Governments in Arabia today usually ignore the Ottoman Empire’s history in the region, but the Ottomans from 1516 to 1918 played a key role in coastal regions, especially in the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina. While Ottoman administrations intermittently ruled in Yemen and eastern Arabia, their influence was greatest in the holy Hijaz, the site of the worldwide pilgrimage. However, Ottoman rule was limited by Istanbul’s distance from Arabia. Religion played a significant role in determining the nature of Ottoman control, helping to legitimize the state among its subjects. A detailed analysis of one province, the Hijaz, with a particular emphasis on the period from 1840 to 1908, shows the impact of general factors on political history. Hijazi environmental, social, and gender history were modestly influenced by the centralizing Ottoman government. The Ottoman Empire in Arabia succeeded in notably slowing the encroachment of European imperialism into the heart of Islam.

Author Bio(s)

William Ochsenwald is Emeritus Professor of History at Virginia Tech. His areas of research include the relationship between religion and politics, and national identity in the Arabian Peninsula. He is the author of two books on Saudi Arabia: The Hijaz Railroad, and Religion, Society, and the State in Arabia: The Hijaz under Ottoman Control, 1840-1908. His general textbook, The Middle East: A History is widely used. Ochsenwald was president of the Society for Gulf Arab Studies (1996-98) and is currently Assistant Editor for the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, and Associate Editor for History of the Review of Middle East Studies.