Nejd or Najd (literally "highland", نجد) is the central region of the Arabian Peninsula.
Medieval Muslim geographers spent a great amount of time deciding the exact boundaries between Hejaz and Nejd in particular, but generally set the western boundaries of Nejd to be wherever the western mountain ranges and lava beds began to slope eastwards, and set the eastern boundaries of Nejd at the narrow strip of red sand dunes known as the Al-Dahna Desert, some 100 km east of modern-day Riyadh. The southern border of Nejd has always been set at the large sea of sand dunes known today as the Empty Quarter, while the southwestern boundaries are marked by the valleys of Wadi Ranyah, Wadi Bisha, and Wadi Tathlith.
The northern boundaries of Nejd have fluctuated greatly historically and received far less attention from the medieval geographers. In the early Islamic centuries, Nejd was considered to extend as far north as the River Euphrates, or more specifically, the "Walls of Khosrau", constructed by the Persian Empire as a barrier between Arabia and Mesopotamia immediately prior to the advent of Islam. The regions immediately bordering the Iraqi and Syrian deserts, however, were separated from the rest of Nejd by a great sea of sand dunes known as the Nefud, and were inhabited almost entirely by Bedouin tribes that had much closer relationships with Iraq and Syria than with the interior of Arabia. For this reason, in modern times the term "Nejd" is usually applied more specifically to the "plateau of Nejd", with the Nefud desert as its natural northern border. This modern usage of the term encompasses the region of Al-Yamama, which was not always considered part of Nejd historically.
Nejd, as its name suggests, is a plateau ranging from 762 m to 1,525 m in height and sloping downwards from west to east. The eastern sections (historically better known as Al-Yamama) are marked by oasis settlements, while the rest has traditionally been sparsely occupied by nomadic Bedouins. The main topographical features include the twin mountains of Aja and Salma in the north near Ha'il, and the Tweig mountain range running through its center from north to south. Also important are the various dry river-beds (wadis) such as Wadi Hanifah near Riyadh, Wadi Na'am in the south, Wadi Al-Rumah in the Al-Qassim region in the north, and Wadi Ad-Dawasir at the southernmost tip of Nejd on the border with Najran. Most Nejdi villages and settlements are located along these wadis, due to ability of these wadis to preserve precious rainwater in the arid desert climate, while others are located near oases. Historically, Nejd itself has been divided into small provinces made up of constellations of small villages and settlements, with each one usually centered around one "capital". These subdivisions are still recognized by Nejdis today, as each province retains its own variation of the Nejdi dialect and Nejdi customs. The most prominent among these provinces are Al-'Aridh, which includes Riyadh and the historical Saudi capital of Dir'iyah; Al-Qassim, with its capital in Buraydah; Sdeir, centered around Al-Majma'ah; Al-Washm, centered around Shagraa; and Jebel Shammar, with its capital, Ha'il. Under modern-day Saudi Arabia, however, Nejd is divided into three administrative regions: Ha'il, Al-Qassim, and Riyadh, comprising a combined area of 554,000 km².
Riyadh is the largest city in Nejd, as well as the largest city in the country as a whole, with a population of more than 4,250,000 in 2005. Other cities include Buraydah (505,000) and Unaizah (128,930). Smaller towns and villages include Kharj, Duwadmi, Zulfi, Majma'a, Shagraa, Tharmada'a, Dhruma, Ghuweyyah, Al-Hareeg, Hotat Bani Tamim, Layla, Sulayyil, and Wadi Ad-Dawasir, the southernmost settlement in Nejd.
Prior to the formation of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the native population of Nejd consisted mainly of members of several Arabian tribes, who were either nomads (bedouins), or sedentary farmers and merchants. The rest of the population consisted mainly of Arabs who were, for various reasons, unaffiliated with any tribes, and who mostly lived in the towns and villages of Nejd working in various trades such as carpentry and metallurgy (Sonnaa' or tradesmen). There was also a small segment of the population made up of African slaves or freedmen.
The most famous Nejdi tribes in the pre-Islamic era were Banu Hanifa, who occupied the area around modern-day Riyadh, 'Anizzah, Banu Tamim, who occupied areas further north, the tribe of 'Abs who were centered in Al-Qassim, the tribe of Tayy, centered around modern-day Ha'il, and tribe of Banu 'Amir in southern Nejd. By the 20th century, many of the ancient tribes had morphed into new confederations or immigrated to other areas of the Middle East, and many tribes from other regions of the Peninsula had moved into Nejd. However, a large proportion of native Nejdis today still belong to these ancient Nejdi tribes or to their newer incarnations. The royal family of Saudi Arabia, Al Saud, for example, trace their lineage to Banu Hanifa. On the eve of the formation of Saudi Arabia, the major nomadic tribes of Nejd included Qahtan, Mutayr (the successor tribe to 'Abs), Shammar (the successor tribe to Tayy), 'Utaybah, Subay', Harb, the Suhool, and the Dawasir. In addition to those tribes, many of the sedentary population belonged to Banu Tamim, 'Anizzah, Banu Hanifah, Banu Khalid, and Banu Zayd.
Most of the nomadic tribes are now settled either in cities such as Riyadh, or in special settlements, known as hijras, that were established in the early part of the 20th centuries as part of a country-wide policy undertaken by King Abdul-Aziz to put an end to nomadic life. Nomads still exist in the Kingdom, however, in very small numbers — a far cry from the days when they made up the majority of the people of the Arabian Peninsula.
Since the formation of modern Saudi Arabia, Nejd, and particularly Riyadh, has seen an influx of immigrants from all regions of the country and from virtually every social class. The native Nejdi population has also largely moved away from its native towns and villages to the capital, Riyadh. However, most of these villages still retain a small number of their native inhabitants. About a quarter of the population of Nejd, including about a third of the population of Riyadh, are non-Saudi expatriates, including both skilled professionals and unskilled laborers.
Slavery was abolished in Saudi Arabia by King Faisal in 1962. Some of those freed slaves chose to continue working for their former slave-owners, particularly those whose former owners were members of the royal family.
Practically all Nejdis are Sunni Muslims, either nominally or in practice. The region is known across the Islamic world for its puritanical interpretation of Islam and is generally considered a bastion of religious conservatism. In reality, however, many other parts of the Kingdom are no less conservative or religious than Nejd. Other religions, such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, are represented in Nejd by members of the expatriate communities. However, religions other than Islam can not be practiced in public, by law.
The people of Nejd have spoken Arabic, in one form or another, for practically all of recorded history. As in other regions of the Peninsula, there is a divergence between the dialect of the nomadic Bedouins and the dialect of the sedentary townspeople. The variation, however, is far less pronounced in Nejd as it is elsewhere in the country, and the Nejdi sedentary dialect seems to be descended from the Bedouin dialect, just as most sedentary Nejdis are descendants of nomadic Bedouins themselves. The Nejdi dialect is seen by some to be the least foreign-influenced of all modern Arabic dialects, due to the isolated location and harsh climate of the Nejdi plateau, as well as the apparent absence of any substratum from a previous language. Indeed, not even the ancient South Arabian language appears to have been widely spoken in Nejd in ancient times, unlike southern Saudi Arabia, for example. Within Nejd itself, the different regions and towns have their own distinctive accents and sub-dialects. However, these have largely merged in recent times and have become heavily influenced by Arabic dialects from other regions and countries. This is particularly the case in Riyadh.
Once these "Wars of the Apostates" (see Ridda Wars) had been concluded, the Muslims in Medinah directed the energies of their restive compatriots towards conquering the possessions of the neighboring Byzantine and Persian empires. The tribes of Nejd participated in great numbers, especially Banu Tamim, changing the demographics of both Nejd and the conquered provinces of Syria and Iraq.
In the early Umayyad era, the region fell under the sway of Kharijites, an Islamic sect that mixed political egalitarianism with intense religious puritanism. The Kharijite leader in Nejd was himself a member of Banu Hanifa by the name of Najdah ibn 'Amir, and his followers were known as Najdat. Najdah was able to subdue all of Nejd along with the historical province of Bahrain, and was close to gaining control over the holy cities in Hejaz as well. As with most Kharijite movements, however, the Najdat's fanaticism led the movement to consume itself through in-fighting, and Najdah himself was assassinated for being allegedly lacking in religious zeal. Their short-lived state quickly fell apart and the region reverted to being a political backwater. During the next century, the region of Yamamah fell, at least nominally, under the authority of the Caliphate's viceroys of Bahrain (not to be confused with the modern-day islands of Bahrain).
In 866, a descendant of Muhammad(pbuh)through his daughter Fatimah launched a doomed and bloody insurrection in Mecca and Jeddah against the Abbasids. The rebel, Muhammad ibn Yusuf Al-Ukhaidhir, fled to Yamamah and was able to take control of the town of Al-Khidhrima (modern-day Al-Kharj), where he established the independent kingdom of the Banu Ukhaidhir. The Ukhaidhirites rejected Abbasid authority and are believed to have followed the moderately Shi'a Zaydi school of Islam. It is unclear how much of Nejd fell under the direct authority of the Ukhaidhirites, though it probably did not extend further north than the area of Wadi Hanifa. They did not seem to have had much of an effect on the religious orientation of their subjects, and the great historian of Shi'ism, Madelung, remarks in Encyclopedia of Islam that other Zaydis in the Islamic world took little notice of them, and that they probably did not give much attention to religious scholarship. It's been speculated that Ibn Al-Ukhaidhir's family already had extensive family ties with the tribes of Bani 'Amir that were dominant in Nejd at the time, and that that may have been the decisive factor in gaining him control over the region. The Ukhaidhirite state lasted until some time in the late 11th century, when it was destroyed by the radical Qarmatians of neighboring Al-Ahsa.