The History of the Idrisid Emirate in Arabia

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Muhammad Ibn Ali al-Idrisi.

Founded and directed by the charismatic religious leader and commander of Fassi origin Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali al-Idrisi, from 1908 to 1930CE, the Idrisid emirate of Asir extended over Jīzān and Tihama in the eponymous province, currently Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

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Muhammad ibn Ali al-Idrisi comes from a noble family whose genealogy dates back to Idriss I, founder of the city of Fes and the first Moroccan sovereign. More precisely, he's the grandson of Ahmad bin Idris al-Fasi, a Sufi Islamic scholar from Fez, who studied at the prestigious al-Qarawiyyin University and worked in Morocco and then in the Hejaz region in Arabia.

He marked his era as the founder of the Idrisiyya a set of Sufi traditions and confraternities. Through his followers, he has exerted a diffuse influence throughout the Muslim world. He settled in the town of Zabīd in Yemen, which was a major historical center of Muslim scholarship and died in 1837 in the city of Sabya in what's today Saudi Arabia, which would go on to become the capital of the Idrisid Emirate under the reign of his grandson.

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At the beginning of the 20th century, the Middle East was almost entirely under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The situation evolved during the First World War through the confrontation between the Entente (United Kingdom, France, Russia) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire).

Before Muhammad al-Idrisi arrived in Asir, there seemed to be no unifying factor present among the population. Ruled by the Ottomans, the Asir region was in anarchy at the time, anti-Turkish feeling was brewing, triggering ethnic and sectarian conflicts between the Ottoman leaders and the local inhabitants.

The rise of the Idrisid state in Asir could be seen as a continuation of tribal rebellions against Ottoman rule.

Muhammad al-Idrisi then began spreading the teachings of his grandfather and encouraged local residents to maintain a more rigorous adherence to Islam. In 1908, al-Idrisi gained the status of Imam and many tribes in the Asir region recognized him as spiritual leader and then warlord. The following year, he began to put in place his first efforts to overthrow Ottoman power in the region.

Following this, the Idrisid troops succeeded in taking the Farasan Islands, surrounding cities as well as rallying several tribes. The emirate's rise in power led to some sort of pacification between the Ottomans and the Idrisids. In the Treaty of al-Hafair, al-Idrisi obtained the title of Kaymakam of Asir, which made him a de facto semi-independent leader of the region under Ottoman suzerainty.

With this said, following negotiations with Italy, Sayyid Muhammad's forces came into open conflict with the Ottoman forces in Abha. The Idrisids were defeated in 1911 by Hashemite forces under the orders of Hussein ibn Ali, sharif of Mecca, still loyal to the Ottomans.

The tide would change however when Muhammad concluded a secret military alliance with Britain, at war at the time with the Ottomans in 1915. Afterwards, Sharif Hussein changed sides, and joined the British to oppose the Ottomans. His military campaign was a success and at the end of the First World War, Sayyid Muhammad became governor of a sovereign state recognized internationally as the Idrisid Emirate of Asir.

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End of the Emirate

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Arabian Peninsula was gripped by internal rivalries and it was clear that England was no longer in a position to honor its commitments, which will constitute a factor in the decline of the emirate.

Moreover, the sovereignty of the emirate of Asir was threatened by the contemplation of Hussein bin Ali, king of Hejaz and by Yemen led by Imam Yahya. The death of Muhammad ibn Ali Al-Idrisi will cause a family quarrel for the throne. Once the new emir al-Hassan came to power, the leaders of Hejaz and Yemen laid claim to Idrisid possessions.

In June 1934, the Saudis and the Yemenis signed a treaty of friendship and brotherhood between Saudi Arabia and Yemen providing for the establishment of peaceful and diplomatic relations between the two countries. The treaty also provided for the demarcation of the borders between the two countries, which was completed in 1936, and thus the lands of the Emirate of Idriss were divided causing its dissolution.

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Références :

The Idrisi State in Asir: Politics, Religion and Prestige in Arabia | Anne K. Bang | 1997

The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Second Edition) | Headley | 1954-2005