In the middle of the 18th century, a religious reform movement arose in al-Dir'iyyah, a small town in Najd, central Arabia. Founded by Shaykh Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, and politically and militarily supported by Muhammad Ibn Sa'ud, the chief of al-Dir'iyyah, this movement, known as the Salafiyya, called for a return to the pure and original teachings of the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. In the later decades of the century, it spread to other parts of Najd, and by the death in 1814 of its third political leader, Sa'ud Ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz, it controlled most of Arabia and imposed peace and order on its people for the first time since the early caliphs of Islam. Despite the central role it has played in the creation of modern Saudi Arabia, the social, political, and religious conditions which led to the emergence of Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's Salafi movement are not well understood. They also present something of a historical puzzle, for the Najd of the pre-Salafis was not a centre of religious learning, nor did it contain the kind of large urban communities which might be expected to produce such a movement.
In this book Professor Al Juhany brings skilful and painstaking scholarship to bear on the scant and often difficult sources on the study of Najd during the three centuries preceding the rise of the Salafis. The result is a historical narrative that reveals phenomenal developments in the spheres of nomadic migration, settlement, the growth of the sedentary population, and the growth of religious learning. These all combined to produce a new society that had new prospects and expectations by the middle of the 18th century.