History of the Idrisid Emirate in Arabia

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Muhammad ibn Ali al-Idrisi

Founded and led by the charismatic religious leader and commander of Fassi origin Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali al-Idrisi, from 1908 to 1930, the Idrisid Emirate of Asir spanned the Jīzān and Tihama in the eponymous province in present-day Saudi Arabia and Yemen.


Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali al-Idrisi comes from a noble family whose genealogy goes back to Idriss I, founder of the city of Fez and first Moroccan ruler. He is the grandson of Ahmad ibn Idris al-Fasi, a Sufi Islamic scholar from Fez who studied at the prestigious Al Quaraouiyine University and worked in Morocco and the Hijaz.

He marked his time as the founder of the " Idrisiyya ", a group of Sufi traditions and brotherhoods. Through his followers, it exerted a diffuse influence that spread throughout the Muslim world. He moved to Zabīd in Yemen, which historically had been a great centre of Muslim scholarship, and died in 1837 in Sabya, which later became the capital of the emirate under the rule of his grandson.


At the beginning of the 20th century, the Middle East was almost entirely under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The situation evolved during the First World War through the confrontation between the Entente (UK, France, Russia) and the Central Empires (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire). Before Muhammad al-Idrisi's arrival in Asir, there did not seem to be a unifying factor present among the population. Governed by the Ottomans, the region of Asir was in anarchy at that time, with anti-Turkish sentiment brewing, triggering ethnic and sectarian conflicts between the Ottoman rulers and the local inhabitants. The rise of the Idrisid state in Asir could be seen as a continuation of the tribal rebellions against Ottoman rule.

Muhammad al Idrissi then began to spread the teachings of his grandfather and encouraged the local people to maintain a more rigorous adherence to Islam. In 1908, al Idrissi gained the status of Imam and many tribes in the Asir region recognised him as their spiritual and later warlord. The following year, he began his first efforts to overthrow Ottoman rule in the region. As a result, the Idrisid troops succeeded in taking the Farasan Islands, cities and rallying several tribes. His rise to power led to pacification between the Ottomans and the Idrissids. In the Treaty of al-Hafa'ir, Al-Idrisi was given the title of Kaymakam of Asir, which made him a de facto semi-independent ruler of the region under Ottoman suzerainty.

However, following negotiations with Italy, Sayyid Muhammad's forces came into open conflict with the Ottoman forces in Abha. The Idrisids were defeated in 1911 by Hashemite forces under Hussein ibn Ali, Sheriff of Mecca, who was still loyal to the Ottomans. However, the tide turned when Sayyid Muhammad entered into a secret military alliance with Britain, then at war with the Ottomans in 1915. Sharif Hussein subsequently switched sides, joining the British to oppose the Ottomans. His military campaign was successful and by the end of World War I, Sayyid Muhammad became governor of an internationally recognised sovereign state as the Idrisid Emirate of Asir.

End of the emirate

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Arabian Peninsula was gripped by internal rivalries and it was clear that England was no longer able to honour its commitments, which was a factor in the decline of the Emirate. In addition, the sovereignty of the Emirate of Asir was threatened by the contemplation of Hussein bin Ali, King of the Hijaz, and by Yemen led by Imam Yahya. The death of Muhammad ibn Ali Al-Idrisi led to a family feud for the throne. As soon as the new amir, Al-Hassan, came to power, the rulers of Hijaz and Yemen claimed the Idrisid possessions.

In June 1934, the Saudis and Yemenis signed a treaty of friendship and brotherhood between Saudi Arabia and Yemen providing for the establishment of peaceful and diplomatic relations between the two countries. The treaty also provided for the demarcation of the borders between the two countries, which was completed in 1936, and thus the lands of the Emirate of Idriss were divided causing its dissolution.

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References :

The Idrisi State in Asir: Politics, Religion and Prestige in Arabia |Anne K. Bang | 1997

The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Second Edition) | Headley | 1954-2005