1920s: The first mosque built in America, called the Mother Mosque, is built in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The Mother Mosque, the first built in America, will serve the Muslim population of Cedar Rapids for 40 years before a second is built. The Iowa city is also home to the first burial ground exclusively for Muslims in the U.S.
1920s: Iraqi women move to gain more rights and a better education.
Iraqi women seek to be recognized as full citizens and want freedom from having to wear a veil in public, as per Islamic tradition. Aswa Zahawi founds the Women's Rising Group, which begins to publish Leila, a journal promoting education and employment rights for women.
April 25, 1920: Former Ottoman-controlled territories in the Middle East are assigned as mandates to Allied powers.
At the post-World War I San Remo Conference in Italy, former Ottoman-controlled territories are allotted as "mandates" among the victorious Allies. Established as part of the Treaty of Versailles, the mandate system entrusts Britain and France with the task of governing the territories until it is determined that they are ready for independence. Syria and Lebanon are assigned to France, Palestine and Iraq to Britain. Transjordan is created from the Palestine Mandate in 1921.
July 1920: Arabs in Iraq rebel against British rule.
Riots break out in what becomes known as the Great Iraqi Revolution. Iraq is placed under British mandate.
August 10, 1920: Turkish forces attack Greece and Armenia.
As part of the armistice ending World War I, the sultan signs the Sevres Treaty, promising to give land to Greece and Armenia. Mustafa Kemal, a former Ottoman army officer and president of the recently formed Grand National Assembly, denounces the sultan's decision and leads an army to recapture and hold this territory as a Turkish state. This resistance becomes known as the War of Liberation.
October 1920: Iraq elects a new king.
A temporary government is established in Iraq, to be assisted by British advisors. Britain had promised Arab independence in exchange for their support in World War I, so this was a repayment. Popular support lies with Prince Faisal, who becomes king in 1921. Iraq remains a British mandate until 1932.
1921: The Hollywood movie The Sheik includes the first significant portrayal of an Arab character.
Rudolph Valentino plays the title character in The Sheik, a film which promotes stereotypes and distorts Arab culture.
1921: An ancient part of the city of Carthage is discovered in Tunisia.
A holy place from the ancient Punic period in Carthage is discovered in Tunisia in 1921. Carthage, originally built in 814 B.C.E. as a colony of the Phoenician Empire (1200-330 B.C.E.), was completely destroyed by fire by the Romans.
February 21, 1921: Reza Khan takes control of Persia (Iran).
Reza Khan, a Persian army officer, deposes the Qajar dynasty that had taken control of the country. He appoints himself Shah in 1925 and seeks to free Iran from foreign influence; his reign will last until 1941. To achieve his ends, he resists the strict laws and archaic customs of the religious mullahs and reduces the influence of the nobles and sheikhs who rule nomadic tribes. He renames the country Iran in 1935.
July 24, 1922: The League of Nations issues a mandate to Britain to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.
Following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the territories formerly under the empire's control are divided between France and Britain. In 1920, the principal Allied powers award Britain the mandate for Palestine. Two years later, the League of Nations confirms the mandate, which lays out the terms under which Britain is given responsibility for the temporary administration of Palestine on behalf of both the Jews and Arabs living there. According to the mandate, Britain "shall be responsible for placing the country [Palestine] under such political, administrative, and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home ... and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race or religion." (from the Balfour Declaration)
November 1, 1922: The Turkish Grand National Assembly abolishes the office of the sultanate.
The Grand National Assembly, led by Mustafa Kemal, hero of the War of Liberation, abolishes the office of the sultanate, thereby ending 631 years of rule by the Ottoman Empire.
November 26, 1922: A British archaeologist opens King Tutankhamun's tomb.
British archaeologist Howard Carter discovers the undisturbed tomb of "King Tut" in Egypt's Valley of the Kings after a decade-long search. Known as the "Boy King," Tutankhamun became Pharaoh at the age of 10. He ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
1923: The Lebanese American Khalil Gibran publishes The Prophet, a book of 26 poetic essays.
Khalil Gibran, a writer and artist (he studied with the French sculptor Rodin), is one of the most familiar literary figures in the Arab American community. The Prophet has been translated into more than 20 languages.
1923: Three leaders of the Egyptian women's movement return to Cairo from a feminist conference in Rome and remove their veils in public.
In a daring act of defiance, Huda Shaarawi, Ceza Nabarawi, and Nabawiya Moussa take off their hijab (veils) at the Cairo train station to symbolize their liberation. They demand equality, the right to education and the vote, and reform of the law that regulates marriage, divorce, child custody, and alimony.
1923: Oil is discovered in Iraq.
The first oil strike floods the countryside with oil for 10 days before workers can bring it under control. The well produces 80,000 barrels of oil a day. In 1934, the first oil pipeline connects Iraq with Tripoli in Lebanon. A second line to Haifa, Palestine, opens in January 1935.
May 15, 1923: Britain formally recognizes the independent state of Transjordan.
Since the end of World War I, the British have divided the land of Transjordan into three local administrative districts, with a British "advisor" appointed to each. Faced with the determination of Emir Abdullah to unify Arab lands, the British proclaim him ruler of the three districts, known collectively as Transjordan. On May 15, 1923, Britain formally recognizes the Emirate of Transjordan as a state under the leadership of Emir Abdullah. The treaty stipulates that Transjordan will be prepared for independence under the general supervision of the British high commissioner in Jerusalem.
October 29, 1923: The Republic of Turkey is established.
Mustafa Kemal wins unanimous election as the first president of Turkey. Though nearly all of the population practices Islam, Kemal's government assumes control of religious functions so that religion will not interfere in the affairs of state. Under his leadership, the country undergoes Western-style economic, social, and political modernization.
In the first wave of reforms, Turkey abolishes the offices of its religious head of state (the caliphate) and the courts (the sharia). Separate educational and judicial systems are introduced. The country adopts Sunday as the official weekend holiday (the traditional Muslim day of rest is Friday), as well as the Western calendar.
February 10, 1925: The first of many institutions devoted to scientific research is established in Haifa.
The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is established in Haifa. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem follows in April, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1946. In addition to its advances in irrigation, agriculture, and the medical sciences, Israel also leads research into solar power.
1926: Lebanon, a French mandate, becomes a semiautonomous republic.
In 1926, Lebanon, now semiautonomous, adopts a constitution that will remain in effect, albeit frequently amended, until 1987. Lebanon will gain full independence from France in 1943.
1926: The Kurdish city of Mosul is awarded to Iraq, rather than Turkey, by the League of Nations.
At the end of World War I, a proposal is put forth to establish an independent Kurdish state, borrowing land from the region that now comprises Iraq, Turkey, and Iran to do so. The failure to pursue that idea further results in the Kurdish issue still in question in both Iraq and Turkey to the present day.
February 17, 1926: Secular law replaces religious law in Turkey.
The Turkish Civil Code is adopted from Swiss Civil Code. The old code and sharia (Islamic law), which had been the foundation of Ottoman personal status law, are replaced. Women gain important rights. Polygamy is forbidden; marriages are to be performed in accordance with civil code, not religious code; and a court decree is required for divorce.
1927-1929: The Wahhabi Ikhwan turn against central Arabian ruler ibn Saud.
The Ikhwan (translated as "brethren") is a group of Muslims who practice Wahhabism, a puritan form of Islam. Ibn Saud had recruited the Ikhwan to help massacre his non-Wahhabi rivals and add Mecca and the Hejaz region of central Arabia to his domain. He loses his authority over the Ikhwan, however, when he chooses not to battle rivals who hold protective treaties with Britain. In 1929, ibn Saud confronts the Ikhwan militarily, and they are forced to surrender to the British in Kuwait in January 1930.
Not all of the Ikhwan revolt, however, and those who remain loyal to ibn Saud continue to receive government support and remain an influential religious force. They are eventually absorbed into the Saudi Arabian National Guard.
1928: The Muslim Brotherhood is founded as an Islamic revivalist movement in Egypt.
Elementary school teacher Hasan al-Banna founds the Muslim Brotherhood based on his ideas that Islam should not only be a religious observance, but a comprehensive way of life. He supplements the traditional Islamic education with Tarbeyah training for the Society's male students that includes education, scouting, and militia-type activities to resist the British occupation.
Over the next several decades, the Brotherhood becomes increasingly involved in politics and is banned, reinstated, and then banned again in 1954 by the Egyptian government for its alleged involvement in the attempted assassination of Egyptian president Nasser. Nasser's successor, Anwar al-Sadat, once in office promises the group that sharia (Islamic law) will be implemented as the Egyptian law and releases all imprisoned Brothers, or members of the group. But in September 1981, he himself is assassinated by four men in a group known as Jama'at Al Jihad, after signing a peace treaty with Israel.
Hamas, in Palestine, claims to be the military wing of the Palestinian Brotherhood.
November 1928: Turkey adopts a new alphabet and simplifies the Turkish language.
In adopting a new alphabet, Arabic script is replaced with Latin letters. The changes are consistent with other Westernizing social reforms implemented under Atat¸rk. Many Arabic and Persian words and phrases are removed from the language, replaced instead with Turkish ones. These changes are also designed to help combat illiteracy.
1929: Tribal rebellion in Afghanistan forces Amanullah Khan to flee the country.
After a year of civil war, Nadir Khan, Amanullah's former minister of war, is crowned King of Afghanistan. King Nadir Shah's reactionary measures undo Amanullah's reforms and reinstate customary Afghan laws and practices.
August 1929: Palestinian Arabs attack Jews following disputes over prayer rights to the Wailing Wall.
In 1928, Arab Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem begin to clash over their respective communal religious rights at the Wailing Wall (known to Muslims as al-Buraq). Controversies about the site were inflamed by nationalists on both sides and resulted in full-scale riots. British troops were called in to restore order. The week-long riots leave 133 Jews dead and 339 wounded, almost all by Arabs. Arab casualties include 116 dead and 232 wounded, most by British troops. Another result of the riots was the termination of the ancient Jewish community Hebron and the Jewish community of Beer-Sheva.
1930s: Iran's ruler outlaws the veil and requires men to dress in European fashions.
Reza Shah Pahlevi bans traditional clothing (e.g., pantaloons and turbans for men, veils for women) in favor of Western garb. Many people choose to ignore the new law. Among other reforms advocated by the Shah at this time include reinstating Persian names for months, the solar calendar, and the history of pre-Islamic Iran to emphasize Iranian identity.
1930s-1950s: Oil exploration begins in the desert, and later offshore, of what is now the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Only 150,000 people, many of them nomadic Bedouins, inhabit the land that will comprise the UAE. With no roads, schools, hospitals, or factories, these people experience one of the lowest standards of living in the developing world until oil is discovered in the region.
1930: The pearl market collapses, leaving Qatar's economy in ruins.
The world pearl market collapses with the Japanese invention of cultured pearls, devastating the already weak pre-oil economy of Qatar. Although present-day Qatar enjoys a high standard of living, the sparsely populated region was one of the poorest in the Arab world before the discovery of oil, with an economy almost entirely reliant on the pearl industry.
1932: The first Maccabiah Games are held in Israel.
Jewish athletes from all over the world go to Tel Aviv, Israel, to compete in an Olympic-style event also known as the "Jewish Olympics." First held in 1932 and 1935, the Maccabiah Games are suspended from 1938-50. The Games resume in 1950, and have been held in Israel every four years since.
September 23, 1932: Abd al-Aziz proclaims the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Having reigned over much of Arabia during the early part of the 1800s, the al-Saud family loses part of its territory to the Turks in the latter half of the century and is driven from its capital, Riyadh, by the rival House of Rashid. In 1902, Abd al-Aziz recaptures the capital city and begins to reconquer and reunify the country, which he completes some three decades later. In 1927, Abd al-Aziz is officially proclaimed king, and five years later, the country is named the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
October 3, 1932: Iraq is recognized as an independent monarchy.
As previously agreed, Britain terminates its mandate to govern Iraq. Britain maintains a strong presence in Iraq, however, so this independence is limited. Iraq joins the League of Nations and is officially recognized as a sovereign state ruled by a monarch. Iraq receives full autonomy after World War II, when British troops complete their withdrawal.
1933: Iraqi King Faisal dies and is succeeded by his son, Ghazi.
King Faisal is succeeded by his 21-year-old son, Ghazi, who rules from 1933 until his accidental death in 1939. A product of Western education, Ghazi has little experience with the complexities of Iraqi tribal life. While Faisal had the prestige and ability to draw politicians around the idea of national interest, Ghazi is unable to balance competing nationalist and British pressures. As time passes, the nationalist movement begins to view the Ghazi monarchy as little more than a British puppet.
1934: Women in Turkey earn full voting rights.
Atat¸rk grants women full voting rights, making Turkey the first Middle Eastern country to allow this. Women had obtained the right to vote in municipal elections in 1930.
June 21, 1934: The Surname Law is adopted in Turkey; Mustafa Kemal adopts the name Atat¸rk.
Before the 20th century, the Turks, like the Arabs, didn't use family names. Mustafa Kemal -- Kemal is actually the name his schoolteachers gave him, meaning "perfect" -- officially adopts the surname "Atat¸rk," or "Father of the Turks." The honor is given by the Grand National Assembly in appreciation for his having founded and shaped the new Turkish Republic.
1936-1939: Palestinians protest British support of the Zionist movement in Palestine with a strike and three years of unrest.
By 1936, the increase in Jewish immigration and land acquisition, as well as general Arab frustration at the continuation of European rule, mobilizes increasing numbers of Palestinian Arabs. In April of that year, an Arab attack on a Jewish bus leads to a series of incidents that escalate into a major Palestinian rebellion. The revolt lasts until 1939, when the British, in part to obtain Arab support for the recently erupted war with Germany, ban most land sales to Jews.
August 1936: Yasar Erkan wins Turkey's first Olympic medal in wrestling, its national sport.
April 1936: Egypt's King Faruq begins his reign.
Faruq, son of the deceased King Fuad, ascends the Egyptian throne. The Wafd Party initially supports the new king and his nationalistic leanings. Within a year, however, Faruq signs the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. Though it brings Egypt closer to full independence, it allows British forces the right to remain in the Suez Canal zone.
August 1936: The Peel Commission, a royal commission headed by Lord Earl Peel, is appointed to examine the Palestine problem.
In response to the Arab Revolt against British rule in Palestine, the Peel Commission hears testimony from more than 130 Jews, Zionists, Palestinian Arabs, and other Arab nationalists before issuing its report. The commission's report, published in July 1937, calls for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a British-controlled corridor from Jerusalem to the coast at Jaffa. It also recommends relocating people to deal with the delicate population balance between Jews and Arabs in the proposed Jewish state. The partition plan was accepted as a pragmatically valid principle for settling the Arab-Jewish dispute by the majority of the offical leadership of the Zionist movement who urged further examination of the Bristish proposals. The Arab side rejected the compromise, with the exception of Abdullah of Transjordan.
1938: Oil is discovered in Saudi Arabia.
When oil is discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1938, the U.S. founds the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco). By 1980, Saudi Arabia has gained full control over the company.
November 1938: The Woodhead Commission, created to examine the recommendation of the Peel Commission that Palestine be partitioned, issues its report.
After Palestinian Arabs reject the 1937 Peel Commission's partition plan (dividing Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state), the British government assembles a team to devise a new plan. (The Zionist Organization had accepted the principle of partition.) The written report includes a statement of policy rejecting partition as impracticable, but suggests that Arab-Jewish agreement might still be possible.
May 1939: Britain publishes the MacDonald White Paper, effectively ending its commitment to a Jewish state.
In May 1939, Great Britain publishes a White Paper, also known as the MacDonald White Paper (named for the British colonial secretary), that marks the end of its commitment to the Jews and a Jewish state under the Balfour Declaration. The White Paper calls for the establishment of a Palestinian (Arab) state within 10 years. It limits the number of Jews to be admitted to Palestine over the next five years to 75,000 and places severe restrictions on land purchases by Jews.
The White Paper receives a mixed Arab reception, and the Jewish Agency rejects it emphatically, calling it a total repudiation of Balfour and mandate obligations. David Ben-Gurion, then chairman of the Jewish Agency, declares, "We shall fight the war against Hitler as if there were no White Paper, and we shall fight the White Paper as if there were no war."
1939-1945: World War II
The outbreak of World War II pits the Allied powers (Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Soviet Union, and the U.S.) against the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan). After six years of fighting, the Allies win the war.
May 1941: Iraqi prime minister Rashid Ali attempts a coup, which results in rebellion and an invasion of British troops.
Strong anti-British sentiment and an increasingly powerful urban nationalist movement come together to spark Prime Minister Ali's 1941 coup attempt. The coup is ultimately unsuccessful in ousting the monarchy, but the landing of British forces completely divorces Iraq's monarchy from the nationalist group.
August-September 1941: Allied powers invade Iran and force Reza Shah Pahlevi into exile.
Iran declares its neutrality at the start of World War II, but Britain is upset at Iran's refusal of Allied demands to expel all German nationals from the country. (Germany had been Iran's largest trading partner prior to the war.) After Hitler's 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, the Allies desperately need to create a transportation route across Iran and into the Soviet Union, and on August 26, Britain and the Soviet Union simultaneously invade Iran. On September 16, with the collapse of the resistance, Reza Shah Pahlevi abdicates the throne to his son, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlevi. Exiled to Mauritius and then to Johannesburg, South Africa, Reza Shah dies in July 1944.
1942: Britain forces Egypt's King Faruq to appoint a pro-British prime minister.
King Faruq's appointment of Mustafa al-Nahhas to head the Egyptian government virtually destroys Faruq's authority inside his country. Despite the fact he takes this action under the pressure of British tanks laying siege to his palace, many nationalists view Faruq as corrupt and ineffective.
1943: The National Pact divides the legislative powers of the newly independent Lebanon along sectarian lines.
The National Pact, an oral agreement between President Bishara al-Khouri and Prime Minister Riad al-Sulh, devises a formula for the distribution of seats in parliament according to population figures derived from the 1932 census. Six seats are reserved for all Christian sects, and five for all Muslim sects.
January 1, 1944: France grants Lebanon full independence.
France ends the colonial administration it has held over Lebanon since the end of World War I. Though Lebanon's independence is proclaimed on November 26, 1941, full independence is realized in stages. France transfers most of its governing powers to the Lebanese government on January 1, 1944, and completes troop evacuation in 1946.
March 22, 1945: Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Transjordan, and northern Yemen form the Arab League.
This loose affiliation of states favors unity among the Arab people and opposes the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The charter is signed in Cairo.
January 7, 1946: A second political party, the Democratic Party, is formed in Turkey, ending years of single-party rule.
Held in 1950, Turkey's first elections see the Republican People's Party (Atat¸rk's old party) lose out to the right-wing Democratic Party. After 10 years of majority rule characterized by abuses of power, however, the armed forces stage a coup, and the Democratic Party is banned.
January 19, 1946: Iran complains to the newly formed UN Security Council, demanding that Soviet troops withdraw.
Soviet troops, originally positioned in northern Iran in 1942 to prevent a possible German move and to protect Iranian oil, intentionally ignore an agreement that calls for the removal of all occupying forces by 1943. They stall as they debate whether they can carve out of the oil-rich northern Iranian province of Azerbaijan an autonomous entity that would be subject to their control. The Soviets ultimately leave after the U.S. threatens military action. The incident contributes to the start of the Cold War.
January 22, 1946: The Kurdish Democratic Party, or KDP, is formed in Iraq.
The KDP's primary goal is autonomy in northern Iraq. The organization is founded by Mustafa Barzani.
April 1946: Syria gains hard-fought independence from the French.
Charles de Gaulle promises Syria independence, but the transition is filled with strife. France demands that its cultural, economic, and strategic interests be protected by treaty before agreeing to withdraw its troops. In May 1945,
demonstrations take place in Damascus and Aleppo; the French respond by bombing the capital. Fighting breaks out in other cities as well. Only after Britain's prime minister, Winston Churchill, threatens to send troops to Damascus
does de Gaulle order a cease-fire. A UN resolution in February 1946 calls on France to evacuate. The French accede, and by April 15, 1946, all French troops have left Syria.
1947: The Middle East Science Cooperation Office (MESCO) is established to foster scientific work in the region.
MESCO is established in Cairo as part of UNESCO. Like UNESCO, its goal is to resuscitate international and regional scientific research and policy after World War II. Its specific goals are tailored to regional needs such as water conservation and the development of arable land.
May 14, 1948: The State of Israel is established.
After World War II, a showdown is looming between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Despite their numerical superiority (1.3 million Arabs to 650,000 Jews), the Arabs are less prepared for conflict than the Jews, who have a government under David Ben-Gurion and an army. The Palestinian Arabs are still in disarray from the Arab Revolt, and most of their leaders have been exiled.
By 1947, mounting violence, including terrorist acts by both Arabs and Jews, leads Britain to declare its mandate over Palestine unworkable. Britain makes plans for its withdrawal and leaves the question of what to do with Palestine to the UN. In August, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) recommends the creation of independent Jewish and Arab states. The plan divides Palestine into roughly equal halves, with Jerusalem and religiously significant surrounding sites under the control of a separate international authority. The report also calls for the Arab and Jewish states to form a united economic bloc.
The Jews accept this plan, but the Palestinian Arabs do not. The partition plan is approved by majority vote of the UN General Assembly on November 29.
Britain completes its withdrawal from Palestine in early May 1948, and on May 14, the State of Israel is declared, with David Ben-Gurion as its first prime minister. Both the United States and the USSR immediately recognize the new state. In support of the Palestinian Arabs, however, neighboring Arab nations -- Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Syria -- declare war on Israel the next day. The Israelis repel the Arab attack. The 1948 War, also known as the Israeli War of Independence, ends in July 1949. Israel signs separate cease-fire agreements with Transjordan, Syria, and Egypt and now controls about 70 percent of what had been Mandatory Palestine. Egypt holds the Gaza Strip, Jordan annexes the West Bank, and Syria retains the Golan Heights.
1949: Women in Syria are given the right to vote and stand for election.
1949: Qatar begins to produce and export oil.
Oil is produced and exported for the first time, 10 years after its initial discovery. Offshore oil production begins in 1964.