Islamic Studies Hijaz
William Ochsenwald
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0085


The Hijaz (Hejaz, Hedjaz), the holy land of Islam, is a geographical region that comprises most of the western part of modern-day Saudi Arabia and is centered on the two holiest Muslim cities—Mecca (also Makka, Makkah) and Madina (Medina, al-Madinah). Mecca is where the Prophet Muhammad was born and raised and is the location of the Ka’ba, which is also associated with the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), while Madina is the location of the first Muslim state and the burial site of Muhammad. God’s revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, the origins of Islam as a faith, and many of the institutions and customs associated with Islam, such as the pilgrimage to Mecca, are all associated historically with the Hijaz and its two holy cities. As a result, the Hijaz has been highly influential throughout the Muslim world, particularly in the 7th century and then again much later, following the development of Saudi Arabia’s vast oil resources in the 20th century. Inside western Arabia, Islam has played a predominant role in politics, society, and the economy. Briefly in the early 19th century and then from the 1920s onward, the Hijaz has been ruled by the Saudi royal family and its allies the Wahhabi ulama (religious scholars). Scholarship on the Hijaz has been influenced by the religious sensitivity and controversial nature of certain topics; Muslim and non-Muslim authors have often differed sharply in approaches and conclusions. Difficulty in gaining access to sources has limited scholarly research, while many fine Arabic-language works could not be consulted by readers who did not know Arabic. Unfortunately, the few studies of this region based on the social sciences are generally not very sophisticated from a methodological standpoint. The strongest research has been historical in nature, though the widespread interest in women’s history with regard to other Muslim regions has only very recently started to develop for the Hijaz.

General Overviews

Most general overviews of Islam and the Hijaz end with the Saudi conquest in the 1920s, probably because of perceived political sensitivity in discussing more recent times. Also, overviews tend to deal with studies of just one of the three major cities (Mecca, Madina, and Jidda), rather than the whole geographical area. An exception to this general rule is Peters 1994, which, despite its title, does deal with the whole region, but only to the 1920s. For Mecca, political history is covered by De Gaury 1951, though this book did not devote much space to religion; a better introduction is Watt, et al. 1991. Al-Sibaʿi 1999 is the standard Arabic-language work on the history of Mecca, including religion. For a book-length treatment of Madina, Hafiz 1972–1973 is adequate, though the shorter introduction provided in Watt and Winder 1986 is more critical and covers most of the Saudi period since the 1920s. Rutter 1928 can be used both for Mecca and Madina. For the early Islamic period, the best source for the advanced reader is al-Tabari 1985–1999. For a general overview of Saudi Arabia see al-Rasheed 2010, cited under the Saudi Hijaz to 1953, while for Wahhabi Islam the best beginning point is Commins 2006, an excellent synthesis; the more advanced reader should then consult the scholarly work of Natana J. DeLong-Bas cited in the Oxford Bibliographies article “Wahhabism.”

  • Commins, David. The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006.

    Centers on Wahhabism from the 18th century to the early 21st century, but also discusses challenges to it.

  • De Gaury, Gerald. Rulers of Mecca. London: George G. Harrap, 1951.

    Traces the political history of the Hashimite family from the founding of Mecca to 1925, when the sharifs lost power to the Saudis. Although long out of print, English-language readers researching the subject of the relationship between religion and politics for this extensive time period will find much of interest in De Gaury’s somewhat dry overview.

  • Hafiz, ʿAbd al-Salam Hashim. Al-Madinah al-Munawwarah fi al-Ta’rikh. Cairo: Dar al-Turath, 1972–1973.

    The best beginning point for Arabic-language readers seeking an overview of the history of the city of Madina.

  • Peters, F. E. Mecca: A Literary History of the Muslim Holy Land. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

    In this and numerous other works the author has laced together excerpts from original sources with his own commentary to provide the reader with a thorough picture of events. This volume covers not just Mecca but also Madina and the Hijaz from the pre-Islamic period to 1925, when the Hashimites were evicted from the Hijaz by Saudi armies.

  • Rutter, Eldon. The Holy Cities of Arabia. 2 vols. London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1928.

    An extensive report on the cities of Mecca and Madina as of the 1920s—their conditions, the impact of the pilgrimage, and the role of religion in society.

  • al-Sibaʿi, Ahmad bin Muhammad. Ta’rikh Makkah: Dirasat fi al-Siyasah wa al-ʿIlm wa al-Ijtimaʿ wa al-ʿUmran. 2 vols. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Committee for the Celebration of the 100 Years Anniversary of the Foundation of the Kingdom, 1999.

    Ends with the fall of Jidda to the Saudis in the 1920s. This often-cited work’s fourth edition was edited by ʿAtiq bin Ghayth al-Biladi, and this reprint was also examined by a committee of scholars. Al-Sibaʿi (b. 1905–d. 1983 or 1984) was a Hijazi journalist and historian.

  • al-Tabari, Muhammad ibn Jarir. The History of al-Tabari. Vols. 1–39. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985–1999.

    The famous Muslim historian al-Tabari (b. 838–d. 923) wrote a monumental history in Arabic that served as a key source for subsequent historians. Translated into English by many different scholars, this chronicle is best used by already-knowledgeable readers. There is much discussion of the Hijaz, including Volumes 6 and 7 on the Prophet Muhammad and Volumes 8 and 9 on the early Muslim state.

  • Watt, W. M., A. J. Wensinck, C. E. Bosworth, and R. B. Winder. “Makka.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 6. Rev. ed. Edited by C. E. Bosworth, 144–180. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1991.

    This is the best English-language introduction to the history of the city of Mecca for those seeking detailed analysis. The article includes Watt’s discussion of pre-Islam and early Islam, Wensinck and Bosworth’s examination of the Abbasid era to modern times, and Winder’s account of the modern city.

  • Watt, W. M., and R. B. Winder. “al-Madina.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 5. Rev. ed. Edited by C. E. Bosworth, 994–1007. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1986.

    A very detailed discussion of the history of Madina to 1926 was written by W. M. Watt, while R. B. Winder dealt with the modern history of the city. The article’s bibliographical citations are extremely useful.

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