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إخوان من أطاع الله
Flag of Ikhwan.svg
Flag of the Ikhwan
TypeLand warfare
ColorsGreen and White
LeaderFaisal al-Duwaish
LeaderSultan bin Bajad al-Otaybi
LeaderDhaydan bin Hithlain

The Ikhwan (Arabic: الإخوان, romanizedal-ʾIkhwān‎, the Brethren), commonly known as Ikhwan man ata'a Allah (Arabic: إخوان من أطاع الله)‎, Brethren of the Power of God),[a] was a religious militia made up of traditionally nomadic tribesmen which formed a significant military force of the ruler Ibn Saud and played an important role in establishing him as ruler of most of the Arabian Peninsula in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.[3]

The Ikhwan first appeared around 1902. They were the product of clergy who aimed to break up the Bedouin tribes and settle them around the wells and oases of the sedentary Arab populations, mainly those of the Najd, on the grounds that nomadic life was incompatible with the strict conformity of their interpretation of Islam. The newly Islamicized Bedouin would be converted from nomad raiders to soldiers for Islam. The cleric/teachers of the Ikhwan were dedicated to their idea of the purification and the unification of Islam, and some of the newly converted Ikhwan rebelled against their emir Ibn Saud, accusing him of religious laxity. The conquest of the Hejaz in 1924 brought all of the current Saudi state under Ibn Saud's control. The monarch then found himself in conflict with elements of the Ikhwan. He crushed their power at the Battle of Sabilla in 1929,[4] following which the militia was reorganised into the Saudi Arabian National Guard.[5]


Hand-painted image in January 1930 of the Sheikh of the Mutair tribe and one of the most prominent leaders of the Brotherhood Faisal bin Sultan Al-Duwish
One of the leaders of the Ikhwan, Sultan bin Bajad al-Otaibi

According to scholar David Commins, around 1913, the same time that Ibn Saud regained al-Hasa, there emerged in obscure circumstances a zealous movement known as the Ikhwan (Brethren). Salafi ulama went out to domesticate nomadic tribesmen, to convert them from idolatry to Islam and to make them soldiers for Saudi expansion. The Ikhwan became zealous religious warriors united and motivated by idealism more than allegiance to Ibn Saud. The result was a rebellion by some of the Ikhwan against their creator, who crushed them and in so doing reasserted dynastic power over the religious mission.[6]

The arid, remote region of Najd had been ruled by the House of Saud and religiously dominated by the Islamic revival movement known as Wahhabism (with some exceptions) since the mid-18th century. Wahhabism was a movement of townspeople, and traditionally thought of the beduin nomadic herders as "bearers of religious ignorance, jahiliyyah, and thus as raw material for conversion".[7] To remedy this situation, the beduin were gathered in agricultural settlements known as hijra, where they were to be taught farming, crafts or trades and how to be "proper Muslims".[8] There were 52 hujar (plural of hijra) by 1920 and 120 by 1929.[9] Ikhwan were known for wearing white turbans rather than the traditional Arab Kufiya (roped headcloth), and for covering their faces when they encountered Europeans or Arabs from outside Saudi Arabia.[10]

An Ikhwan man wearing a keffiyeh or head covering

The pacification of the tribesmen was not entirely a success, and the former nomads continued their raids, which now had religious sanction and were bloodier than before. Unlike nomadic raiders, the Ikhwan earned "notoriety for routinely killing male captives" and for sometimes putting "children and women to death".[11] From 1914 to 1926 Ibn Saud and Wahhabi religious leadership allied with him urged the Ikhwan to not attack or harass other nomads and townspeople of the Najd.[12] From 1926 and 1930, the conflict was more serious, and effectively a rebellion and attempt to overthrow Ibn Saud by a minority of the Ikhwan leaders.[12] With the conquest of the Hejaz in 1925, Ibn Saud had completed his territorial expansion and negotiated border agreements with his neighbors, the British protectorates of Transjordan, Iraq and Kuwait. Some Ikhwan leaders wanted to continue the expansion of the Wahhabi realm into these states, and launched raids into them. This left Ibn Saud responsible for military attacks originating in his country and facing British military power if he did not stop them.[12]

Differences with Ibn Saud[edit]

In general the Ikhwan wished Ibn Saud to pursue strict Wahhabi policies, while Ibn Saud sought more flexibility to adapt "policy to local circumstances" and maintain political stability, especially in newly conquered lands that had few wahhabi believers. Wahhabis supported forced conversion of Shia in al-Hasa, while Ibn Saud was willing to tolerate their practices.[13] After conquest of the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina—which had been part of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries and developed a pluralistic religious culture—Ibn Saud sought to "reassured the Muslim world that a new Saudi regime would not disrupt the pilgrimage",[14] while the Ikhwan "pressed for strict adherence to norms" such as forbidding smoking tobacco and worshiping at shrines.[15]

Two men from Ikhwan in al-Hasa Photographed by Paul Harrison

In 1926 meeting of Ikhwan leaders at al-Artawiya, found Ibn Saud at fault for "not upholding the sharp separation of belief and infidelity". Among his misdeeds were allowing two of his sons to travel to "idolatrous lands" (Faisal to England and Saud to Egypt); allowing (what they believed to be) idolatrous nomads from Iraq and Transjordan to pasture their animals in "the abode of Islam"; leniency towards Shiites; the introduction of modern inventions (car, telephone and telegraph); and (what they considered) illegal taxation of nomadic tribes.[16] Ibn Saud attempted to mollify the Ikhwan by submitting their accusations to the religious scholars ('ulama'), who agreed on the need for more strict policies towards non-Wahhabi subjects, but also affirmed that only the ruler (Ibn Saud) had the right to declare jihad.[17]

Weaponry and combat style[edit]

Soldiers from akhwan min taʽa Allah Army on Camels carrying the Flags of the Third Saudi State, and Flag of Saud dynasty, Flag and the akhwan Army.
Old rifle used by Ikhwan
A drawing of a typical Ikhwan fighter
Sultan bin Bijad's personal sword

The Ikhwan, being irregular tribesmen, relied mainly on traditional weapons such as lances and swords and sometimes old fashioned firearms. Usually, they attacked in the forms of raids which is a style Bedouins had always used in the deserts of Arabia. Those raiders travelled mainly on camels and some horses. Typically, every enemy male captured was killed by cutting his throat.[18]

Raids on Transjordan[edit]

Two notable raids on Emirate of Transjordan, a British protectorate, occurred in 1922 and 1924. In August 1922, around 1,500 Ikhwan camel mounted fighters led by Eqab bin Mohaya,[citation needed] attacked Transjordan. According to one account they retreated before they reached their objective—the capital Amman.[19] According to another account, they massacred the inhabitants of two small villages before being decimated by British armoured cars and planes.[20]

In August 1924, another larger Ikhwan force, numbering around 4,500 raiders,[19] travelled 1,600 kilometres from Najd to come within 15 kilometres of Amman before being spotted and attacked by British RAF aircraft. The Ikhwan army reportedly suffered 500 dead.[19] Without the help of the RAF, Amman would most likely have been captured by the Ikhwan.[19]

Revolt and defeat[edit]

Ikhwan men taa Allah flag

By 1927, the Saudi forces had overrun nearly all of the central Arabian Peninsula. The few areas not under Saudi control had treaties with Britain. Ibn Saud was smart enough to realize that it would be folly to provoke London and forbade further raiding. This edict did not sit well with the Ikhwan, who believed that all non-Wahabbis were infidels.

In 1927 tribesmen of the Mutayr and Ajman rebelled against the ulama's judgment and the authority of Ibn Saud and engaged in cross-border raids into parts of Trans-Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait.[21] The destruction of an Iraqi police post provoked an international incident by violating the Saudi–Iraqi neutral zone between Iraq and Arabia established by Great Britain and Ibn Sa'ud (1927–28). The British bombed Najd in retaliation.[22] A congress convened by Ibn Saud in October 1928 deposed Ibn Humayd ad-Dawish, and Ibn Hithlayn, the leaders of the revolt.[22] The Ikhwanis also raided Kuwait in January 1928.

With the Ikhwan leadership defiant, Ibn Saud took to the field to lead his army, which was now supported by four British aircraft (flown by British pilots) and a fleet of 200 military vehicles that symbolized the modernization that the Ikhwan abhorred.[23] After suffering a major defeat at the Battle of Sabilla (30 March 1929), the main body of Ikhwan surrendered to British forces on the Saudi-Kuwaiti frontier in January 1930.

Ibn Saud completed the military defeat of the Ikhwan rebels "with a deft mix of punishment and rehabilitation" to avoid antagonizing the bulk of Ikhwan who had agreed with many of the rebels' complaints but remained on the sidelines. Rebel leaders Duwish and Ibn Bujad "died in captivity in Riyadh." Their tribal followers were punished with the confiscation of "the lion's share of their camels and horses."[24] The remnants of the irregular Ikhwanis formed units in Ibn Saud's new military institution, initially known as the White Army (from the name of their white thawb, robe), later called the National Guard.[5]

1979 Grand Mosque seizure[edit]

Insurgents who participated in the 1979 Grand Mosque seizure in Mecca referred to themselves as the 'al-Ikhwan', thus in their eyes justifying the seizure as a means to liberate the Kingdom from what they deemed as 'Western apostasy'.[25] They were led by Juhayman al-Otaybi, an echo of his father's charge in 1921 against the former Saudi king. The seizure and its aftermath led to the increased power and influence of conservative clerics over Saudi political, cultural and social life, putting an abrupt end to the comparatively moderate outlook (at the time) of the kingdom towards modernization and Westernization.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Also written as Akhwan[1] and Akhwan min ta'a Allah (Najdi Arabic: اخوان من طاع الله).[2]


  1. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Akhwan Movement" . Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company.
  2. ^ "Remembering the siege of Makkah". Arab News. 19 November 2019.
  3. ^ Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 81. The significance of Ikhwan military power for the success of Ibn Saud's conquests is another disputed point.
  4. ^ See Wilfred Thesiger's book Arabian Sands, Penguin, 1991, pps 248–249
  5. ^ a b Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 92. Rank and file Ikhwan fighters formed units in a new military institution, initially the White Army, eventually the National Guard ...
  6. ^ Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 80.
  7. ^ Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 80. ulama had always viewed the nomads as bearers of religious ignorance, jahiliyya and thus as raw material for conversion to Islam. In this respect, the notion that developed from and somehow reflected a tribal nomadic setting is utterly wrong.
  8. ^ Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 81.
  9. ^ Vassiliev, History of Saudi Arabia, p.225
  10. ^ Gold, Dore, Hatred's Kingdom, (Regnery Publishing, 2003), p.45
  11. ^ Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 85. But in contrast to the conventions of nomadic combat, where warriors did their utmost to minimize killing and severe injury and refrained from attacking non-combatants, the Ikhwan became noted for ferocity in battle, Indeed, they earned notoriety for routinely killing male captives and they sometimes put children and women to death in spite of reprimands from their rulers.
  12. ^ a b c Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 85. From 1914 to 1926, Ibn Saud and leadership exhorted the Ikhwan to moderate their attitude toward other Najdis living under Saudi rule. Second, between 1926 and 1930, a handful of Ikhwan leaders rebelled against and attempted to overthrow Ibn Saud.
  13. ^ Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 76. ... The Ikwan insisted that in domestic affairs their religious views should prevail, including the forced conversion of al-Hasa's Shiites. To implement that decision, Shiite religious leaders gathered before the qadi and vowed to cease observance of their religious holidays, to shut down their special places of worship and to stop pilgrimages to holy sites in Iraq.... ulama ordered the demolition of several Shiite mosques and took over teaching and preaching duties at the remaining mosques in order to convert the population. ... some Shiites emigrated to Bahrain and Iraq. ... The intensive phase of coercion lasted about one year. When ibn Saud decided to curb the Ikhwan, he permitted the Shiites to drive away preachers. Thereafter, the Saudi ruler tolerated private Shiite religious ceremonies and permitted the Shiite religious establishment to serve their following without interference.
  14. ^ Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 76. With respect to religious policy, Ibn Saud aimed to absorb the Holy Cities in a way that reassured the Muslim world that a new regime would not disrupt the pilgrimage ... At the same time, he had to satisfy his constituency that idolatry would be stamped out. The region had been part of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries and consequently its religious culture was pluralistic, with the four Sunni legal schools, various Sufi orders and a tiny Shiite community around Medina. Therefore, Ibn Saud had to strike a balance between accommodating customary arrangements and upholding doctrine.
  15. ^ Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 77. The Ikhwan pressed for strict adherence to norms, but Ibn Saud was willing to take a more relaxed approach to matters like smoking tobacco and worship at shrines.
  16. ^ Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 88. ... The trigger for the summits was a 1926 meeting of Ikhwan leaders at al-Artawiya, where they faulted Ibn Saud for not upholding the sharp separation of belief and infidelity. They noted that two of his sons traveled to idolatrous lands (Faysal to England; Saud to Egypt) and that idolatrous Iraqi and Transjordanian nomads were permitted to pasture their animals in the abode of Islam. They also blamed him for his lenience toward Shiites and the introduction of modern inventions (car, telephone and telegraph). Finally, they objected to what they considered illegal taxation of nomadic tribes.
  17. ^ Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 88. To resolve the confrontation, Ibn Saud invited the Ikhwan leaders to Riyadh for a conference with ulama in January 1927, which ended with a religious decree confirming the validity of several Ikhwan grievances. The decree ordered the imposition of much stricter regime on Shiites, banning Iraqi Shiites from entering Najd instituting mandatory instruction in doctrine for al-Hasa's Shiites. Recently conquered lands in Hijaz were also to receive the blessings of education. ... taxes on the nomads were illegal. But ... they upheld his right as the sovereign to collect these taxes and denied the Ikhwan any right to disobey. And crucially the ulama affirmed that only the ruler could declare a jihad. ... the religious leaders did not rule on the new inventions, [but] Ibn Saud banned the telegraph for the time being.
  18. ^ David Howarth, The Desert King -- The Life of Ibn Saud, Collins, 1956
  19. ^ a b c d Noel Joseph Guckian. British Relations with Trans-Jordan, 1920-1930. University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. Ph.D Thesis: pp.217–218. May 1985.
  20. ^ Peter W. Wilson, Douglas Graham. Saudi Arabia: the coming storm . M.E.Sharpe, 1994: p.143
  21. ^ Harold, Dickson. [Kuwait and her Neighbors], "George Allen & Unwin Ltd", 1956. pg 300-302
  22. ^ a b The First Ikhwan Rebellion 1927-1928 Archived 2012-06-03 at the Wayback Machine| Globe University| Wars of the World
  23. ^ Second Ikhwan Rebellion 1929-1930 Archived 2012-06-03 at the Wayback Machine| Globe University| Wars of the World
  24. ^ Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. pp. 91–2. Ibn Saud sealed the military defeat of the Ikhwan rebels with a deft mix of punishment and rehabilitation to complete the job of rendering the larger body of Ikhwan -- who did not join the rebellion but sullenly looked on -- docile in the political field. Duwish and Ibn Bujad died in captivity in Riyadh while their tribal followers suffered the confiscation of the lion's share of their camels and horses.
  25. ^ Lacey 2009, p. 13.
  26. ^ Ramtin Arablouei and Rund Abedelfatah (14 November 2019). "The Siege of Mecca". Throughline (Podcast). NPR. Retrieved 25 August 2020.