In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Hijaz and International Law

International Law The Hijaz and International Law
Malik Dahlan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0217


The Hashemite Kingdom of Hijaz attracted little notice in the Western international legal history during its brief lifetime, and has not been much covered in the historical literature since. However, the Hijazi state is critical for international law because it stands at the intersection of Arab self-determination and Islamic statehood. Its birth in 1916 was, understandably perhaps, overshadowed by the military significance of the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans, and the role played in it by Colonel T.E. Lawrence. Its demise, formally declared in 1932 but inevitable after the Saudi invasion of 1924–1925, was met by silence from the members of the League of Nations despite the fact The Hijaz was one of its founding members. This neglect of the Hijazi state is unfortunate for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was the earliest attempt at Arab statehood in modern international legal history, the first ethnocentric expression of Arab self-determination to be recognized by the European powers after the Great War and, as home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, it had significance for Islamic governance that is disproportionate to its economic or geopolitical value. Secondly, it presents a test for one of the most fiercely contested areas of international law: how to understand and apply national self-determination to the formation and recognition of states. In this case, the claim for self-determination is bound up with the ethnocentric awakening of Arabs, the struggle over the political and institutional forms that a collectivity should take, and what balance could be struck between Western, Westphalian views of the state and Islamic governance traditions and principles. Thirdly, it provided an early example of how small states would fare in the new international order, and the extent to which they could expect great powers to abide by international law, as it emerged from the Great War. As it turned out, Sharif Hussein’s refusal to acquiesce in the League of Nations’ mandate system, itself based on the Sykes–Picot agreement between Britain and France, coupled with his support for Arab aspirations to control Jerusalem, made the fledgling state vulnerable to imperial Realpolitik. Fourthly, the fall of The Hijaz was bound up with the fall of the Caliphate in 1924, with repercussions that are still being felt. Finally, the historical events, which did much to determine the map of the Middle East today, present a telling example of how international law functions in regions where great powers are actively competing for influence and control. This bibliography collects readings that cast light on how ideas of the nation and the state have been understood and applied, with particular reference to the Islamic collectivity, the Arabs, and The Hijaz. It is divided into two general areas. The first looks at the national aspects of self-determination and the second looks at the state as understood by international law and by Islamic jurisprudence, again with special reference to The Hijaz.

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