Why Unayza? Ulema Dissidents and Nonconformists in the Second SaudiStateHistorians of the second Saudi state (1824-1837, 1843-1891) haveconcentrated on the efforts of rulers to establish and consolidate authority over centraland eastern Arabia. Saudi, Egyptian, Russian and American scholars have minednineteenth-century chronicles, Egyptian archives, and western travelers' accounts tocraft detailed narratives about the various challenges that Saudi rulers confronted:fractious nomads, rebellious towns, ambitious vassals, dynastic succession struggles,imperial schemes hatched in Istanbul, Cairo, and Baghdad, and delicate diplomacywith agents of the British Empire. Because the interdependency of political authorityand religious mission is commonly emphasized in treatments of Saudi history, it ispeculiar that few historians have attended to the second Saudi state’s religiousdimension beyond a handful of generalizations: Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’sdescendants, known as Al al-Shaykh, continued to act as the realm’s religious leadersand to endorse Saudi authority. In turn, the Saudi rulers set aside funds from thetreasury for qadis (judges), teachers, mosque personnel, and religious pupils. In otherwords, the symbiotic relationship between Al Saud and Al al-Shaykh first created inthe 1740s persisted in the nineteenth century.
The Arabian chronicles do not shed much light on ulema in that period beyondmentioning prominent shaykhs in the customary
(biographical sketch) withplace of birth, names of teachers, positions held, names of pupils, names of anywritten works, and date of death.
In the writings of European travelers, there appearsketches of stern personalities in the colorful pages of Wallin, Palgrave, Doughty, andothers, but little else.
But two kinds of sources do contain abundant informationabout religious scholars and their discourse. First, biographical dictionaries, a genreof literature familiar to Middle East historians, are useful for identifying significant