The modern Saudi military was conceived in war. 'Abd al-Aziz Ibn Sa'ud, the founder of the state of Saudi Arabia, ruled a tribe that had held sway over much of the Arabian Peninsula during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when it adopted a fundamentalist brand of Islam known as Wahhabism. 1 At the turn of the twentieth century, Ibn Sa'ud drew upon the religious fervor of his Wahhabi tribesmen to once again conquer most of the peninsula. His Bedouin warriors, called the Ikhwan, or brethren, first defeated the Rashidis of the powerful Shammar tribe to secure the Najd (central Arabia) and al-Hasa (the eastern province), took the Hijaz (western Arabia)—including the holy cities of Mecca and Madinah—from the Hashim clan, and then wrested the southern province of Asir from the Yemenis. By 1926, Ibn Sa'ud was master of three-fourths of the Arabian Peninsula, having been prevented from further expansion only by the mountains of Yemen in the south and in the east and north by the British, who ruled Transjordan and Iraq and were the protectors of Kuwait, the Trucial States (later the UAE and Qatar), Oman, and Aden.
Although Ibn Sa'ud was motivated by the material desire to expand his kingdom, his followers fought to spread the true religion. They saw themselves as successors to the armies that first conquered the Middle East, North Africa, and central Asia for Islam. Thus, when Ibn Sa'ud pragmatically recognized that he could not defeat the British and so curtailed his military campaigns, he came into conflict with the Ikhwan. The Ikhwan were interested only in furthering the true way of Islam and revolted against Ibn Sa'ud when he stopped leading them against foreign foes. Relying on the tribal levies from his homeland in the Najd, and bolstered by some modern weaponry (including several machine guns and a few armored cars) from the British, Ibn Sa'ud crushed the Ikhwan at as-Sibilah in