Islam is state religion in Yemen, the area was Islamized
as early as 628. From the 8th century the Zaydites have
dominated, today more than 50% of the country's population
probably belong to this branch of Shia Islam, see Zaydites.
Countryaah data, the others are Sunni Muslims, called Shafi'ites, because
they belong to the Shafi'i school. The country also has an
Ishmaelite minority. The Jewish minority is today greatly
reduced in number due to. emigration to Israel. Some
Christian and Hindu immigrants have lived in the south, and
a few Christian, Western relief organizations are active in
When civilization in Crete was at its peak, a different
culture developed on the southern tip of the Arabian
Peninsula, also based on trade, but in this case land-based.
This trade quickly led to the development of a large number
of cities. The most important of these were not on the
coasts, but on the interior of the country: Ma'in, Marib,
Timna and Nagram. They were on the caravan routes from which
perfumes were transported from Dhufar (now part of Oman) and
Punt (Somalia). The routes later continued up the Red Sea
coast to the Mediterranean markets and from Taima to
These cities joined together in kingdoms. First in Mina
and later the more familiar (because of the biblical
account) Saba, whose connection to the African coast
provided the basis for the formation of the Ethiopian
kingdom Axum (see Ethiopia).
For centuries, the Saba merchants had relations with
Africa despite their ship's poor constitution. One of the
consequences of this was that Ethiopian priests from
especially the 4th century spread Christianity among the
Yemenites. When the Hebrew sect Himyarit shortly
after brought the southern peninsula under its control and
established Judaism as an official religion, it triggered
conflicts between the various groups that led to foreign
The Ethiopians conquered the country in 525, and in 570
were expelled by the Persians. They thus got their first
contact with trade with black Africa.
By the time the Arab rally under Mahoma began, the region
had already lost much of its luster - after nearly 3
centuries of conflicts and invasions. Even the Marib dam - a
monumental building that was the cornerstone of the
irrigation of agriculture - was due for lack of maintenance.
The crisis led to emigration, both to Africa and to the
eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula.
Towards the end of the 8th century, the Arab empire
extended from northern Africa to Spain in the west and to
Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east. Damascus in Syria
became the capital of the empire, creating the basis for a
new culture. Greco-Roman elements merged with Persian and
Indian into a new dominant culture, within whose framework
the Arabs contributed science and philosophy. The Arabs
constituted the social elite, the ruling class, though not
much changed in the lives of the Yemenites or other
In the 16th century the Ottoman conquest began. The Turks
occupied a few posts out to the Red Sea, while the interior
of the country and the south coast remained independent,
ruled by an iman.
A short time later, the British made their way onto the
scene. In 1618, their East India Company established a
branch in the port of Mukha (Mokka, the name denoting the
Their presence was reinforced in the 19th century.
Following Mohamed Ali's conquest of the country, the British
occupied the southwest corner (see Egypt) and settled in
Aden - the region's best port - from which to keep an eye on
the Turks. These, in turn, sought to preserve their hegemony
in the interior of the country, which they only succeeded in
1872. In order to do so, they had to ally with the imman,
who even strengthened his position by making his post
hereditary rather than subject. for elections as before.
Around 1870, the Suez Canal opened and this, together
with the Turks' control of the northern part of the country,
gave Aden a new strategic importance for the British. The
city was the key to the Red Sea and thus to the new canal.
The British began to make friendship agreements or
protectorate agreements with the local tribal chiefs. A slow
and patient process culminating in 1934, when the English
had gained control of the entire southern part of the
country up to the border with Oman.