly magazine with a circulation that never exceeded 2,000, al-Yamāma was the first attempt by al-Jāsir to introduce elements of a modernizing Arab culture to a central Arabian audience. More central to his purpose in this second phase of his life, al-Yamāma was al-Jāsir’s platform for pursuing social reform through journalism. To generate interest and minimize resistance to the publication, the scholar assembled a broad range of Saudi and non-Saudi Arab contributors, including a number of Najdi ʿulamāʾ.60 Authors were invited to comment on the state of Saudi education, offer their opinions on the problem of bedouin integration, provide medical advice, or review recent publications in a wide range of disciplines. As al-Jāsir later described it, being an effective newsman required more than a taste for reform:

You might say, dear friend, that I was not born a journalist. This is true. But even if I did not know all of the qualities that make a person a successful journalist … I believe that among the most important of these qualities is that he have a strong connection to the society in which he lives … such that he is able to immerse himself among the different classes of society, mingle with all of its members, and be included in such a way that he is able to understand the secrets of life in this society.61

While pursuing his own brand of advocacy journalism, it was between the lines of his overt agenda that al-Jāsir’s identity as a bibliophile was taking shape. Exemplifying this turn is a review essay in the first issue of al-Yamāma, which the scholar devoted to correcting spelling and vocalization errors in several recently published classical texts, among them an edition of the prosopographical compendium of poets Ṭabaqāt Fuḥūl al-Shuʿarāʾ edited by the respected Egyptian scholar Muḥammad Maḥmūd Shākir. One set of corrections treated mistakes in lineage (ansāb), either misspelled names or false attributions.62 Though mind-numbing by the standards of most magazine readers, Najdi or otherwise, al-Jāsir’s essay was a demonstration of literacy at the highest level, a marker of distinction in the new Najd. Equally significant was the scholar’s emerging interest in the study of lineages, a subject that, in subsequent decades, would come to define his life and work.

For the scattering of educated Najdis who congregated around al-Jāsir’s enterprise, al-Yamāma was something novel and unique. One al-Yamāma author and al-Jāsir confidant described the al-Yamāma experience as follows:

At that time … we were transitioning from one stage to another. We were taken with … the spirit of Arabism, of course, and the liberation (p.33) of the Arab world from imperialism. We had, as a society, the zeal to return to the spirit, and we had desires as well. We had youthful words that expressed themselves frankly and clearly. The press was a spring.63

For the Saudi authors of al-Yamāma, Arabism was a synecdoche connoting progress in the broadest sense of the word, not a specific program for revolutionary political transformation on the basis of shared linguistic or ethnic heritage. Any conception that did not impinge on religious authority, creed, or other facets of Wahhabi knowledge was potentially embraced by Saudi progressives under the rubric of Arabism. Yet, for an audience of increasingly hostile government ministers and religious authorities, laboring to dissipate the energies of the Arab revolutionary movements of the 1950s, these nuances were largely irrelevant. The Saudi state remained tightly wrapped in the legitimating cloak of Wahhabism, and its appeal to Islam at the expense of Arab nationalism would only increase when the future of the state seemed in doubt. This shift in emphasis would prompt increasing suspicion of al-Jāsir’s enterprise.

Al-Jāsir served as al-Yamāma’s editor-in-chief, publisher, and content director, in which capacity he was answerable to two separate censors, one dispatched by the newly established General Directorate for Radio, Press, and Publication, the other by Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm.64 This dual censorship regime, and the royal patronage that funded the enterprise, ensured a steady stream of heavily pietistic content and gushing loyalty to the state. Al-Jāsir’s nod to local pieties, however, would be insufficient to immunize him from the fallout of his 1956 article welcoming Indian President Jawaharlal Nehru to the kingdom. “Welcome, Messenger of Peace,” read the headline in al-Yamāma, an unforgivable provocation in the minds of religious conservatives such as Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm, for whom the only messenger worthy of the title was the Prophet Muḥammad. In response, the scholar was summarily dismissed by Ibn Ibrāhīm from his position in the administration of religious high schools and colleges.65 The firing marked al-Jāsir’s definitive transition from state employee to scholar-proprietor. Yet even this quasi-autonomous status would not immunize him from further controversy.

Increasingly harried in his editorial position, and with a growing sense that the reigns of his newspaper were being surreptitiously removed from his grasp, al-Jāsir’s frustrations grew more explicit. In the lead editorial of the May 3, 1959 edition of al-Yamāma, the scholar laid into the religious establishment as never before:

In every group within a nation—any nation—there are those who mislead. In every nation there are those who are misled by the missionizers of deception (duʿāt al-taḍlīl) and are deceived by their falsehoods (p.34) (bāṭilihim). The closer a nation is to its natural disposition and original essence (al-fiṭra al-ūlā), the closer it is to being misled, and the quicker it is to acquiesce to the missionizers of falsehood. …

Among the most dangerous of these deceivers, the most influential in corrupting society … and extinguishing the soul’s burning passion for reform, are those of this nation who ascend to the pulpits of spiritual guidance and instruction (manābir al-irshād wa-l-tawjīh), yet use their status as a means to obtain their private rewards. … We will not be deceived or beguiled, nor will we be among those whose assenting gaze blinds them to the recognition of the truth. …... [W]e will make of the truth itself evidence for determining the honesty of the one who calls for it, and not of the callers themselves a means of determining what is right… .66

Al-Jāsir’s comfortable manipulation of religious rhetoric in this polemic was a reflection of the novelty of central Arabia’s public culture, in which Wahhabism had yet to assume its unassailable ideological position. This stridency and relative fearlessness of tone was a common feature of the independent Saudi press of the 1950s, and was often surpassed in the short-lived Akhbār al-Ẓahrān, the newspaper run by al-Jāsir’s schoolmate and fellow traveler, ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Juhaymān.67

Al-Jāsir’s fulminations were greeted with rage by Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm, who led other Najdi ʿulamāʾ in pronouncing a death sentence upon the scholar.68 To escape this fate, the scholar was compelled to remain in Riyadh’s Masmak fort under the protection of Crown Prince Fayṣal, who would serve as a crucial ally in the coming years. He was able to buy lasting immunity only after agreeing to pen an oath promising that neither al-Yamāma nor any future publication under his authority would ever print anything having to do with the kingdom’s religious scholars.69

Despite retracting his public criticism of the ʿulamāʾ, al-Jāsir’s sympathies for the emerging currents of Nasserism and Pan-Arabism would place him at odds with the kingdom’s political authorities. Saudi relations with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt began on a cordial note, but deteriorated in 1958 following the announcement of Egypt’s unification with Syria.70 Al-Jāsir’s friendships with influential reformist prince Ṭalāl b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz and oil minister ʿAbdallah al-Ṭurayqī could only have added to the suspicions about his loyalties during the struggle for succession between King Saʿūd and Crown Prince Fayṣal that dominated this period.71 Soliciting an article for al-Yamāma from Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League Aḥmad al-Shuqayrī, al-Jāsir expressed “the grand hopes” of the Arabs that the League would help “establish for the Arab umma a lofty place among the living nations of the world.”72 While al-Jāsir looked abroad to widen his contributor base, censors in the (p.35) communications directorate were pressing the scholar to blacklist Saudi Arab nationalist writers and police his publication for pro-Nasser sentiments. Al-Jāsir steered his newspaper with a practiced hand, sometimes providing the real names of authors whose articles in al-Yamāma had irked the censors, such as the famous leftist activist ʿAlī al-ʿAwwāmī,73 other times flouting their demands to keep blacklisted writers out of circulation.74

When pressured by the communications directorate to publish an attack on Arab nationalism by future Grand Muftī ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Bāz (another of al-Jāsir’s classmates at the Bayt al-Ikhwān), the scholar cleverly took cover behind the cloak of journalistic expertise. Ibn Bāz’s article had been published elsewhere several days before, he told the head of the communications directorate, his former teacher Ibrāhīm al-Shūrā. “[We acted] on the journalistic principle known the world over … that you don’t publish a single article on a single topic in more than one paper, especially if these papers are published in the same region.”75 In another instance, al-Shūrā could be seen pressuring al-Jāsir to steer al-Yamāma’s editorial attentions away from regional or international politics and toward the more innocuous arena of local affairs.76 Whether proceeding by omission or commission, al-Jāsir’s advocacy journalism betrayed his sympathies with the cause of broader Arab union, which would be interpreted by some as an expression of disloyalty to the Saudi state.

In 1960, seeking an escape from the political pressures bearing down on him, and possibly in sympathy with the dissident Free Princes movement,77 al-Jāsir moved his family to Egypt and, two years later, Beirut. Like other Saudi dissidents who took up residence in Nasser’s Egypt, he was greeted warmly upon his arrival in Cairo.78 If al-Jāsir had been willing to provoke the religious authorities, however, he saw no profit in a public disavowal of the Saudi royal family.79 Despite treading more cautiously than many other Saudi dissidents, the scholar’s refusal to condemn Nasser’s expansionist program grew into a major problem for the Saudi government, which was increasingly wary of the Egyptian leader’s ambitions in the region, and specifically, his designs on its southern neighbor Yemen.80 Al-Jāsir’s continued dustups with government censors culminated in February 1962 with the seizure of al-Yamāma and subsequent handover of the paper to conservative loyalist Zayd b. Fayyāḍ at the recommendation of Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm.81 The scholar was in Beirut when he learned from reformist minister ʿAbdallāh al-Ṭurayqī that he was to be imprisoned, lashed, and sent to live in his hometown of al-Burūd.82 He would remain in Beirut for the next thirteen years.

Fayṣal’s 1964 accession to the throne following the deposing of Saʿūd would see the restoration of some of the scholar’s privileges. Under the terms of the 1965 Press Institutions Decree (Niẓām al-Muʾassasāt al-Ṣaḥafiyya), al-Jāsir was reinstated as the head of a now reconstituted al-Yamāma Journalistic (p.36) Institution, which would soon launch a daily edition of al-Riyāḍ, still today one of the leading newspapers in Saudi Arabia.83 The decree stipulated that newspapers could no longer be owned by individuals, and would be required to be published by institutions governed by administrative councils. Despite Fayṣal’s sympathies for the scholar, the forces of bureaucratic consolidation and state expansion were too powerful to permit the existence of influential fiefdoms such as al-Jāsir’s al-Yamāma. The decree served to snuff out the autonomy of the newspaper editor, and with it al-Jāsir’s enthusiasm for mainstream publishing.

In a 1966 interview, al-Jāsir shared his views on the uneven state of Saudi intellectual culture: “there are major efforts afoot, and no one can deny this, but they are limited to one dimension of this heritage, the religious dimension.”84 That same year, al-Jāsir petitioned King Fayṣal to establish Majallat al-ʿArab, a scholarly journal specializing in the history, geography, and genealogy of the Arabian Peninsula. Al-ʿArab was to function outside of the dictates of the press decree, and would steer as far as possible away from politics. Al-Jāsir’s retreat inward coincided with his thirteen year self-imposed exile in Beirut, a move that would commence the most fertile period of his scholarly life. In Beirut he founded a new publishing house, Dār al-Yamāma li-l-Baḥth wa-l-Tarjama wa-l-Nashr (al-Yamāma Press for Research, Translation, and Publication), which would serve as his primary scholarly and intellectual hub from 1966 until his death in 2000.85 In hundreds (if not thousands) of newspaper articles and over thirty self-published books, al-Jāsir directed the influence he had accumulated over the course of a professional lifetime toward shaping the emergent Saudi discourse on the history and genealogy of the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula. It was through these varied, late-career efforts that al-Jāsir acquired his famous honorific, ʿAllāmat al-Jazīra, “The Scholar of the Arabian Peninsula.”

Despite spending much of his life in an oppositional pose, antagonizing the Wahhabi establishment or the ruling regime, al-Jāsir, like so many other Saudi intellectuals, was in many ways a creature of the court. He was ultimately dependent on the good will of royal patrons, or their sympathetic subordinates in various government ministries, to fund his creative endeavors. Receipts from subscriptions and sales of books to independent readers were never sufficient to underpin his publishing projects, and al-Jāsir was forced to rely on government subsidies to keep his new al-Yamāma printing house afloat.86 While his scholarship was not always explicitly influenced by this dependency, in certain instances al-Jāsir’s effort to aggrandize the Saudi role in Arabian history can be measured in relation to this vulnerability.

Al-Jāsir’s contribution to the triumphalist accounting of Saudi history is exemplified in one of his earliest monographs, a 1966 history of Riyadh, Madīnat al-Riyāḍ ʿAbra Aṭwār al-Tārīkh (The City of Riyadh through the Stages (p.37)

Ḥamad al-Jāsir: A Life in Context

Figure 1.2. Ḥamad al-Jāsir.

Courtesy of Maʿan al-Jāsir.

(p.38) of History). Written early in the reign of King Fayṣal, after al-Jāsir’s reconciliation with the Saudi regime, the book would have made an adīb (courtier) of the classical mold proud. In this narrative of Saudi origins, Ḥajr, the ancient town on whose ruins Riyadh was built, is described as the oldest settlement site in the early Islamic administrative province of al-Yamāma. By recasting Riyadh as the center of a vast province from the ancient Islamic past,87 the scholar lends gravity and directionality to one of the book’s central narratives, the rise of the Āl Saʿūd. The momentum of this narrative ebbs noticeably during periods of Zaydī (ninth to eleventh centuries) and Rashidi (1891–1902) control over Riyadh—the two embodying theological and political challenges to the Saudi-Wahhabi creed88—before culminating in the establishment of Saudi rule over the city in the twentieth century, when “goodness and good fortune returned to it.”89

Confronting the Rupture

For Najdis, the dominant theme of central Arabian history is the inqiṭāʿ, the millennium-long rupture with the documented Islamic past. After the transfer of the Caliphate from Medina to Damascus in the first Islamic century, Arabian history recedes further and further into the background of Islamic historiography, rearing its head only to allow for the recounting of ancient heresies—the Najdi Musaylima’s challenge to the Prophet Muḥammad’s legacy during the Ridda wars, the tenth-century desecration of the Kaʿba by the Eastern Arabian Qarmatians and their bedouin auxiliaries. The ecological constraints on permanent settlement in central Arabia inhibited the development of a distinguishable textual culture until the eighteenth century, when the disparate populations of the region were unified under the Saudi arm and the Wahhabi creed. Eight hundred years of a dark age intervene, and the historian of Najd is left to cast his lantern toward either end of the rupture.

In 1968, al-Jāsir published Abū ʿAlī al-Hajarī wa-Abḥāthahu fī Taḥdīd al-Mawāḍiʿ (Abū ʿAlī al-Hajarī and His Studies in the Identification of Places). This volume of selections and critical commentary on the writings of a ninth-century Medinan scholar exemplified al-Jāsir’s approach to history. Scrutinizing and reconciling two imperfect manuscript copies of al-Hajarī’s work, al-Taʿlīqāt wa-l-Nawādir, al-Jāsir noticed that al-Hajarī had recorded genealogical information about the bedouin tribes around Medina not captured in the canonical genealogical works of the early Islamic period. More significantly, al-Hajarī had lived into the tenth century, nearly one hundred years past the foremost genealogist of the early and decisive period, Ibn al-Kalbī (d. 819). Abū ʿAlī al-Hajarī embodied the scholar’s effort to diminish the span of the inqiṭāʿ (rupture) separating the Islamic past from the Saudi present.90 With Abū ʿAlī al-Hajarī al-Jāsir attacked this inqiṭāʿ from the initial point of (p.39) rupture. In subsequent volumes, he would approach it at the point of resumption, hoping to strengthen the modern Saudi connection to the recent past.

In historiographical terms, central Arabia’s distance from the main action of Islamic history was compounded by the prevalence there of bedouin nomadism and the nonliterate means by which bedouin of the premodern age transmitted cultural and historical knowledge. Ḥamad al-Jāsir recognized this fact well,91 and devoted much of the second half of his life to fashioning historical artifacts out of the variegated tribal and genealogical narratives of Arabian history. As Andrew Shryock has demonstrated with respect to Jordan, the modern effort to integrate oral tribal history into a literate cultural mold was confounded by the absence of a single, authoritative, and universally accepted narrative recounting of that history, even at the most local level.92 While the Saudi story is laden with some of the same problems, al-Jāsir’s difficulties assimilating the oral historical culture of Najd into an Islamic scholarly mold parallel a tension specific to the Saudi state-building experience, namely, the problem of bedouin integration into modern, Saudi society.

Al-Jāsir and the Nostalgic Ideal of Bedouinism

The young Ḥamad al-Jāsir wrote some of his earliest articles under the byline “A bedouin of the Najd, al-Jāsir.” Though perhaps playing off the exoticism of his Najdi background for Hijazi newspaper-reading audiences, “bedouin” was a sociologically inaccurate way for al-Jāsir to introduce himself to the reading public. Al-Jāsir was a member of the ḥaḍar, a sedentary oasis dweller of Najd, as had been his parents and generations of his ancestors before them. Al-Burūd, though surrounded by bedouin settlements and nomadic encampments, was inhabited entirely by peasant farmers.93

Before the modern Saudi state emerged to diminish the sociological distance between them, the relationship between the sedentary and nomadic populations of central Arabia was one of both cooperation and conflict. During times of relative material abundance and political stability, the complementary economies of these two social groups encouraged the exchange of goods and services between them. During cycles of drought and famine, however, the relationship took an adversarial turn, as sedentary and nomadic populations competed for scarce resources, and bedouin took to raiding sedentary community properties (e.g., livestock, date palms). For most twentieth-century ḥaḍar, the pre-state legacy of bedouin raids and involuntary protection taxes lingered on in the form of a suspicion of bedouin attitudes and a distrust of their fitness for settled life.94 Yet, by al-Jāsir’s reckoning, his suspicion was dispelled early on account of the intimacy of his experience at ʿArwā, where he lived like a bedouin himself for a time. Beginning in the (p.40) 1950s, the scholar’s writings would be distinguished by their sympathetic attention to the historical and contemporary conditions of the bedouin populations of Arabia. This emergent concern would have direct bearing on al-Jāsir’s genealogical project, which, though addressed largely to central Arabia’s sedentary populations, pivoted in important ways around a nostalgic ideal of bedouinism that emerged first during this period. More relevant for our purposes here, al-Jāsir’s interest in bedouin life overlapped neatly with his dual identity as a reformist and a scholar, and thus provides a view into developments in his thinking over time.

In 1933, the bedouin population of Arabia, both recently settled and nomadic, was thought to comprise 55 percent of the kingdom’s population, and roughly 60 percent in its two core regions, Najd and Hijaz.95 The challenge of integrating the kingdom’s bedouin populations into settled life was not the concern of the Wahhabi religious authorities alone, but was viewed also by central Arabia’s emergent crop of intellectuals as a central mission of their advocacy. Al-Jāsir believed that the sedentarization of Arabia’s bedouin was among the most significant developments in the history of the Peninsula, and that securing the gains of this achievement would depend on the integration of these newly sedentarized tribal communities into modern Saudi society.96 As the original inhabitants of Arabia, the bedouin maintained a firm grip on their way of life, and were consequently a source of instability for the Saudi state, he reasoned in a special issue of al-Yamāma’s inaugural year devoted to the kingdom’s nomadic populations. The initial advent of Islam had failed “to excise the roots of evil from the hearts of the bedouin.” It was only with the arrival of Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb and his victorious successor ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Ibn Saʿūd that the beginnings of order were imposed on Arabia’s restive populations. Al-Jāsir’s emphasis on bedouin corruptibility was a common ḥadarī view that engaged tropes long embedded in urban Islamic civilization. The reconditioning of the bedouin was already a well-established state project, however, so the scholar’s judgment was tempered by a recognition of the power of the state to reshape social outcomes.

Swayed by their demographic preponderance, al-Jāsir believed that the bedouin inhabitants of Arabia had rightful demands to make on the kingdom’s towns and centers of governance. Toward that end, he enlisted al-Yamāma correspondents in the new bedouin settlements, who provided him with information about the needs of their under-served populations. He would then publish these correspondents’ reports as news items in the magazine, calling the government’s attention to unrecognized development projects.97 After the government’s confiscation of al-Yamāma in 1962, al-Jāsir’s formal advocacy on behalf of bedouin causes ceased. In its place would emerge a new conception of the kingdom’s bedouin population, one that reflected the scholar’s shifting priorities, and equally, the social and political (p.41)

Ḥamad al-Jāsir: A Life in Context

Figure 1.3. Al-Yamāma, July 1954, “Special Issue on the Bedouin.”

Courtesy of Maʿan al-Jāsir.

transformation afoot in Saudi Arabia. To understand this transformation, a brief discussion of the history of bedouin relations with the modern Saudi state from the time of the Ikhwān rebellion is in order.

The Ikhwān rebellion of the early twentieth century was an effort by prominent bedouin tribes, primarily the ʿUtayba and Muṭayr confederations, (p.42) to make their imprint on the ḥaḍar-dominated statebuilding project of ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Ibn Saʿūd.98 This effort was arrested under a hailstorm of British bombers and Wahhabi muṭawwaʿūn, the former checking the tribesmen’s military advance, the latter conditioning their minds toward the sedentary loyalties of religion and state. As the state expanded and its institutions multiplied, Ibn Saʿūd enlisted a corps of foreign advisers and Saudi (often Hijazi) town dwellers to manage his newly inaugurated ministries, directorates, and agencies. Those bedouin who were to become dedicated members of the state-building project tended to be absorbed into its newly formed defense institutions, particularly the National Guard. The Guard was the successor to the Ikhwān forces, and its subordination to the royal family was reinforced by a command structure populated by senior princes of the Āl Saʿūd ruling dynasty. By and large, the bedouin inhabitants of Saudi Arabia had little formal input into the fashioning of the state’s institutions, a circumstance that would breed disillusionment in certain quarters.

Bedouin resentment against the Saudi order was articulated in resonant terms in a series of pamphlets issued in 1978 by Juhaymān al-ʿUtaybī and his followers. Written or inspired by the former National Guard driver turned militant cult leader, the declining fortunes of the bedouin are evoked between the lines of the pamphlets’ grandiose millenarian language. One such pamphlet comprised a collection of Prophetic Traditions that proved the imminent arrival of the Islamic hour of judgment. Bouncing unstably between hermeneutical exegesis and reflections on current affairs, Juhaymān paused to discuss the declining reputation of the Ikhwān movement within the National Guard. Before the 1960s, he explained, all Guard members were known casually as Ikhwān (brothers), there being nothing pejorative about the notion. Over the previous two decades, however, the notion of associating with the Ikhwān had fallen out of favor, and it had become a source of embarrassment to answer to that name.99 The sole Saudi institutional identity that possessed some continuity with the recent bedouin past had ceased to be viable, he seemed to be arguing. Meanwhile, the bedouin were left to suffer under the weight of the government’s failed economic policies.

According to a Prophetic Tradition, Juhaymān explained, the end of days would be imminent when herders of livestock were seen to be arrogantly building permanent structures. For Juhaymān, there seemed no better proof of this than the condition of the contemporary Saudi bedouin; already deeply impoverished, they subsisted on the rearing of livestock, until the government came along and showered them with loans to build homes, thereby sinking them deeper into debt.100 In another pamphlet, Juhaymān and his followers directed their discontent at the Wahhabi pedagogical authorities. The Wahhabi ʿulamāʾ, they argued, belittled the bedouin for their inability to understand classical Arabic or access religious texts.101 True, many bedouin (p.43) were unable to comprehend sermons preached in classical Arabic; but this did not make their dialects illegitimate, the pamphleteers argued, as the message of God could still be conveyed if simply expressed for their benefit. In light of this evidence, the notion that the Salafi movement in which Juhaymān and his followers were embedded was predominantly a religious orientation that expressed itself in the rejection of madhhab (legal school) and other forms of ʿulamāʾ authority bears reconsideration. Instead, it seems more fruitful to consider Juhaymān’s militant Salafism in terms of the ongoing contest between rural bedouin and literate townsmen, and the state authority the latter represented.102

Though painted in broad and erratic strokes, the sentiments captured by Juhaymān encapsulated the marginal position of the bedouin in the new Saudi Arabia. For Ḥamad al-Jāsir, however, who was born and raised not a stone’s throw from Juhaymān’s hometown of Sājir, the lack of status ascribed to them seemed unjust, and reflected a misapprehension of the bedouin role in Arabian history. In the transition from crusading newsman to historian and scholar, al-Jāsir developed a new understanding of the bedouin condition, one more sympathetic to the material forces that drove their behavior, yet ultimately divorced from the practical concerns that had driven his advocacy in earlier decades. This new understanding reflected less a concern for the welfare of the country’s silent majority and more a sense of nostalgia for the pristine and irretrievable past they represented.

Echoing in certain respects Juhaymān’s reading of the bedouin condition, al-Jāsir reconsidered the roots of the Ikhwān revolt in novel and sympathetic terms. Removed from the rehabilitative sentiments that colored his 1954 essay in al-Yamāma, al-Jāsir would come to see the bedouin as essentially innocent souls who were sometimes driven to nefarious acts by material necessity.103 Embodying purity and innocence, they lacked only proper guidance.104 Concerning the revolt itself, al-Jāsir laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the muṭawwaʿūn, whose piecemeal understanding of Islamic teachings produced only discord and confusion when transmitted by rote to their bedouin pupils. The subsequent exposure of the bedouin to an imponderable ḥaḍarī town culture produced a religiosity of excess and exaggeration that in turn led to the Ikhwān revolt.105 Before this “tremendous wave of religiosity” had swept over the bedouin, he maintained, their life was characterized by a kind of freedom. Najdi bedouin men and women mingled freely in weddings and social gatherings (majālis), and women kept their faces uncovered.106

In his sympathy for the bedouin, al-Jāsir seemed also to be echoing ideas embedded in the writings of the fourteenth-century North African historian Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1382). Like the Najdi scholar, Ibn Khaldūn considered the bedouin to be closer to the “original essence” (al-fiṭra al-ūlā) of human existence (p.44) than town dwellers.107 When al-Jāsir invoked this “original essence,” as in his 1959 al-Yamāma polemic against nameless clerical opponents, he transposed it to apply to the whole of central Arabian society, both bedouin and sedentary. This formulation foreshadowed the emergence of a nostalgic ideal of bedouinism as a normative aspiration for Saudis, bedouin and sedentary alike, whose root matter was genealogical in nature.

Al-Jāsir’s new emphasis on bedouin purity emerged in reaction to forces he saw massing within and around central Arabia, the forces of national and international integration. In a book review penned toward the end of his life, al-Jāsir elaborated on this sentiment:

I believe, and am convinced, that the bedouin, and praise God for this, maintain their original essence, which God instilled in his creation. This essence has not been polluted in any way by the dirty stains (awḍār) known to civilized societies, nor by values and qualities considered alien to our environment, our Arab nature, our religion, and our umma.108

The reifying narrative of bedouin purity provided a convenient foil for al-Jāsir’s burgeoning critique of Saudi modernity. Ḥaḍarīs had no basis for condemning bedouin, he reasoned in an article for the official National Guard magazine, as they are so caught up in material life that many of them have become incapacitated. “The bedouin is the source from which we derive,” al-Jāsir explained to his undoubtedly approving National Guard readership.109 For some, however, al-Jāsir’s bias in favor of bedouin culture (ʿaṣabiyya li-l-badāwa) would do “great damage” to the fabric of identity in the kingdom,110 as it was on the basis of this nostalgic ideal that al-Jāsir would build his taxonomy of the lineages of the kingdom’s inhabitants. The tension inherent in al-Jāsir’s attitudes toward bedouin culture is well encapsulated by P. Marcel Kurpershoek, a longtime student of Saudi culture:

[T]he popularity of themes from the relatively distant past of the country’s pre-modern age can be explained by the need to unite the Saudi state’s contradictory versions of history and modernity, which emphasize the negative qualities of tribalism yet acknowledge the undiminished importance of tribal organization and the competition for prestige as measured by traditional tribal standards.111

Through his scholarly and popular writings, al-Jāsir repackaged traditional tribal standards for the symbolic life of the modern Saudi state, thus helping reshape the competition for prestige in the rapidly changing kingdom. If al-Jāsir’s shifting approach to the bedouin question served double (p.45) duty as a barometer of social change, his views on language were an even more potent indicator of the transformation of Peninsular life in the twentieth century.

Al-Jāsir and the Arabic Language

One of al-Jāsir’s preferred pen names was al-Aṣmaʿī, after the famous eighth-century Iraqi philologist Abū Saʿīd ʿAbd al-Malik b. Qurayb al-Aṣmaʿī (d. 828). This moniker was particularly suited for the kingdom’s unofficial lexicographer. Al-Aṣmaʿī was well known for his interest in bedouin culture; stories of excursions deep into the desert to document bedouin speech and poetry add color to his biography, and cement his reputation as a pioneer in the study of the Arabic language.112 The profile cut by this scholar-adventurer must have appealed to al-Jāsir’s sensibilities. His early life was colored by a number of prolonged sojourns among the bedouin of Arabia, a fact that would set him apart from the typical educated Najdi town dweller. In 1927, fresh from his second educational tour in Riyadh, al-Jāsir was dispatched by his patrons to work as a muṭawwaʿ among a branch of the ʿUtayba tribe, not far from his ancestral home of al-Burūd.113 Living and migrating with this bedouin group, he would later boast proudly, the scholar acquired an understanding of tribal dialects and an ability to discern differences among them. But as the twentieth century unfolded and al-Jāsir progressed up the status hierarchy of urban life, his embrace of linguistic diversity would give way to a vigilant defense of the Arabic language in its authorized, classical form. This ascent to the high cultural terrain of authoritative knowledge would have bearing on the difficulties the scholar would encounter when attempting to establish a definitive genealogical chart of Arabian origins.

In 1957, al-Jāsir was nominated to serve as a member of the prestigious Arabic Language Academy (Majmaʿ al-Lugha al-ʿArabiyya) in Egypt.114 Modeled after the French Académie Française, the Academy was created in 1917 to serve as the preeminent authority for the preservation and development of the Arabic language in Egypt. With the Saudi government’s promotion of his candidacy, al-Jāsir became the first person from the Arabian Peninsula to hold a seat there. The scholar would repay the honor, though, by activating philology in the service of an emergent Saudi nationalism. In meetings of the Academy, al-Jāsir would seek to demonstrate that much of the topography of pre-Islamic poetry had been misunderstood. By correcting transcriptions and vocalizations of ancient manuscripts, he sought to prove that the setting for the quintessential Arab art form—those obscure toponyms that pepper the landscape of ancient Arabic poetry—was in fact central Arabia.115 Whatever the veracity of his methods, they were sufficient to convince noted Arab historians and colleagues such as Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Asad and Ṭāhā Ḥusayn, the (p.46) latter of whom was said (apocryphally, it seems) to have conferred upon al-Jāsir his iconic honorific, ʿAllāmat al-Jazīra.

Al-Jāsir also used his newfound prestige as the kingdom’s most high profile philologist to police the boundaries of the Arabic lexicon against neologisms and linguistic impurities.116 His increasing aversion to linguistic syncretism is demonstrated in his attitude toward the study of dialects and popular poetry. Saudi Arabia is home to various Arabic dialects, from the Shia colloquial spoken in the villages of al-Aḥsāʾ and al-Qaṭīf, to the Egyptian-inflected Arabic of the Hijazi cities, to the tribal dialects in use across the vast expanses of rural Arabia. For al-Jāsir, as with al-Aṣmaʿī, the value in studying these dialects lay in the potential to extract from them traces of an original and unvarnished Arabic, an Arabic that, in the scholar’s estimate of his era, had been buried under layers of alien accretions. Al-Jāsir believed that Arabic dialects spoken in areas formerly under colonial rule bore traces of the language of the colonizers, and had to be treated with great caution.117 Meanwhile, Arabic dialects spoken in places such as Syria reflected as well the pre-Arab civilizations that inhabited those regions. In promoting the usage of these pre-Islamic or colonially infused dialects, Arabs were destroying their pure language.118 What Saudis claim as their heritage is often nothing more than the cultural driftwood of Iran and South Asia, he considered. “We must be extremely cautious when examining what is called Arab heritage, [for] not everything that is heritable deserves to be called Arab heritage.”119

At safe remove from the long arm of Western and pre-Islamic civilizations, and from the polyglot Persian Gulf and Red Sea coasts, however, was an Arabian heartland where pure, “unspoiled” Arabic could be found. Al-Jāsir elaborated on this view of Arabian dialects in a 1989 interview discussing vernacular poetry:

… until recently, the dialects of the bedouin and of the city folk were not very different. Their dialect was closer to classical Arabic than the poetry [that has emerged] today. After the unification of the different parts of the kingdom, the intermingling of peoples and the communication ties between neighboring regions increased. This influenced every aspect of life in the country, not just language.120

Al-Jāsir’s sense of anxiety about social transformation, discernible between the lines of the above assessment, was rendered even more explicit in the following xenophobic statement:

Until around fifty years ago, popular poetry was closer to Classical Arabic. The tribes of the heart of the Arabian Peninsula did not mix with their neighbors from other lands. Their words were vernacular, but (p.47) they were Arabic words. Then, mixing and blending with neighboring regions occurred, and “foreign words” entered with [foreign] dialects. The dialects of the [surrounding] regions are full of foreign words, and these [tribes] adopted them, and adopted many of the manners of these foreign peoples. This is what I fear… .121

Central Arabian dialects are riddled with Persian and other non-Arabic loan words, whose insertion into the lexicon one would be hard-pressed to date to any recent developments.122 Yet al-Jāsir’s sense of the linguistic map of Arabia is compelling in its own imperfect way. According to his conception, central Arabia, home to a once organic and largely unstratified culture of nomads and settled folk speaking a common language,123 had in recent decades been plugged into a wider network of relations with neighboring regions. This linkage had eroded the purchase of pure central Arabian traditions and the linguistic bond between town dweller and bedouin.124 Implicit in this conception is a need felt by the scholar to restore central Arabia’s heritage to a recognizable and uncorrupted state, a project he would pursue first through geography and later through genealogy. In this way, al-Jāsir’s scholarly project was not unlike that of the philologists of early modern Europe. Through textual, philological, and genealogical evidence, Patrick Geary has written, European philologists “provided … a means of projecting their nations into a distant, preliterate past.” Like his European scholarly counterparts, al-Jāsir mustered historical knowledge to prove the existence of a discrete central Arabian linguistic community that possessed a proto-national social identity.125

In methodological terms, al-Jāsir’s sense of the degradation of modern Arabian dialects caused him to reject modern vernacular (Nabaṭī) poetry as a source of historical knowledge. Previously a rich and unblemished source of oral history, he maintained, vernacular poetry had lost its credibility in the modern period.126 The development of mass media had influenced the spread of poetical recitation as a sometimes lucrative trade and contributed to the mixing of local vernaculars with foreign dialect terms.127 Popular poetry that was documented before the age of the contemporary narrators, however, could be a good source of history, he believed, in particular for knowledge about the Arabic language. Invoking the ancient Arab philologists, al-Jāsir claimed that those dialects preserved archaisms that reflected the language in a purer, earlier form.128 “We must study the dialects of the tribes, because there are dialects in popular poetry that have been preserved from the earliest days, which we find documented in the [classical] books.”129

When the living language of Arabia can be found corroborated in the documented records of early Islamic history, the nomadic interlude that looms throughout Arabian historiography becomes less uncomfortable to contemplate. (p.48) Premodern vernacular poetry was a vehicle for restoring the linkages with this near-vanished past, even with an ur-Arabic. With a hint of false modesty and perhaps subtle disparagement, al-Jāsir once wrote to an aspiring poet: “I am sorry to say but I am not one whose tastes in poetry are deeply refined to the extent that I possess the ability to discern the way to properly judge the standing of a particular poet.”130 His passionate criticisms of Saudi vernacular poetry in the Saudi press would seem therefore to have served a broader non-literary agenda, namely, to articulate anxieties about a society transformed beyond recognition across the nine decades of his lifetime.

Geography vs. Genealogy

In the mythology of Ḥamad al-Jāsir, the story of how the scholar came to know the true identity of Jabal Raḍwā is recounted by his disciples more than any other. As a young substitute teacher in Yanbuʿ in 1934, al-Jāsir was instructing his sixth grade class on a poem by the famous medieval scholar Abū l-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī (d. 1057), explaining a reference to a mountain in the Hijaz on the basis of his knowledge of Islamic texts. When al-Jāsir announced that Raḍwā was in fact close to Medina and easy to traverse by camel, his students erupted in laughter. Through the open window, they pointed to a mountain southeast of Yanbuʾ—Raḍwā mountain, which was, they instructed, impossible to traverse by camel.131

The Mount Raḍwā story draws attention to an essential dimension of al-Jāsir’s philosophy of history, namely, his insistence on the primacy of local knowledge. In practice, this philosophy had several implications. Methodologically, it meant that al-Jāsir was partial to particular classical sources, preferring Yāqūt over al-Bakrī for his geographical information, and al-Hamdānī over Ibn Ḥazm for his genealogical references. The simple reason for this bias was that Yāqūt and al-Hamdānī had visited the places in the Peninsula that they had written about (al-Hamdānī was a native of Yemen), while al-Bakrī and Ibn Ḥazm—from his distant perch in Andalusia—had not. More broadly, al-Jāsir’s insistence on the primacy of local knowledge would find expression in his decades-long effort to document and classify the peoples and places of the Arabian Peninsula. His animating principle was that the most authoritative knowledge about Arabian toponyms and genealogical relations rested with the people most invested in these truths, the inhabitants of the kingdom’s scattered towns and villages themselves. This erudite parochialism would make al-Jāsir the primary gatekeeper of Arabian history and geography for Arab and Western scholars alike. Yet in the course of time, his entrusting of history to its subjects would land the scholar in methodological hot water.

(p.49) By his own estimation, al-Jāsir’s embarrassed fumbling of the Jabal Raḍwa episode would provide the motivation for establishing himself as Saudi Arabia’s foremost geographer. From Yanbuʿ and beyond, his peregrinations throughout the kingdom during the first sixty years of his life would prepare the ground for one of his most significant projects, al-Muʿjam al-Jughrāfī li-l-Bilād al-ʿArabiyya al-Saʿūdiyya (The Geographical Dictionary of the Lands of Saudi Arabia). By the measure of his scholarly disciples, and by his own accounting,132 al-Jāsir’s crowning achievement was this geographical compendium.133 Written by a team of Saudi authors under his supervision, the Dictionary established al-Jāsir’s identity as one of the kingdom’s most authoritative scholarly voices.

Al-Jāsir’s project was influenced by Saudi historian Muḥammad b. Bulayḥid’s five-volume work on Arabian antiquity and geography, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Akhbār ʿAmmā fī Bilād al-ʿArab min al-Āthār (The Authentic Reports of the Archaeological Relics in the Land of the Arabs), which had appeared in the early 1950s.134 While this project set the stage for his own, the scholar felt that the classical geographical volumes upon which Ibn Bulayḥid and others of his predecessors had relied were fundamentally flawed, as they conveyed information about the Peninsula at second hand, and were often mistaken.135 Yet the primacy of local knowledge had its limitations. Tuning into radio broadcasts, al-Jāsir would be dismayed when listening to announcers mispronounce what he took to be the authentic names of towns and other toponyms within the kingdom. For the scholar, this free-for-all phonetic rummaging into the past reflected a lack of standardized knowledge about the kingdom’s geography, an absence he would set out to remedy with his Geographical Dictionary.136

In 1968, with the approval of King Fayṣal and the Ministry of Information, al-Jāsir issued a call in al-ʿArab for researchers to join in preparing his geographical compendium. His primary aim was to establish authoritative vocalizations for the names of the towns, villages, and landscape features of the kingdom. This objective could only be achieved through fieldwork, he determined, to be carried out by a team of specialists from the regions in question, who would fan out across the country and document their findings.137 From Beirut, al-Jāsir worked as a liaison with the Saudi court on behalf of the researchers compiling the Dictionary, and composed two of its volumes, one on the Eastern Province, the other on northwest Arabia. A major objective of the Dictionary was, in al-Jāsir’s words, to “link the present with the past,” one that would see him embark on the occasional flight of historical fancy.138 Al-Jāsir focused his efforts on the compendium through 1979, by which point he had taken up a no less ambitious yet rather more fraught standardization project, the documenting of the genealogies of the peoples of Saudi Arabia.

(p.50) “I composed works of history, geography, literature, and travel narratives,” the scholar wrote. “Then I composed two books on lineage, Muʿjam Qabāʾil al-Mamlaka and Jamharat Ansāb al-Usar al-Mutaḥaḍḍira, and I noticed that interest in my work was based mostly on these two books.”139 Ironically, al-Jāsir’s interest in Arab genealogies originated in the labors of Western Orientalists.140 Al-Jāsir admired and respected Western scholars such as Werner Caskel and Évariste Lévi-Provençal for their efforts to edit and publish classic works of Arab genealogy (ʿilm al-ansāb), and made public note of their expressions of gratitude for his expert corrections and criticisms. His very method of work, compiling data on index cards until he achieved a critical mass of information on a subject, was influenced by a visit to the office of prolific Arabian travel writer and advisor to Ibn Saʿūd, Harry St. John Bridger Philby, and likely as well by the famous Italian Orientalist Giorgio Levi Della Vida, whom the scholar met in Rome in 1960.141 Yet al-Jāsir remained puzzled by the fact that Western Orientalists were more interested in Arab genealogies than Arab scholars, repeating the claim as a sort of refrain.142 A classical scholar by training and inclination, al-Jāsir recognized the essential connection between the study of history and the study of lineages. Genealogies were the first recorded elements of Arab history, and any effort to construct a modern historiography for Saudi Arabia would need to reckon with the deep and persistent significance of lineage in Arabian society.143 In establishing himself as Saudi Arabia’s foremost genealogist, al-Jāsir sought to reappropriate the study of genealogies from Western scholars and direct it toward his own localized ends.

Despite the tremendous attention generated by his genealogical project, al-Jāsir came to consider his bestselling work, the Jamhara, the least important of his scholarly contributions. Yet genealogy—when mingled with ancient history, a murky and imprecise discipline—seemed to ignite the imaginations of al-Jāsir’s compatriots in a way that geography could not. For if the scholar had advanced in some place a dubious claim about the relationship between an ancient and modern toponym, that toponym was lifeless—it could not snipe back. At most, a refutation of al-Jāsir’s geographical claims would find its way into a specialty journal, and die a peaceful death there. Genealogy, however, was something deeply interwoven into the identity of every family, clan and tribe in Arabia. Sifting through the scholar’s correspondence in the last decade of his life, for example, one is struck by the number of genealogical queries directed by Saudis toward the scholar, and the relative silence on geographical matters. Al-Jāsir’s documenting of the kingdom’s genealogies was the most important such effort in the modern history of the kingdom. His genealogical project served as the textual representation of a society in formation, and thus constitutes the critical core of his oeuvre. The outlines of this project were tested first in the pages of al-ʿArab. (p.51) MAJALLAT AL-ʿARAB

Al-ʿArab marked al-Jāsir’s turn away from explicit political engagement and toward sustained historical inquiry. From its launch in 1966 out of Beirut as a monthly scholarly journal, al-ʿArab was unlike any other Saudi publication. For one thing, with the exception of the first issue, the ubiquitous Islamic prefatory formula, the basmala, was absent from its pages, a decision for which al-Jāsir was roundly criticized by some of his more devout readers.144 In the scholar’s view, al-ʿArab was firstly a scholarly journal, as demonstrated by its continuous pagination and minimal advertising. Asked once to describe the magazine’s subject matter on a government ministry form, al-Jāsir declined the choices provided (“political, economic, social, cultural, Islamic, sport, varied”), checking “other.” If the proprietor of al-ʿArab was to be compelled to innocuousness by political and religious forces in his home country, he would be so on his own idiosyncratic terms.

The iconoclastic philosophy behind al-ʿArab’s founding is captured well in an essay marking the launch of its inaugural issue. There, al-Jāsir engages in a simulated exchange with a friend, who is shown to criticize the parochialism of Arabian culture. His anonymous foil is incredulous that obscure landmarks in the Arabian Peninsula could merit discussion while in the West the “Space Race” is raging and great advances are being made in the sciences.145 Echoing contemporaneous critiques of Western materialism by Islamic intellectuals, al-Jāsir’s rebuttal mobilizes religious philosophy in the service of cultural heritage. Man’s ability to contemplate transformations in the material world, the scholar argued, is dependent on his consciousness, which is endowed by God and is unchanging. Once the primacy of consciousness is properly acknowledged, all material existence is equally valid and equally ephemeral. “Life in the age of the camel … was the same as it is in the age of the atom and the ascent to the moon,” he concluded. While resonant with the critical Islamist discourse of his generation,146 al-Jāsir did not seek solace in a state controlled by religious authorities or won through bloody revolutionary struggle. To the contrary, the scholar’s escape from Western materialism and Wahhabi obscurantism was a culture of scattered Arabian landmarks, toponyms, and genealogies, which, in the pages of his journal, he would fashion into artifacts of modern Arabian identity.

From his office in the ʿĀzariyya building in downtown Beirut, al-Jāsir presided over al-ʿArab’s first decade in circulation. If measured by this circulation, al-ʿArab’s influence would seem unworthy of much attention. The average print run of the monthly and later bimonthly journal was approximately 5,000 copies, many of which were purchased by Saudi government ministries, as a form of hidden subsidy for the scholar. Rather, the significance of al-ʿArab was that it prefigured and later helped shape modern genealogical discourse (p.52) in the kingdom, helping inaugurate a cultural phenomenon whose qualities are central to any understanding of modern Saudi Arabia. Before examining Ḥamad al-Jāsir’s role in the emergence of the kingdom’s modern genealogical culture, however, we must first establish the significance of genealogy in Arabian history. The following chapter looks at how and why the people of central Arabia documented their genealogies before the oil age, and how changes in the nature of genealogical documentation reflect transformations in Arabian social and political life.


(1.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir fī l-Ṣuḥuf al-Saʿūdiyya: Kashshāf bi-mā Nushira Lahu wa-ʿAnhu (Riyadh: Markaz Ḥamad al-Jāsir al-Thaqāfī, 2007), 168–204; Ḥamad al-Jāsir fī ʿUyūn al-Ākharīn (Riyadh: Markaz Ḥamad al-Jāsir al-Thaqāfī, 2003); Maʿan al-Jāsir, “Shukr wa-ʿIrfān,” al-ʿArab 36, no. 3/4 (2000/2001): 97–98. The Saudi government hired a private plane to have his body flown back to the kingdom from Boston along with his immediate family.

(2.) See Jörg Determann’s study, Historiography in Saudi Arabia: Globalization and the State in the Middle East (London: I. B. Tauris, 2014).

(3.) Madawi al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 49.

(6.) ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-ʿAbdallāh al-Tuwayjirī, “Ḥamad al-Jāsir Ab Rūḥī li-l-Ajyāl,” ʿUkāẓ, March 7, 1988.

(7.) Goody, Literacy in Traditional Societies, 1–26; for literacy in the Arabian context, see Guido Steinberg, “Ecology, Knowledge, and Trade in Central Arabia (Najd) during the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” in Counter-Narratives: History, Contemporary Society, and Politics in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, ed. Madawi al-Rasheed and Robert Vitalis (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 77–102.

(p.209) (8.) Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Āl Ismāʿīl, al-Shaykh Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm Āl al-Shaykh wa-Atharu Madrasatihi fī l-Nahḍa al-ʿIlmiyya wa-l-Adabiyya (Beirut: Dar al-Bashāʾir al-Islāmiyya, 1999), 98–102.

(9.) By contrast, a recent biography of al-Jāsir pietizes the scholar’s life and downplays his deep frustration with the central Arabian religious establishment. ʿAbdallāh b. ʿAbd al-Raḥīm ʿUsaylān, Ḥamad al-Jāsir wa-Juhūduhu al-ʿIlmiyya (Medina: Nādī al-Madīna al-Munawwara al-Adabī, 2010), 50.

(10.) Isaiah Berlin, Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 186.

(11.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Wa-li-Liḥya Manāfiʿ,” al-Masāʾiyya, August 23, 1983, 16.

(12.) Al-Jāsir corresponded with Maudoodi, who described his time spent with the scholar in Riyadh as “among the happiest days of my life.” Abul ʿAla Maudoodi to Ḥamad al-Jāsir, February 6, 1960, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(13.) (3/25)—Outgoing, June 15, 1995, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh. Al-Jāsir was born in the nearby hamlet of Sharqa and raised in al-Burūd. His precise date of birth, like those of others of his generation, seems a matter of disagreement. The editor of his memoirs, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Shubaylī, assigns to it 1909. Ḥamad al-Jāsir, Min Sawāniḥ al-Dhikrayāt (Riyadh: Dār al-Yamāma li-l-Baḥth wa-l-Tarjama wa-l-Nashr, 2006), 15.

(14.) P. Marcel Kurpershoek, Oral Poetry and Narratives from Central Arabia, Volume II: The Story of a Desert Knight (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 507.

(15.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, Jamharat Ansāb al-Usar al-Mutaḥaḍḍira fī Najd, vol. 1 (Riyadh: Dār al-Yamāma, 2001 [1981]), 89, 128.

(16.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, Baldat al-Burūd: Mawqiʿan, wa-Tārīkhan, wa-Sukkānan (Riyadh: Majalat al-ʿArab, 2000), 26–27.

(17.) Unlike al-Jāsir’s father, his maternal grandfather ʿAlī had basic command of reading and writing, and was the scholar’s first teacher. (277)—Outgoing, October 13, 1998, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(18.) al-Jāsir, Sawāniḥ, 115. The state of education in Najd at the time was such that the village school in al-Burūd where al-Jāsir taught was furnished only with sand, which the students had to transport themselves from outside of the village.

(20.) In 1921/22, the Wahhabi scholar Sulaymān b. Saḥmān (d. 1930) noted the presence of approximately one hundred students training under the senior scholars in Riyadh. Sulaymān b. Saḥmān, Irshād al-Ṭālib ilā Ahamm al-Maṭālib (Cairo: Maṭbaʿat al-Manār, 1926/7), 76.

(21.) Like many other prominent Najdi ʿulamāʾ, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAbd al-Laṭīf was blind. For the link between blindness and literate knowledge, see Steinberg, “Ecology, Knowledge, and Trade in Central Arabia,” 86–87; H. St. J. B. Philby, The Heart of Arabia: A Record of Travel and Exploration, vol. 1 (London: Constable, 1922), 138–39.

(22.) For historical context on the politics of sedentarization, see Joseph Kostiner, The Making of Saudi Arabia, 19161936: From Chieftancy to Monarchical State (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 76–77.

(p.210) (23.) Philby described the work of these missionary scholars and their young apprentices. Below the ranks of the senior scholars and muṭawwaʿūn was “a body of Talamidh or candidates for orders, who, under the guidance of the Mutawwaʿs aspire one day to be enrolled among them, and so to take an active share in God’s handiwork among men.” Philby, Heart of Arabia, vol. 1, 297–98.

(24.) Al-Jāsir also worked at one point as a scribe for Ikhwān rebel leader Mājid b. Khuthayla. (469)—Outgoing, January 17, 2000, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(26.) Among the policies enacted by Ibn Saʿūd in October 1929 in response to the Ikhwān rebels was one in which “every hijra which succumbed to corruption will be evacuated … its inhabitants … distributed among the tribes …,” John S. Habib, Ibn Saʿud’s Warriors of Islam: The Ikhwan of Najd and their Role in the Creation of the Saʿudi Kingdom, 19101930 (Brill: Leiden, 1978), 146.

(27.) ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Shubaylī, al-Shaykh Ḥamad al-Jāsir fī Ḥiwār Tilfizyūnī Tawthīqī (Riyadh: ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Shubaylī, 2003), 29.

(29.) Yaḥyā b. Junayd, Ḥamad al-Jāsir: Dirāsa li-Ḥayātihi Maʿa Bibliyūjrāfiyya Shāmila li-Aʿmālihi al-Manshūra (Riyadh: Maṭābiʿ al-Farazdaq al-Tijāriyya, 1995), 121.

(31.) ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Ṣāliḥ b. Salama, Ḥamad al-Jāsir wa-Maṣīrat al-Ṣiḥāfa wa-l-Ṭibāʿa wa-l-Nashr fī Madīnat al-Riyāḍ (Riyadh: ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Salama, 2002), 21.

(32.) Ibid., 342–43.

(33.) For example, Abū Qubays was the site where the Black Stone that rests inside the Kaʿba (or cube) was thought to have landed. See Francis E. Peters, Mecca: A Literary History of the Muslim Holy Land (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 264.

(34.) C. Snouck Hurgronje, Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 12.

(35.) (No number)—June 5, 1930, Institute of Public Administration (IPA) Archive, Riyadh; al-Jāsir, Sawāniḥ, 329.

(36.) The people of Jeddah, for example, believe that Eve is buried in their city, about which al-Jāsir remarked: “You might find in some of the works of the more recent scholars of Mecca and Jeddah those whose sympathies lead them to affect the attribution of Eve to the city of Jeddah, but this is nothing but superstition as far as I’m concerned.” Al-Jāsir maintained this view despite his sustained defense of the historicity of other ancient personalities such as ʿAdnān and Qaḥṭān, the mythic progenitors of the Arab people. (Catalog Number Missing)—Outgoing, May 21, 1998, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh; Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Bayn ʿIlmī al-Tārīkh wa-l-Āthār (Part 2),” ʿUkāẓ, October 18, 1999, 20.

(37.) Snouck, Mekka, 50.

(p.211) (38.) Sufism was a conception of Islam opposed by the Wahhabi movement’s founder, Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb. Wahhabism insisted on the unmediated relationship between a believer and God, and was established to root out heterodox central Arabian religious practices that elsewhere might have been described as Sufi. For more on the suppression of Sufism in the Hijaz at the time, see William Ochsenwald, “Islam and Loyalty in the Saudi Hijaz, 1926–1939,” Die Welt des Islams 47, no. 1 (2007): 22.

(39.) Late in life, for example, he expressed disapproval of Arab scholars who chose to edit Sufi manuscripts. Ḥāsin al-Bunyān, “Ḥamad al-Jāsir Yatahim al-Nāshirīn bi-l-Irtizāq wa-l-Tazwīr: al-Mustashriqūn Akthar Ḥirṣan ʿAlā al-Thaqāfa min al-Muhaqqaqīn al-Jāhilīn,” al-Sharq al-Awsaṭ, November 23, 1995, 27.

(41.) Khayr al-Dīn al-Ziriklī, al-Wajīz fī Sīrat al-Malik ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (Beirut: Dār al-ʿIlm li-l-Malāyīn, 1971), 156–57.

(43.) On the incorporation of the Hijaz into the Saudi kingdom, see Ochsenwald, “Islam and Loyalty.”

(44.) This involved, for example, diminishing the practical application of Shāfiʿī and Ḥanafī law in the Hijaz, the latter of which was the official legal school of the formerly sovereign Ottoman Empire. ʿUsaylān, Ḥamad al-Jāsir wa-Juhūduhu, 74.

(50.) ʿUsaylān, Ḥamad al-Jāsir wa-Juhūduhu, 63. While public education was not yet established in the kingdom, a few private schools whose curriculums included some nontraditional subjects had existed since the late Ottoman period, the most famous being the al-Fallāḥ school in Jeddah. See William Ochsenwald, “Arab Nationalism in the Hijaz,” in The Origins of Arab Nationalism, ed. Rashid Khalidi, Lisa Anderson et al. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 198.

(51.) (11291)—September 16, 1945, IPA Archive, Riyadh.

(52.) Robert Vitalis, America’s Kingdom: Myth-Making on the Saudi Oil Frontier (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), 113.

(54.) Statistics vary substantially from source to source. Heyward G. Hill, “Latest Official List of Schools in Saudi Arabia,” Confidential U.S. State Department Central Files. Saudi Arabia. Internal Affairs and Foreign Affairs, 195054 (Frederick: University Publications of America, 1985); Muḥammad b. ʿAbdallāh b. Sulaymān al-Salmān, al-Taʿlīm fī Najd fī ʿAhd al-Malik ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (Burayda: Nādī al-Qaṣīm al-Adabī bi-Burayda, 1999).

(56.) Ibid., 667.

(57.) al-Jāsir, Sawāniḥ, 936. Al-Jāsir explained that Crown Prince Saʿūd expressed to him his “strong desire to establish the various elements that would distinguish Riyadh’s position as the center of the country in all aspects of life.”

(58.) (Uncataloged)—Outgoing, April 29, 1959, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh; Interview with Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Qiṣṣatī Maʿa al-Maṭbūʿāt wa-Inshāʾ Jarīdat al-Riyāḍ (Part 5 of 9),” al-Sharq al-Awsaṭ, October 14, 1991, 7.

(59.) In 1954, Najd’s only high school was in its first year, and its public library was only a few months old. Salama, Maṣīrat al-Ṣiḥāfa, 156.

(60.) Ibid., 171.

(61.) Ibid., 155.

(62.) A similar column appeared in Issue 11, in which al-Jāsir corrected mistakes in E. Lévi-Provençal’s edition of Nasab Quraysh. Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Kitāb ‘Nasab Quraysh’,” al-Yamāma 1, no. 11 (1954): 11–14.

(63.) Author interview, January 2011, Riyadh.

(66.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Hāʾūlāʾ al-Kuttāb al-Muḍallilūn,” al-Yāmama, May 3, 1959, 1–2.

(67.) For more on al-Juhaymān, see Toby Craig Jones, Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 149–50.

(68.) While agreeing on the death sentence, they could not reach consensus over whether he was to be killed as a Muslim who had committed a Quranically proscribed (ḥadd) offense or as an unbeliever (kāfir). Al-Jāsir later denied that he had been referring to religious scholars in particular, but his choice of words in the article suggests otherwise. (Khāṣ)—Outgoing, January 26, 1989, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(69.) (2/98)—Outgoing, July 20, 1995, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(71.) An unsigned letter of complaint from Prince Ṭalāl to King Saʿūd found lying loose in al-Jāsir’s library provides a tantalizing suggestion of the scholar’s intimacy with the principal internal opposition figure of his age. Could al-Jāsir have served as Ṭalāl’s scribe?

(72.) (Uncataloged)—Outgoing, February 20, 1954, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(73.) (Uncataloged)—Incoming, August 17, 1960, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh. Al-ʿAwwāmī was from a family of Shia notables in al-Qaṭīf.

(74.) ʿAbdallāh Nūr, “Kayfa Rafaʿat al-Raqāba al-Ḥukūmiyya min al-Ṣuḥuf al-Saʿūdiyya,” al-Masāʾiyya, October 23, 1983, 16.

(75.) (Uncataloged)—Outgoing, October 31, 1960, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(76.) (Uncataloged)—Incoming, October 24, 1960, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(77.) The inter-dynastic squabbles of this era are captured succinctly by Herb. Michael Herb, All in the Family: Absolutism, Revolution, and Democracy in Middle (p.213) Eastern Monarchies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), 91–104.

(78.) Author interview, January 2012, Riyadh.

(79.) This was a prescient move, as al-Jāsir’s nonroyal allies in the Free Princes Movement paid materially for their mistaken wager. Author interview, January 2012, Riyadh.

(80.) For Nasser’s involvement in the Yemen Civil War of 1962, see Paul Dresch, A Modern History of Yemen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 102.

(83.) Permission to first launch al-Riyāḍ as a weekly in 1957 was granted on the condition that the paper “avoid involvement in politics or journalistic wrangling.” (Uncataloged)—Incoming, June 29, 1957, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(84.) See Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Ḥadīth Ṣarīḥ Maʿa Ḥamad al-Jāsir,” ʿUkāẓ, June 22, 1966, 7.

(86.) While in the publishing hub of Beirut, al-Jāsir also became an important liaison for other Saudi authors, who benefited from the scholar’s networks there.

(87.) Contrast al-Juhany’s far less expansive delineation of the ancient boundaries of al-Yamāma, also derived by inference from the reports of the early Arab geographers. al-Juhany, Salafi Reform Movement, 170–71, n. 1.

(88.) “… the sun of the city of Ḥajr began to set slowly from the middle of the [ninth] century.” Al-Jāsir relates that the Ukhayḍirīyūn, who ruled al-Yamāma from approximately 867 to 1075, were followers of the Zaydī branch of Shia Islam, a dynasty of which ruled northern Yemen until the mid-twentieth century. Ḥamad al-Jāsir, Madīnat al-Riyāḍ ʿabra Aṭwār al-Tārīkh (Riyadh: Dār al-Yamāma li-l-Baḥth wa-l-Tarjama wa-l-Nashr, 1966), 69.

(89.) Ibid., 135.

(90.) Interview with Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Lastu Mutaʿaṣṣiban li-l-ʿArab bal li-Risālat al-Islām (Part 1 of 9),” al-Sharq al-Awsaṭ, September 30, 1991, 9; Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Asad, “Ḥamad al-Jāsir wa-Abū ʿAlī al-Hajarī fī ‘al-Taʿlīqāt wa-l-Nawādir’,” in al-Sijill al-ʿIlmī li-Nadwat al-Shaykh Ḥamad al-Jāsir wa-Juhūduhu al-ʿIlmiyya (Riyadh: Kulliyyat al-Ādāb [King Saud University], 2003), 1–14.

(94.) This legacy of antagonism has deep roots in Islamic societies, and is epitomized in the fourteenth-century North African scholar Ibn Khaldūn’s famous study The Muqaddimah. Ibn Khaldūn, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967).

(95.) These percentages derive from data presented by Fuʾād Ḥamza in his 1933 volume Qalb Jazīrat al-ʿArab. Scrutinizing population ratios in this way is important because it helps establish the bedouin/oral cultural backdrop of (p.214) modern Saudi history. Sarah Yizraeli has drawn attention to the inaccuracy of Saudi population counts conducted in the middle decades of the twentieth century, particularly to the tendency to inflate the proportion of bedouin in the population. Yizraeli’s study is concerned with the period after 1960, and so does not consider the influence of the sedentarization policies of the early state period on bedouin population figures. While certainty on the matter will remain elusive, what is important to consider is that from the time of Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb until at least the middle decades of the twentieth century, the sedentary populations of central Arabia believed themselves to be substantially outnumbered by the surrounding nomadic communities. Fuʾād Ḥamza, Qalb Jazīrat al-ʿArab (Cairo: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Salafiyya, 1933), 77–78; Sarah Yizraeli, Politics and Society in Saudi Arabia: The Crucial Years of Development, 19601982 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 172–75.

(96.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “al-Bādiya: ʿIrḍ wa-Amal,” al-Yamāma 1, no. 12 (1954): 7.

(97.) Author interview, March 2011, Riyadh.

(98.) Abdulaziz H. Al Fahad, “The ʿImama vs. the ʿIqal: Hadari-Bedouin Conflict and the Formation of the Saudi State,” in Counter-Narratives, 36.

(99.) Juhaymān b. Sayf al-ʿUtaybī, al-Fitan wa-Akhbār al-Mahdī wa-Nuzūl ʿĪsā ʿAlayhi al-Salām wa-Ashrāṭ al-Sāʿa, 15, www.tawhed.ws/r?i=jsgm8fzr.

(100.) Ibid., 11.

(101.) Juhaymān b. Sayf al-ʿUtaybī, al-Bayān wa-l-Tafṣīl fī Maʿrifat al-Dalīl, 15–18, www.tawhed.ws/dl?i=5iicoqrb.

(102.) For the various ways in which Juhaymān’s movement has been interpreted, and the privileging of the religious discourse, see Thomas Hegghammer and Stéphane Lacroix, “Rejectionist Islamism in Saudi Arabia: The story of Juhayman al-ʿUtaybi Revisited,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 39, no. 1 (2007): 103–22.

(103.) al-Jāsir, Sawāniḥ, 31. Alternatively, he considered them essentially disciplined groups from which certain stray characters emerged to scheme for opportunities to raid and create commotion, but whose actions could not be attributed to the tribes themselves.

(104.) Ibid., 223.

(105.) Ibid., 67, 126.

(106.) Ibid., 65.

(108.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “al-ʿArīn: Bilād Qaḥṭān Māḍin wa-Ḥaḍāratin,” al-Riyāḍ, August 2, 1998, 12.

(109.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “al-Bādiya: Aṣl al-ʿArab,” al-Nadwa, December 4, 1986, 7.

(110.) Hādī ʿAlī Abū ʿĀmariyya, “Hal al-Jāsir Yuʾkhadh min Qawlihi wa-Yuradd?” al-Sharq al-Awsaṭ, April 17, 1998, 8; author interview, April 2011, Riyadh.

(111.) P. Marcel Kurpershoek, Oral Poetry and Narratives from Central Arabia, Volume IV: A Saudi Tribal History: Honour and Faith in the Traditions of the Dawāsir (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 7.

(p.215) (112.) B. Lewin, “al-Aṣmaʿī,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, ed. P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis et al. (Brill Online, 2013).

(114.) This followed appointments in 1951 and 1954 as a corresponding member of the academies of Syria and Iraq, respectively. Al-Jabūrī argues that these appointments came unsolicited, though less charitable views about the Saudi government’s role in the scholar’s appointments have been expressed to this author in interviews. A. D. Yaḥyā al-Jabūrī, Maʿa al-Makhṭūṭāt al-ʿArabiyya: Dhikrayāt wa-Asfār wa-Ṣilāt bi-Muḥibbī al-Turāth (Amman: Dār al-Majdalāwī, 2012), 91–92.

(115.) Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Asad, “al-ʿAllāma al-Shaykh Ḥamad al-Jāsir: al-Nassāba, al-Jughrāfī, al-Lughawī,” in Ḥamad al-Jāsir: ʿAllāmat al-Jazīra al-ʿArabiyya (Beirut: Maṭbaʿat ʿAlī Mūsā, 2002), 90–98.

(116.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “al-Jusūr lā l-Kabārī,” al-Masāʾiyya, August 14, 1983, 16; (2/67)—Outgoing, January 12, 1995, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(117.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “al-Shiʿr al-Shaʿbī Aṣbaḥa Wasīlatan li-l-Irtizāq” ʿUkāẓ, May 5, 1992.

(118.) (2/67)—Outgoing, January 12, 1995, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh; ʿUsaylān, Ḥamad al-Jāsir wa-Juhūduhu, 238.

(119.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Lā Budd min al-ʿAwda ilā Manābiʿ Dīninā al-Ṣaḥīḥa,” al-Yawm, August 13, 1996, 13.

(120.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Ayyām wa-Layālī: Ḥawl al-Shiʿr al-ʿĀmmī,” ʿUkāẓ, May 24, 1989, 8.

(122.) Long-established overland pilgrimage routes stretched from Iran through Najd to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In addition, the Yemeni geographer al-Hamdāni (d. 945), whom al-Jāsir respected as the primary ancient authority on Arabian history, documented the existence of a Zoroastrian community in Najd, whose fire temples lay in ruins at the time of his visit. Patricia Crone, Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 46–47.

(123.) For evidence that supports al-Jāsir’s claim at the regional level (i.e., Shammar tribal dialects), see Saad A. Sowayan, The Arabian Oral Historical Narrative: an Ethnographic and Linguistic Analysis (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1992), 59. Generalizing this uniformity and stability across the whole of central Arabian geography and history would seem unsustainable on its face, however.

(124.) For broader echoes of this sentiment, see Kurpershoek, A Saudi Tribal History, 21–22.

(125.) Patrick Geary, The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 33.

(126.) Al-Jāsir’s negative attitude toward this vernacular art form can be viewed as a response to the proliferation of collections and recordings of nabaṭī poetry in the 1970s. Sowayan, al-Ṣaḥrāʾ al-ʿArabiyya, 277.

(127.) Specifically, al-Jāsir asserted that the establishment of the radio program (p.216) “Bedouin Corner” on Riyadh radio caused popular poetry to be contaminated by “fabrication, exaggeration, and deficiency.” al-Jāsir, “al-Shiʿr al-Shaʿbī,” ʿUkāẓ; Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “al-Qaṣīda al-Shaʿbiyya Maṣdar Muhim li-Dirāsat al-Lahajāt,” al-Yawm, June 19, 1998, 10.

(130.) (2/1942)—Outgoing, November 16, 1994, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(131.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Ghalaṭ … Ghalaṭ! Yā Ustādh,” al-Masāʾiyya, September 26, 1983, 16.

(133.) Kamal Salibi relied heavily on al-Jāsir’s compendium for his volume The Bible Came from Arabia, which argued that the events of the Old Testament took place in southwestern Arabia as opposed to ancient Palestine. Al-Jāsir rejected Salibi’s findings. Kamal Salibi, The Bible Came from Arabia (London: Jonathan Cape, 1985); Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Dr. Kamāl al-Ṣalībī ʿAbatha bi-l-Dīn wa-l-Tārīkh (Part 2),” al-Sharq al-Awsaṭ, October 3, 1991, 7.

(136.) Muḥammad al-ʿUbūdī, “al-Shaykh Ḥamad al-Jāsir wa-Juhūduhu al-Jughrāfiyya,” in al-Sijill al-ʿIlmī, 65–81.

(137.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, al-Muʿjam al-Jughrāfī li-l-Bilād al-ʿArabiyya al-Saʿūdiyya: al-Minṭaqa al-Sharqiyya (Baḥrayn Qadīman)” (Riyadh: Dār al-Yamāma li-l-Baḥth wa-l-Tarjama wa-l-Nashr, 1979), 4.

(138.) See, for example, Hawting’s repudiation of al-Jāsir’s method for identifying the ancient port of al-Shuʿayba. G. R. Hawting, “The Origin of Jeddah and the Problem of al-Shuʿayba,” Arabica 31, no. 3 (1984): 324–25.

(139.) Quoted in Fāyiz al-Badrānī, Ẓāhirat al-Taʾlīf fī l-Qabāʾil wa-l-Ansāb: al-Asbāb wa-l-Ḍawābiṭ al-Maṭlūba (Riyadh: Fāyiz al-Ḥarbī, 2006), 48.

(140.) Similarly, his 1959 visit to an Arabian horse farm while touring the United States inspired a volume he prepared late in life on the lineages of Arabian horses. (Khāṣ)Outgoing, April 17, 1994, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(141.) Author interview, January 2012, Riyadh; Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “ʿIlāqatī bi-l-Mustashriqīn Badaʾat min Kutub al-Ansāb,” al-Sharq al-Awsaṭ, February 3, 1998, 20. About Lévi-Provençal, Werner Caskel, and Levi Della Vida’s Jewish heritage, al-Jāsir remarked: “the believer is asked to acquire wisdom wherever he finds it, as that is his object.”

(142.) al-Jāsir, “Kitāb ‘Nasab Quraysh’,” 11; Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “Ansāb al-Qabāʾil: Dirāsatuhā wa-Nashr Uṣūlihā,” al-ʿArab 5, no. 9 (1969): 11.

(144.) (Uncataloged)—Incoming, January 9, 1993, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh; (2/898)—Outgoing, August 28, 1996, Maktabat al-ʿArab, Riyadh.

(145.) Ḥamad al-Jāsir, “ʿIlm al-Dharra wa-Bulūgh al-Qamar!” al-ʿArab 1, no. 1 (1966): 2–3.

(146.) Sayyid Qutb, Milestones (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1990), (p.217) 79–90; Syed Abul ʿAla Maudoodi, The Islamic Movement: Dynamics of Values, Power and Change (London: The Islamic Foundation, 1984), 25–28; most striking for our purposes is this passage from Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Government (1970): “We must now take into consideration … the dazzling effect that the material progress of the imperialist countries has had on some members of our society. … When the moon landings took place, for instance, they concluded that Muslims should jettison their laws! … Let them go all the way to Mars or beyond the Milky Way; they will still be deprived of true happiness, moral virtue, and spiritual advancement and be unable to solve their own social problems. For the solution of social problems and the relief of human misery require foundations in faith and morals; merely acquiring material power and wealth, conquering nature and space, have no effect in this regard. They must be supplemented by, and balanced with, the faith, conviction, and the morality of Islam in order truly to serve humanity instead of endangering it. This conviction, this morality, these laws that are needed, we already possess. So as soon as someone goes somewhere or invents something, we should not hurry to abandon our religion and its laws, which regulate the life of man and provide for his well-being in this world and the hereafter.” Ruhollah Khomeini, Islam and Revolution, trans. Hamid Algar (Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1981), 35–36.