The death of King Abdulaziz

Hafiz Wahba says: "Every instant of death is fore-ordained and for every beginning there is an end. The value of every person lies in the amount of good he does. In the month of Rabee' Al-Awwal 1373 H (1953 AD), King 'Abdul 'Aziz Ibn 'Abdul Rahman Al-Faisal Al-Saud parted with this world for the eternal abode, may Allah rest his soul in peace. With his loss, we lost a great man, who had extended the borders of his vast Kingdom; built its high, imposing edifice brick by brick, after bitter struggle, bloody wars and political strife. 'Abdul' Aziz has died as every human being does, but his everlasting achievements will verily remain alive in the pages of history."

"Verily man is a mere tale once gone, so, being then a good tale for he who recalls."

King 'Abdulaziz fulfilled his obligations in life to the best of how only a great man like him can. When he departed, he left charge of this great heritage he had succeeded in creating to his eldest surviving son Saud, who, having accompanied his father on several of his campaigns, led expeditions, and shouldered many burdens and political and administrative responsibilities on his father's behalf, was no stranger to the various parts of his recently created expansive but sparse dominion, in the growth of which he had participated actively and neither to his fellow country-men and the problems and challenges facing them, which had to be addressed.

Saud had inherited from his father in generous proportions the unique magical charm of winning over his enemies by his genuinely humane nature, his understanding of the sensitivities and feeling of others, his sincerely down to earth disposition bordering on humility, a respect for every individual and a most compassionate generous character, always willing to forgive and forget. While these rare attributes coupled with his innate kindness and a nature too easily will to forgive laid his character open to often being misread or interpreted, its value, and his contribution to men of discerning like his father, was not totally lost, especially when he was at the stage of grappling with his neighbors and expanding his realm. A sterling example of Saud's character coming in hand was in the episode of the secret surrender at al-Buq'ah in 1336H of the Ameer of Haa'il, 'Abdullah Ibn Mit'eb Ibn Rashid, against the will of a large number of his family and his supporters.
In a way, he was taking over the helm of affairs at a critical, transition juncture in the country's history, when, just as power was passing from the hands of one ruler to another, the land that they ruled and its people were also transiting from one development stage to another. Hence, like his father's, his reign too will be credited with many firsts. If it is said that King 'Abdul 'Aziz sowed the seeds and laid the foundations of modern development by uniting the various far-flung regions and providing them with the necessary cohesion, then Saud nurtured them with great attention, sincerity, affection and care, sparing little effort in serving his people in the traditions that he was brought up to believe in and the ethics and criteria he went by.

An Attempt at Evaluation of 'King 'Abdul 'Aziza’s Career Achievements:

The reign of King' Abdulaziz proved to be much more than an ordinary episode or water had in the annals of the long history of Arabia. Hence, though it may be beyond the call of a book of this nature to offer an analytical conduction on the man and his reign and the motivations and circumstances that gave final shape to the turn of events and the durability of the influence of their outcome, I nevertheless feel a strong urge to attempt to answer here what a German Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Herr Reinhardt Schlagintweit had once asked me, when I was commenting on the draft of Robert Lacey's book, 'The Kingdom' whether King' Abdul' Aziz was really a great Sheikh, albeit in the best and grandest manner of Arabian tradition or a visionary force for reform and modernization. I was later to discover that the Polish Muslim, Muhammad Assad, in his book 'The Road to Mecca' had raised the same question and attempted after a fashion to answer it, having met and served 'Abdul 'Aziz for- a while. In response, asserting that modernization and development cannot be undertaken without the prior building of a sound foundation and the creation of an appropriate environment and condition of mind, I would like to place some further random thoughts here in this regard.

In a land man the size of Europe without say, Russia and an environment representing near total lack of political and administrative cohesion. and disunity bordering on chaos and demoralization - for the problems that faced the Muslim then were moral as well as psychological, King Abdul' Aziz by the wise use of his determination and unity of purpose, born out of a simplicity of character that added to the singleness of purpose and the directness and clarity of vision, by the deft use of the paucity of suitable material available to him locally, managed to transcend and overcome a large variety of obstacles and challenges and provide a moral and political unity to his realm, that was to give his early successors a firm base to start putting the structure of the edifice of a modern state upon. For example, he won and drew on the support of religious leaders and elements initially by always supporting them and recognizing and remedying wrongs, including wrongful dues and taxes in spite of the prospective loss in revenue, which was to help him in winning wider acceptability.

Unselfish, generous and humble where humility was called for but with dignity, he brought to his dealings with others a sincerity and loyalty to word, which often provided his dealings with a moral edge and gave his personality that extra charm, which acted as a lodestone in gathering around him diverse elements and forces and galvanizing them to strive for the same ideal and purpose, drawing on the strength of his resolve and courage as and when needed. Equipped with no more than a basic education, as his realm expanded and with it the complexity of affairs facing him, he grabbed greedily at opportunities of having access to men of modern learning from beyond his realm, who were also independent in spirit and thought and hence would be loyal to him, to assist him in comprehending international situations with greater clarity, thus enabling him to arrive at decisions that often bore the hallmark or the proof of his great wisdom - a genius that was his alone.

While his peers accepted and rationally conformed to the dimensions of the regional political frame-work of their time, acting within it, he was often the one bold enough to deviate and willing to take calculated risks or gambles to make up for some shortfall in his armory, when addressing the particular requirements of a situation or an objective he was aiming at. Whether in politics, diplomacy or military affairs, he never failed to learn and benefit from lessons and experiences of the past as his career evolved.

He seldom gave the impression that personal aggrandizement for its own sake or the satisfaction of mere dynastic ambition ever happened to form a past of his reasoning. It was his zest to establish stability and justice based on the teachings of the Qur'an and within the frame-work of the 'Sharee'ah' as best understood in his time that was to win him universal support, even from within the ranks of his opponents. As mentioned earlier, his great support for the 'Ulamaa' (religious scholars and teachers) of all ranks was a masterly stroke that won him their approval and backing, making the challenges of his mission easier. As an administrator, he expected his 'Ameers' or governors to follow his example in every way in suppressing abuse and wisely ensured that they did so, holding them strictly accountable. Truly, the principles he was guided by in his life's dealings and matters of administration and policy, which drew from lessons from the past, are an abject lesson and a legacy for other rulers over similar societies and environments to ponder over and learn much from, let alone his own heirs.

King 'Abdulaziz was a ruler, whose reputation in history is often viewed through the glow of the romance of dramatic adventure and martial and military exploits of singular daring. This tends to blur somewhat reason's objectivity in analysis. However, since the reputation of his greatness is as much, if not based more on these, it would be unfair to end this estimation of his life and career without commenting on the military aspect.

As an expert in the art of traditional desert warfare, although not a normal, he had worked hard to raise his knowledge and ability to a level, which had few or no equals in his time. However, what are more surprising and the true proof of his genius as a warrior is that apart from being a born tactician, who rarely made errors in his calculations, because he based his moves upon the solid foundation of his sound knowledge of Human nature, which seldom let him down, he was able to swiftly acquire and adapt much knowledge. About the advantageous use and effects of sophisticated modern weaponry and methods of warfare and put them to use advantageously, improving his knowledge of tactics and strategy with every practical experience, helped by the faculties of an open mind and a tremendous common sense. At the same time, he was normally guided in his treatment of adversaries by the principles forgiveness and kindness, although he could be stern and harsh when the occasion demanded.

One of the questions that may also be raised is, whether he achieved everything in his lifetime upon which he had set his heart? Perhaps! -Perhaps not! - For men of vision and achievement who dream, usually realize only portions of the goals that they would have liked to achieve.

King 'Abdulaziz certainly managed to revive the glories of his forebears, by creating the third Saudi State and establishing a greater empire in Arabia with a more solid foundation than the two preceding states established by his ancestors. But was this his only goal or would he have liked to see the whole Arabia, nay the Arab and preferably, the whole Islamic world truly welded into a commonwealth under one banner. However, he was intelligent and realistic enough to recognize in the ultimate, the practical constraints arrayed against such an eventuality.

Again, did he in the main create the circumstances within whose framework his achievements rest enshrined, or was he a lucky creature with the appropriate gifts at the right place and time? - I think that, by reflecting upon the relevant aspects of King 'Abdul 'Aziz's personality, sentiments, personal ambitions and motivation, we have answered this question to a large extent.

He used religious and moral sentiments to revive, unite, reform and raise society in his land from the depths of the morass that it had fallen into since long, enjoying in turn the satisfaction of seeing his dynastic ambitions and aspirations fulfilled. Hence, it is in the context of the environment he operated within and the criteria and values it went by, that history his judged and evaluated him and his achievements. One thing is for certain, out of a state of divisions, tribal anarchy, insecurity and lack of laws and order, King 'Abdulaziz gave his realm that solid foundation of political stability, peace, security, cohesion, unity, and administration, justice and a welfare frame-work, without which, as a foundation, no modern state could be created and developed. However, it was largely to his heir Saud and then his brothers after him, that was left the onus of ensuring the smooth transfer of the institutions of state and its policies, from the traditional that had become redundant in the light of changes in the situation and the needs of society, to the modern that was beneficial and apart from meeting the call of need, conformed to indigenous religious, cultural and social norms and the requirements of the present and the future. Also, that Saud after him have managed to do so, at times perhaps misunderstood, but continuing to build on his father's foundation while adhering to his vision and attempting to keep wise pace with true unforeseen challenges of destiny and the changing calls of the situations.