Arabia's biggest impact on global culture came in the 7th century with the rise of Islam. The prophet Mohammed was born in Mecca and died in Medina, the two holiest places in the Muslim world. The Koran requires a pilgrimage to Mecca of every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, while facing the Kaaba is expected during prayers.
After the death of Mohammed. the Rashidun Caliphate assumed leadership of the Muslim community. They were followed by the Umayyad Caliphate, who in turn were followed by the Abbasid Caliphate. By moving their capital to Baghdad in 762 AD, the Abbasids instigated a period of foreign rule over Arabia that would last for more than a millennium. After Baghdad, Mecca and Medina were controlled by Cairo - the capital of the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mameluke Caliphates - before the Ottomans began their conquest of the peninsula in 1517.
The Ottoman Empire continued to exert influence until the Arab Revolt during World War I, though by this time their suzerainty was only nominal. The revolt came about as a result of agreements between the Sharif of Mecca and the British government, which promised the formation of an independent Arab state from Syria to Yemen. The Ottoman Empire duly collapsed, but the British reneged on the arrangement and proceeded to divide Levantine territories between themselves and France.
The territory that modern-day Saudi Arabia encompasses was divided into the Kingdom of Hejaz and the Sultanate of Nejd. Nejd, ruled by the House of Saud, conquered the Hejaz in 1925 and, in 1932, formed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was after this time that the victorious Wahhabi Muslims and their helpers began to turn the country into a backward, highly conservative society. During the Siege of Mecca in 1979, Wahhabi fanatics seized the Grand Mosque and slaughtered hundreds of their hostages before they were overwhelmed. Since this event, Saudi Arabia has become even more fundamentalist and oppressive. There are signs of this situation improving, but they are few.
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