Faisal bin Abdulaziz was born in Saudi Arabia's central province in 1906G. He was the only son of his mother, a direct descendant of Muhammad bin Abdulwahhab, the charismatic 18th century Islamic figure with whom the Al Sauds made the vital alliance which resulted in a religious revival and enabled the Al Sauds to extend their domains.
Faisal thus personified the commitment of the Al Sauds to rule according to the tenets of Islam. This strong Islamic heritage coupled with wisdom and farsightedness made Faisal a powerful leader and an ideal candidate to bring his isolated kingdom into the 20th century.
From childhood, Faisal avidly absorbed qualities of leadership from his father. King Abdulaziz taught his son firsthand about politics and the art of dealing successfully with the different needs of diverse people in a variety of situations. His father's example showed him the value of self-possession, patience, and discretion. Recognizing Faisal's unique abilities, Abdulaziz gave Faisal opportunities to play a significant role in public affairs at an early age. Maintaining the Bedouin custom of the Majlis or audience, he made himself available to all his subjects. "If anyone feels wrongly treated, he has only himself to blame for not telling me. What higher democracy can there be?" His captivating personality and amazing capacity to handle the most complex problems in a just manner endeared him to his countrymen and made King Faisal recognized internationally as an exceptional statesman.
King Faisal was not merely a skilled politician and a respected diplomat. He was a cultured man who loved poetry and literature. He was an aristocrat of great humility whose nobility and integrity were innate, not assumed. He was a devout Muslim who lived his faith and successfully modernized Saudi Arabia without compromising the country's Islamic identity.
Not least, he was a ruler who sincerely cared about his people and felt a deep responsibility for their welfare.
Although King Faisal treasured his desert heritage, he accepted that it would not be to his country's advantage to ignore the benefits of progress. He was determined to improve economic and social standards and transform Saudi Arabia into a modern state. "Like it or not, we must join the modern world and find an honorable place in it."Balancing beneficence with discipline, he used tact and sensitivity to overcome the protestations of his many conservative subjects. It was further reassuring for them to know that Faisal was not prepared to sever ties with the past, nor would he accept purely secular legislation; the sacred Koran remained the law of the land.
In order to bring prosperity to Saudi Arabia, Faisal knew that the development of human resources was vital. Recognizing that knowledge is power, Faisal determined that education had to be the starting point for such an undertaking. In a dramatic departure from local tradition, and in spite of initial opposition, he opened the Kingdom's first girls' school. Until universities were established in the Kingdom, he continued his brother King Saud's policy of giving scholarships in order to continue studies at universities abroad. Literacy classes were made available to older citizens. He encouraged the country's youth to work hard to acquire the technical know-how they would need in order to accept the challenges facing their developing nation. His own children set the example for others. Faisal knew it would be a long journey but he also knew it was time to take the first steps. "We are starting from the bottom," he cautioned, "and we have to build slowly. We cannot perform miracles overnight."
Among Faisal's extensive social programs, universal health care had an important impact on the well-being of the population. For the first time, modern medicine was available to all Saudis. If treatment could not be performed in-Kingdom, patients were transferred at government expense to suitable facilities in Europe, North America, or elsewhere.
How Faisal ruled was a reflection of his humanitarian nature. As a good Muslim, Faisal was inevitably a good philanthropist. Although Faisal was disciplined and frugal and often expected it in others, generosity and good deeds were equally prominent in his character. His concern for the less fortunate brought philanthropy deserved attention. By quiet example he reminded the world that time and effort should be spared for those in need. Through educating and caring for his people, building a solid infrastructure, expanding agriculture, and creating industry, Faisal ushered in a new era in Arabia. Service to Islam and to his countrymen were Faisal's primary objectives. To this end, he made a unique contribution to national and international politics by uniting the ideologies of Islam with progress and public welfare in a compatible and non-threatening manner.
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