The Arabic word nejd literally means "upland" and was once applied to a variety of regions within the Arabian Peninsula. However, the most famous of these was the central region of the Peninsula roughly bounded on the west by the mountains of the Hejaz and Yemen and to the east by the historical region of Bahrain and the north by Iraq and Syria.
Medieval Muslim geographers spent a great amount of time debating the exact boundaries between Hejaz and Nejd in particular, but generally set the western boundaries of Nejd to be wherever the western mountain ranges and lava beds began to slope eastwards, and set the eastern boundaries of Nejd at the narrow strip of red sand dunes known as the Ad-Dahna Desert, some 100 km (62 mi) east of modern-day Riyadh. The southern border of Nejd has always been set at the large sea of sand dunes known today as Rub' al Khali (the Empty Quarter), while the southwestern boundaries are marked by the valleys of Wadi Ranyah, Wadi Bisha, and Wadi Tathlith.
The northern boundaries of Nejd have fluctuated greatly historically and received far less attention from the medieval geographers. In the early Islamic centuries, Nejd was considered to extend as far north as the River Euphrates, or more specifically, the "Walls of Khosrau", constructed by the Persian Empire as a barrier between Arabia and Iraq immediately prior to the advent of Islam. The modern usage of the term encompasses the region of Al-Yamama, which was not always considered part of Nejd historically.
Nejd, as its name suggests, is a plateau ranging from 762 to 1,525 m (2,500 to 5,003 ft) in height and sloping downwards from west to east. The eastern sections (historically better known as Al-Yamama) are marked by oasis settlements with lots of farming and trading activities, while the rest has traditionally been sparsely occupied by nomadic Bedouins. The main topographical features include the twin mountains of Aja and Salma in the north near Ha'il, the high land of Jabal Shammar and the Tuwaiq mountain range running through its center from north to south. Also important are the various dry river-beds (wadis) such as Wadi Hanifa near Riyadh, Wadi Na'am in the south, Wadi Al-Rumah in the Al-Qassim Province in the north, and Wadi ad-Dawasir at the southernmost tip of Nejd on the border with Najran. Most Nejdi villages and settlements are located along these wadis, due to ability of these wadis to preserve precious rainwater in the arid desert climate, while others are located near oases. Historically, Nejd itself has been divided into small provinces made up of constellations of small towns, villages and settlements, with each one usually centered around one "capital". These subdivisions are still recognized by Nejdis today, as each province retains its own variation of the Nejdi dialect and Nejdi customs. The most prominent among these provinces are Al-'Aridh, which includes Riyadh and the historical Saudi capital of Diriyah; Al-Qassim, with its capital in Buraidah; Sudair, centered around Al Majma'ah; Al-Washm, centered around Shaqraa; and Jebel Shammar, with its capital, Ha'il. Under modern-day Saudi Arabia, however, Nejd is divided into three administrative regions: Ha'il, Al-Qassim, and Riyadh, comprising a combined area of 554,000 km2 (214,000 sq mi).
Riyadh is the largest city in Nejd, as well as the largest city in the country as a whole, with a population of more than 4,700,000 in 2009. Other cities include Buraidah (505,845 in 2005), Unaizah (138,351 in 2005) and Ar Rass (116,164 in 2005). Smaller towns and villages include Sudair, Al-Kharj, Dawadmi, 'Afif, Al-Zilfi, Al Majma'ah, Shaqraa, Tharmada'a, Dhurma, Al-Gway'iyyah, Al-Hareeq, Hotat Bani Tamim, Layla, As Sulayyil, and Wadi ad-Dawasir, the southernmost settlement in Nejd.
Social and ethnic groups
Prior to the formation of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the native population of Nejd consisted mainly of members of several Arabian tribes, who were either nomads (bedouins), or sedentary farmers and merchants. The rest of the population consisted mainly of Arabs who were, for various reasons, unaffiliated with any tribes, and who mostly lived in the towns and villages of Nejd working in various trades such as carpentry or as Sonnaa' (craftsmen). There was also a small segment of the population made up of African as well as some East and South Eastern European slaves or freedmen.
Most of the Nejdi tribes are of Adnani Arabic origin and had immigrated in ancient times from Tihamah and Hijaz to Najd. The most famous Nejdi tribes in the pre-Islamic era were Banu Hanifa, who occupied the area around modern-day Riyadh, `Anizzah, Banu Tamim, who occupied areas further north, the tribe of Banu Abs who were centered in Al-Qassim, the tribe of Tayy, centered around modern-day Ha'il, and the tribe of Banu 'Amir in southern Nejd. In the 15th through 18th centuries, there was considerable tribal influx from the west, increasing both the nomadic and settled population of the area and providing fertile soil for the Wahhabi movement. By the 20th century, many of the ancient tribes had morphed into new confederations or emigrated to other areas of the Middle East, and many tribes from other regions of the Peninsula had moved into Nejd. However, the largest proportion of native Nejdis today still belong to these ancient Nejdi tribes or to their newer incarnations. Many of the Nejedi tribes even in ancient times were not nomadic or bedouin but rather very well settled farmers and merchants. The royal family of Saudi Arabia, Al Saud, for example, trace their lineage to Banu Hanifa. On the eve of the formation of Saudi Arabia, the major nomadic tribes of Nejd included Dawasir, Mutayr (historically known as Banu Abs), Shammar (historically known as Tayy), 'Utaybah (historically known as Hawazen), Subay', Harb, the Suhool, and the Qahtanite. In addition to those tribes, many of the sedentary population belonged to Banu Tamim, `Anizzah (historically known as Bakr), Banu Hanifa, Banu Khalid, and Banu Zayd.
Most of the nomadic tribes are now settled either in cities such as Riyadh, or in special settlements, known as hijras, that were established in the early part of the 20th century as part of a country-wide policy undertaken by King Abdul-Aziz to put an end to nomadic life. Nomads still exist in the Kingdom, however, in very small numbers – a far cry from the days when they made up the majority of the people of the Arabian Peninsula.
Since the formation of modern Saudi Arabia, Nejd, and particularly Riyadh, has seen an influx of immigrants from all regions of the country and from virtually every social class. The native Nejdi population has also largely moved away from its native towns and villages to the capital, Riyadh. However, most of these villages still retain a small number of their native inhabitants. About a quarter of the population of Nejd, including about a third of the population of Riyadh, are non-Saudi expatriates, including both skilled professionals and unskilled laborers.
Slavery was abolished in Saudi Arabia by King Faisal in 1962. Some of those freed slaves chose to continue working for their former slave-owners, particularly those whose former owners were members of the royal family.
Unlike Hejaz and Tihamah, Najd is remote and stayed outside of the reign of important Islamic empires such as the Umayyads and the Ottoman Empire. This fact largely shaped its current dissimilarity to Hejaz.
The people of Nejd have spoken Arabic, in one form or another, for practically all of recorded history. As in other regions of the Peninsula, there is a divergence between the dialect of the nomadic Bedouins and the dialect of the sedentary townspeople. The variation, however, is far less pronounced in Nejd than it is elsewhere in the country, and the Nejdi sedentary dialect seems to be descended from the Bedouin dialect, just as most sedentary Nejdis are descendants of nomadic Bedouins themselves. The Nejdi dialect is seen by some to be the least foreign-influenced of all modern Arabic dialects, due to the isolated location and harsh climate of the Nejdi plateau, as well as the apparent absence of any substratum from a previous language. Indeed, not even the ancient South Arabian language appears to have been widely spoken in Nejd in ancient times, unlike southern Saudi Arabia, for example. Within Nejd itself, the different regions and towns have their own distinctive accents and sub-dialects. However, these have largely merged in recent times and have become heavily influenced by Arabic dialects from other regions and countries. This is particularly the case in Riyadh.
In popular culture
- Al Rashid
- Hadith of Najd
- History of Saudi Arabia
- Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz
- Nejd Expedition
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Najd.|
- جريدة الرياض – عين على القصيم
- Uwidah Metaireek Al-Juhany, Najd Before the Salafi Reform Movement: Social Political and Religious Conditions During the Three Centuries Preceding the Rise of the Saudi State (Garnet & Ithaca Press, 2002: ISBN 0-86372-401-9).
- Riedel, Bruce (2011). "Brezhnev in the Hejaz". The National Interest 115. Retrieved April 23, 2012.
- Prothero, G.W. (1920). Arabia. London: H.M. Stationary Office. p. 99.