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Arabia(ərā`bēə), peninsula (1991 est. pop. 35,000,000), c.1,000,000 sq mi (2,590,000 sq km), SW Asia. It is bordered on the W by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, on the S by the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, on the E by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, and on the N by Iraq and Jordan. Politically, Arabia consists of Saudi Arabia (the largest and most populous state), Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Except for the inland cities of Riyadh and Hail, in Saudi Arabia, most of Arabia's large urban centers are on or near the coast. Principal cities include Jidda, Mecca, and Medina (Saudi Arabia); Sana, Aden, and Mukalla (Yemen); Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates); Muscat (Oman); Al Manamah (Bahrain); and Kuwait City (Kuwait).
Geography and Climate
Arabia is mainly a great plateau of ancient crystalline rock, largely covered with limestone and sandstone. It rises steeply from the narrow Red Sea coastal plain, achieving its greatest height (c.12,000 ft/3,700 m) in SW Arabia, and slopes gently E to the Persian Gulf; the Oman Mts., SE Arabia, rise to c.10,000 ft (3,000 m). The coastal mountains catch what little moisture is carried by the dry winds that cross Arabia, making the interior so arid (4 in./10 cm annual precipitation) that there is not a single perennial stream; thus, large areas lack water. The basin-shaped interior consists of alternating steppe and desert landscape; the Nafud desert in the north is connected with the great Rub al-Khali in the south (one of the world's largest sand deserts) by the Dahna, a narrow sand corridor.
Extensive and varied agriculture (coffee, grains, fruits) exists only in SW Arabia, particularly in Yemen, where high coastal mountains intercept the moist southwest monsoon winds during the summer. The northeast coast of Oman has a climate similar to that of Yemen, but in most of Arabia rainfall occurs only in winter. The coastal lands, however, are much more humid than the interior; fog and dew are common. Desalination plants supply much of the population's drinking needs. Osmosis distillation processes take brackish underground water and make it useful for agriculture and industry.
People and Economy
The majority of the Arabian population is sedentary, concentrated around oases, notably in the Nejd (central Arabia) and the Hejaz (along the northeast coast of the Red Sea). Agriculture is the main occupation, with dates, grains, and fruits the chief crops; pastoral nomads raise goats, cattle, sheep, and poultry. Until the mid-20th cent., when oil was discovered in E Arabia, the peninsula's main exports were hides, wool, coffee, spices, camels, and the famed, highly bred Arabian horses; in W Arabia pearls were exported. With the exception of Aden, Arabia did not have a good port until after World War II, when modern port facilities were constructed, especially along the Persian Gulf. Arabia has the largest oil reserves in the world, in addition to great amounts of natural gas. Saudi Arabia is the world's leading exporter of oil. Until the early 1970s, oil firms from the United States, Britain, and to a lesser extent Japan, had a monopoly on drilling concessions. However, the Arabian nations acquired much greater control over oil exploration, production, and price controls after 1970. Modern technology and the huge wealth generated by oil resources have profoundly altered traditional life in Arabia. Flourishing private enterprise, new transportation links, rapidly growing cities, a large foreign labor presence, and rising education and living standards characterize much of the peninsula.
Archaeological evidence points to ancient trade ties between Yemen and the NE African coast. However, little is definitely known of Arabian history in the period preceding the oldest inscriptions discovered—those dating from c.1000 B.C. In those times much of SW Arabia was divided among the domains of Ma'in, ShebaSheba,
biblical name of a region, called in Arabic Saba, of S Arabia, including present-day Yemen and the Hadhramaut. Its inhabitants were called Sabaeans or Sabeans. According to some passages in Genesis and First Chronicles, Sheba, a grandson of Noah's grandson Joktan, was the
..... Click the link for more information. , and Himyar. Political unity in Sheba seems to have been hastened by Darius's conquest of N Arabia.
No ancient power ever attempted the complete conquest of Arabia because of the formidable obstacles of crossing the deserts. Rome invaded (24 B.C.) N Arabia but soon withdrew, although for a long period it held N Hejaz. Ethiopia, during its great expansion under the Aksumite kings (see AksumAksum
, town (1994 pop. 27,148), Tigray region, N Ethiopia. Aksum was the capital of an empire (c.1st–8th cent. A.D.) that controlled much of what is now N Ethiopia. In the 4th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. ), twice (A.D. 300–378 and 525–70) held Yemen and the HadhramautHadhramaut
, region, S Arabia, on the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, occupying the southeastern part of Yemen. Historically, the name refers to the former Hadhramaut states, a collective term for the Quaiti and Kathiri sultanates.
..... Click the link for more information. . In 570 the Sassanids of Persia drove out the Ethiopians and established a short-lived hegemony over the peninsula.
Arabia was briefly unified after the founding of IslamIslam
, [Arab.,=submission to God], world religion founded by the Prophet Muhammad. Founded in the 7th cent., Islam is the youngest of the three monotheistic world religions (with Judaism and Christianity). An adherent to Islam is a Muslim [Arab.,=one who submits].
..... Click the link for more information. by MuhammadMuhammad
[Arab.,=praised], 570?–632, the name of the Prophet of Islam, one of the great figures of history, b. Mecca. Early Life
Muhammad was the son of Abdallah ibn Abd al-Muttalib and his wife Amina, both of the Hashim clan of the dominant Kuraish (Quraysh)
..... Click the link for more information. , the prophet of Mecca, in the 7th cent. His dynamic faith, furthered by his successors, reconciled the warring Arab tribes and soon sent them out on a career of conquest. They overran N Africa and SW Asia and gained control of Spain and S France until they were stopped in the west by the Frankish ruler Charles MartelCharles Martel
[O.Fr.,=Charles the Hammer], 688?–741, Frankish ruler, illegitimate son of Pepin of Heristal and grandfather of Charlemagne. After the death of his father (714) he seized power in Austrasia from Pepin's widow, who was ruling as regent for her grandsons, and
..... Click the link for more information. in 732 and in the east by the Byzantine Empire c.750. However, the tremendous territorial expansion of Islam diminished its exclusively Arab character, and the need for a more centralized administrative center led to the transfer of the seat of the caliphatecaliphate
, the rulership of Islam; caliph , the spiritual head and temporal ruler of the Islamic state. In principle, Islam is theocratic: when Muhammad died, a caliph [Arab.,=successor] was chosen to rule in his place.
..... Click the link for more information. from Medina to Damascus. Independent emirates arose in Yemen, Oman, and elsewhere. In the 10th cent. a semblance of unity was imposed by the KarmathiansKarmathians
, a Muslim sect of the 9th and 10th cent., similar to the Assassin sect. They were part of a movement for social reform that spread widely through Islam from the 9th to the 12th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. , a Muslim sect, but in the 11th cent. anarchic conditions again prevailed.
After the discovery of the route to India around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498, European powers were attracted to Arabia as a site for trading bases. The Portuguese seized Oman in 1508 but were driven out in 1659 by the Ottoman Empire, which attempted, but never with complete success, to control all Arabia. Great Britain established a physical presence in Arabia in 1799 by occupying Perim Island in the Bab al-Mandeb; and in 1839 the Ottoman Empire lost Aden to the British. In 1853 Britain and the E Arabian sheikhs signed the Perpetual Maritime Truce, by which the Arabs agreed not to harass British shipping in the Arabian Sea and recognized Britain as the dominant foreign power in the Persian Gulf. The truce confirmed the temporary truces of 1820 and 1835; the sheikhdoms were thus called the Trucial States.
Arab nationalist opposition to the Ottoman Turks was aroused in the mid-19th cent. by a rekindling of the WahhabiWahhabi
, reform movement in Islam, originating in Arabia; adherents of the movement usually refer to themselves as Muwahhidun [unitarians]. It was founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab (c.
..... Click the link for more information. , a reform movement within Islam; it waned toward the end of the century. Just before World War I, Ibn SaudIbn Saud
(Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud) , c.1880–1953, founder of Saudi Arabia and its first king. His family, with its regular seat at Riyadh in the Nejd, were the traditional leaders of the ultraorthodox Wahhabi movement in Islam.
..... Click the link for more information. revived Wahhabi ideology, and during the war he signed a military pact with Britain against the Turks. His strongest rival, Husayn ibn AliHusayn ibn Ali
, 1856–1931, Arab political and religious leader. In 1908 he succeeded as grand sherif of Mecca and thus became ruler of the Hejaz under the Ottoman Empire.
..... Click the link for more information. of the influential Hashemite family, led a successful revolt against the Turks in the Hejaz and set up an independent state there. After the war, however, the Saud family prevailed in a violent struggle against Husayn and other Arab families, and Ibn Saud was proclaimed king of the Hejaz in 1926. In 1932 the Hejaz and outlying areas were incorporated officially into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Hashemites were rewarded for their war efforts on behalf of the Allies by being installed in Transjordan and Iraq. Between the world wars, Britain was the dominant foreign power in Arabia, holding protectorates over the Arab sheikhdoms. The post–World War II era witnessed a significant decline of Britain's presence, culminating in the withdrawal of British military forces E of Suez in the late 1960s.
Both the United States and the USSR sought to fill the vacuum created by Britain's withdrawal from the oil-rich, strategically important peninsula. By the early 1970s, however, the Arab nations were asserting their independence with growing success, primarily due to the enormous oil revenues brought to many of the Arabian countries. The Arab oil boycott in 1973, marked by international oil price increases (particularly notable in the United States), exemplified growing Arabian economic power. By the mid-1980s, Saudi Arabia had acquired complete control of the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO), which had first discovered oil there in the 1930s and was previously owned by American firms. The economic power of the Arabian countries has continued to grow as oil exports have increased. These countries account for some of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Although they were only peripherally involved in the Arab-Israeli WarsArab-Israeli Wars,
conflicts in 1948–49, 1956, 1967, 1973–74, and 1982 between Israel and the Arab states. Tensions between Israel and the Arabs have been complicated and heightened by the political, strategic, and economic interests in the area of the great powers.
..... Click the link for more information. , Arabian oil interests were dangerously threatened as a result of the Iran-Iraq WarIran-Iraq War,
1980–88, protracted military conflict between Iran and Iraq. It officially began on Sept. 22, 1980, with an Iraqi land and air invasion of western Iran, although Iraqi spokespersons maintained that Iran had been engaging in artillery attacks on Iraqi towns
..... Click the link for more information. (1980–88). The area became directly involved militarily and territorially after Iraq invaded Kuwait in Aug., 1990. (see KuwaitKuwait
, officially State of Kuwait, constitutional emirate (2005 est. pop. 2,336,000), 6,177 sq mi (16,000 sq km), NE Arabian peninsula, at the head of the Persian Gulf. Kuwait is bounded by Saudi Arabia on the south and by Iraq on the north and west.
..... Click the link for more information. and Persian Gulf WarPersian Gulf Wars,
two conflicts involving Iraq and U.S.-led coalitions in the late 20th and early 21st cent.
The First Persian Gulf War, also known as the Gulf War, Jan.–Feb.
..... Click the link for more information. ).
See T. E. Lawrence, Revolt in the Desert (1927); P. K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (10th ed. 1970); F. Stark, The Southern Gates of Arabia (1972); K. S. Salibi, History of Arabia (1980); S. M. Zwemer, Arabia: The Cradle of Islam (1980); C. Forster, The Historical Geography of Arabia (1985); I. R. Netton, Arabia and the Gulf: From Traditional Society to Modern States (1986).
Dreams have many meanings in Arabic culture. According to some, sleep is a preoccupation of the soul, which detaches itself from external things and experiences events taking place in its interior. During sleep the interior self “absorbs” the five senses, which then cease to perceive and turn back to the mind. According to other views, the soul can perceive the form of things by the senses and by thought, independently of their objective reality. Thought does not fall asleep when the faculty of perceiving sleeps, and during the night images continue to exist as if they could be sensed. Their form is outlined in the soul, and they are presented to the mind of the dreamer in the same way as in the waking state.
It is believed that the soul, when it is freed from the physical limits of the body, can float at ease over everything that it desires to possess, whereas in the waking state it cannot. When dreamers awaken, they still preserve the memory of these fantastic pictures. If the dreamer has a blemished soul, the dreamer is continually deluded by dreams, whereas the dreamer is undeceived when the soul is pure.
Traditional Arab belief also holds that dreams are generated by the fundamental humors of the human body, and that individuals dream according to their temperaments. Certain Arabs completely separate the faculty of perception from the visible body and believe that individuals, when asleep, can leave their bodies and contemplate the world with a lucidity proportional to their purity, a notion supported by various verses of the Qur’an.