Saudi Arabia has centuries-old attitudes and traditions, many of which stem from Arab civilization. This culture has been heavily influenced by the strict puritanical Wahhabi form of Islam that emerged in the eighteenth century and prevails in the country today. Wahhabi Islam has been called “the dominant feature of Saudi culture.”
Religion in society
Saudi Arabia differs from other modern Muslim countries in that it is the only state “created by jihad, the only one that claims the Quran as its constitution,” and one of only four Muslim countries “to have escaped European imperialism.” Its Hejaz region and its cities of Mecca and Medina are the cradle of Islam, the destination of the Hajj pilgrimage, Islam’s two holiest sites.
Islam is the state religion of Saudi Arabia, and the law requires that all citizens be Muslim. Neither Saudi citizens nor guest workers have the right to religious freedom. The official and predominant form of Islam in the kingdom-Wahhabism-emerged in the central region of Najd, in the 18th century. Proponents call the movement “Salafism” and believe its teachings purify the practice of Islam from innovations or practices that deviate from the seventh-century teachings of Muhammad and his companions. The Saudi government has often been viewed as an active oppressor of Shi’a Muslims because it funds Wahabbian ideology that denounces the Shi’a faith. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the United States, stated, “In the Middle East, the time is not far off when it will literally be ‘God help the Shiites.’ More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”
Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that has a “religious police” (known as Haia or Mutaween) that patrols the streets and “enjoins good and forbids wrong” by enforcing dress codes, strict separation of men and women, participation in prayer (salat) five times a day, prohibition of alcohol, and other aspects of Sharia (Islamic law). (In the privacy of the home, behavior can be far more relaxed, and reports from the Daily Mail and WikiLeaks suggest that the ruling Saudi royal family applies a different moral code for itself, indulging in partying, drugs, and sex. )
The kingdom uses the Islamic lunar calendar, not the international Gregorian calendar. Daily life is dominated by Islamic observance. Stores are closed three or four times a day for 30 to 45 minutes during business hours while employees and customers are sent to pray. The weekend is Friday-Saturday, not Saturday-Sunday, because Friday is the holiest day for Muslims. For many years, only two religious holidays were publicly recognized-ʿĪd al-Fiṭr and ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā. (ʿĪd al-Fiṭr is “the greatest” holiday, a three-day period of “feasting, gift-giving, and general letting go.”)
As of 2004, about half of the broadcasting time of Saudi state television was devoted to religious topics. 90 % of the books published in the kingdom deal with religious topics, and most of the doctorates awarded by universities were in Islamic studies. In the state school system, about half of the curriculum is religious. In contrast, the assigned reading in twelve years of primary and secondary school, which deals with the history, literature and culture of the non-Muslim world, totals about 40 pages.
“Fierce religious resistance” had to be overcome to allow such innovations as paper money (1951), women’s education (1964) and television (1965), and the abolition of slavery (1962). Public support for the kingdom’s traditional politico-religious structure is so strong that one researcher who surveyed Saudis found virtually no support for reforms to secularize the state.
Due to religious restrictions, Saudi culture lacks any diversity in religious expression, buildings, annual festivals, and public events. Celebration of other (non-Wahhabi) Islamic holidays, such as Muhammad’s birthday and the day of Ashura (an important holiday for the 10-25% of the population who are Shia), are only tolerated if they are celebrated locally and on a small scale. According to Human Rights Watch, Shiites are also systematically discriminated against in employment, education, and the judicial system. Non-Muslim celebrations such as Christmas and Easter are not tolerated at all, although there are nearly one million Christians among foreign workers, as well as Hindus and Buddhists. Churches, temples, or other non-Muslim places of worship are not allowed in the country. Proselytizing by non-Muslims and conversion by Muslims to another religion is illegal, and since 2014, distribution of “publications concerning a religious belief other than Islam” (such as Bibles) is reportedly punishable by death. In compensation trials (diyya), non-Muslims are awarded less than Muslims. Atheists are legally labeled terrorists. Saudis or foreign residents who “question the foundations of the Islamic religion on which this country is based” can be punished with up to 20 years in prison. And at least one religious minority, the Ahmadiyya Muslims, had their followers expelled because they are legally banned from entering the country.
Islamic cultural sites
Saudi Wahhabism rejects any reverence for historically or religiously significant sites, fearing that it could lead to “shirk” (idolatry), and the most significant historic Muslim sites (in Mecca and Medina) are in the western Saudi region of Hejaz. As a result, under Saudi rule, an estimated 95% of the historic buildings in Mecca, most over a thousand years old, have been demolished for religious reasons. Critics claim that 300 historical sites associated with Muhammad, his family, or his companions have been lost in the last 50 years, leaving less than 20 structures in Mecca that date back to the time of Muhammad. The destroyed structures include the mosque originally built by Muhammad’s daughter Fatima and other mosques founded by Abu Bakr (Muhammad’s father-in-law and first caliph), Umar (second caliph), Ali (Muhammad’s son-in-law and fourth caliph), and Salman al-Farsi (another companion of Muhammad).
Dress code in Saudi Arabia
The traditional dress of men and women in Saudi Arabia follows the principles of modesty and is influenced by the traditional principles of the Abrahamic religions (see White Dress (Religious)). The predominantly loose and flowing but covering garments are adapted to the desert climate of Saudi Arabia. Traditionally, men wear an ankle-length robe of wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a keffiyeh (a large plaid square of cotton held by an agal) or a ghutra (a plain white square of finer cotton also held by an agal) on the head. On rare, cool days, Saudi men wear an Arabic cardboard cloak known as a (bisht) over it. Women wear an abaya (usually black) or other modest garment in public that covers everything below the neck except the hands and feet, and some women optionally cover the head and face out of respect for their religion. This requirement also applies to non-Muslim women in public, especially in more conservative areas of the country, but in some neighborhoods known as ( Western Compounds ), women can wear any type of clothing. In addition, women can wear any type of clothing in some areas such as King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), some government offices, airports, diplomatic areas, private resorts on the Red Sea, some media areas, and places that are open only to women.
Women’s clothing is often decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metal threads and appliqués.
- Ghutrah (Arabic: غتره) is a traditional head covering typically worn by Arab men. It consists of a square cloth (“scarf”), usually made of cotton, that is folded and wrapped around the head in various ways. It is usually worn in areas with dry climates to provide protection from direct sunlight and also protection of the mouth and eyes from blowing dust and sand.
- Agal (Arabic: عقال) is an Arabic headgear consisting of a string that is fastened around the ghutrah to hold it in place. The agal is usually colored black.
- Thawb (Arabic: ثوب) is the standard Arabic word for garment. It is ankle-length, usually with long sleeves. Thobe worn in summer are regularly white and made of cotton. Thobe worn in winter are usually darker in color and usually made of wool.
- Bisht (Arabic: بشت) is a traditional Arabic men’s coat, usually worn only for prestige on special occasions such as weddings and official and business meetings.
- Abaya (Arabic: عبائة) is a garment for women. It is a cloak (usually black) that loosely covers the entire body except the head. Some women choose to cover their face and head with a Niqāb, some do not. Abayas come in different cuts, colors, styles, and fabrics. Conservative women usually prefer the black version without fashionable expressions.
Art and entertainment in Saudi Arabia
In the 1970s, there were numerous cinemas in the kingdom, although they were considered to be in conflict with Wahhabi norms. During the Islamic revival movement in the 1980s and as a political response to a rise in Islamist activism, including the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979, the government closed all cinemas and theaters. However, with King Abdullah’s reforms beginning in 2005, some cinemas reopened, including one in KAUST.
Since the 18th century, Wahhabi fundamentalism discouraged artistic developments that were incompatible with its teachings. In addition, the Sunni Islamic prohibition on creating representations of people has restricted the visual arts, which tend to be dominated by geometric, floral, and abstract designs and by calligraphy. With the advent of oil wealth in the 20th century, external influences, such as Western styles of living, furniture, and clothing, were added. Music and dance have always been a part of Saudi life. Traditional music is generally associated with poetry and is sung collectively. Instruments include the rabābah, an instrument not unlike a three-stringed violin, and various types of percussion instruments, such as the ṭabl (drum) and the ṭār (tambourine). Of the native dances, the most popular is a martial row dance known as the ʿarḍah. It consists of rows of men, often armed with swords or rifles, dancing to the beat of drums and tambourines. Bedouin poetry, known as nabaṭī, is still very popular.
Censorship has limited the development of Saudi literature, although several Saudi novelists and poets have gained critical and popular recognition in the Arab world-even as they provoke official hostility in their home country. These include Ghazi Algosaibi, Abdelrahman Munif, Turki al-Hamad, and Rajaa al-Sanea.
Sports in Saudi Arabia
Soccer (soccer) is the national sport in Saudi Arabia. Scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing and basketball are also popular and played by both men and women. The Saudi Arabian national basketball team won bronze in the 1999 Asian Championship. More traditional sports, such as horse racing and camel racing, became more popular in the 1960s and ’70s. Camel races are held in a stadium in Riyadh during the winter. The annual King’s Camel Race, established in 1974, is one of the competitions in this sport, which attracts animals and riders from all over the region. Falconry, another traditional sport, is still practiced. Horse races are held at weekly intervals on Friday and Saturday. Arabian horse breeding is also popular in most regions of the Kingdom, and horse stables are common in the Kingdom. The city of Ha’il is internationally known for breeding the best Arabian horses. It has 15 horse ranches that produce exceptional horses that are sold all over the world. Falconry is a popular sport and hobby in both northern and central Saudi Arabia. Falcons and Saluki dogs were used for hunting in the past to provide a source of food for the desert population. Then it became a hobby and sport that has many followers today. In addition, Saudi Arabia has participated in ten Summer Olympic Games. For the first time, they appeared in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany. Dalma Rushdi Malhas, is the first Saudi woman to compete in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore and won a bronze medal in equestrian. Hadi Soua’an Al-Somaily won the first Saudi silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In total, the country has produced 2 silver and 6 bronze medalists.
Cuisine in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabian cuisine is similar to that of the surrounding countries of the Arabian Peninsula and has been influenced by Turkish, Indian, Persian and African cuisine. Islamic dietary laws are observed: Pork is not allowed and other animals are slaughtered according to halal principles. A dish consisting of a stuffed lamb, known as khūzī, is the traditional national dish. Kebabs are popular, as is shāwarmā (shawarma), a marinated grilled meat dish made from lamb, mutton, or chicken. As in other Arab countries of the Arabian Peninsula, machbūs (kabsa), a rice dish with fish or shrimp, is popular. Unleavened pita bread is part of almost every meal, as are dates and fresh fruit. Coffee, served Turkish style, is the traditional drink.
Social problems in Saudi Arabia
Saudi society’s goal of being a religious Islamic country, combined with economic difficulties, has led to a number of problems and tensions. A rare independent opinion poll published in 2010 showed that the biggest social concerns of Saudis were unemployment (at 10 % in 2010), corruption, and religious extremism.
Crime has not been a significant problem. On the other hand, juvenile delinquency is on the rise through practices such as tafheet (illegal racing), drug use and excessive alcohol consumption. High unemployment and a generation of young men filled with contempt for the royal family pose a significant threat to Saudi social stability. Some Saudis feel entitled to well-paying government jobs, and the government’s failure to satisfy this sense of entitlement has led to considerable discontent.
One in four children in Saudi Arabia is abused, according to a study by Dr. Nura Al-Suwaiyan, director of the Family Safety Program at the National Guard Hospital. The National Society for Human Rights reports that nearly 45% of the country’s children experience some form of abuse and domestic violence. In 2013, the government passed a law criminalizing domestic violence against children.
It has been claimed that trafficking in women is a particular problem in Saudi Arabia, as the country has a large number of female foreign domestic workers and loopholes in the system result in many of them becoming victims of abuse and torture.
Like many Muslim countries in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has a high rate of population growth and a high percentage of the population under the age of 30, and significant changes in Saudi culture can be foreseen as this generation grows older. A number of factors indicate that the lives and levels of satisfaction of the young will be different from the generation before them:
- While Saudis could expect undemanding, well-paying government jobs for decades, the failure of oil revenues to keep pace with population growth has driven up unemployment, and poor education limits private sector employment opportunities. Young people lack their parents’ appreciation of how much living standards have improved since the mid-20th century. The average age of the king and crown prince is 74, making them half a century older than most of the population.
- Exposure to the youth’s lifestyle in the outside world, which clashes with the native Saudi culture of strict religious obedience and conformity.
- The tendency of parents to leave child rearing to foreign servants who are unable to “pass on by example the core Islamic values and traditions that have always been the foundation of Saudi society.”
In a 2011 survey, 31% of Saudi youth agreed with the statement, “Traditional values are outdated and … I want to embrace modern values and beliefs” – the highest percentage in the ten Arab countries surveyed. The number who have confidence in their country’s direction dropped from 98% (in 2010) to 62%. While these numbers may seem unremarkable in most societies, in Saudi Arabia any rebellion against “the unquestioning acceptance … of previous generations.”
The marriage rate between first and second cousins in Saudi Arabia is one of the highest in the world. Traditionally considered a means of “securing inter-tribal relations and preserving family wealth,” the practice is cited as a factor in higher rates of serious genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis or thalassemia, a blood disorder, type 2 diabetes (affecting about 32% of adult Saudis), hypertension (affecting 33%), sickle cell anemia, spinal muscular atrophy, deafness and muteness.
Estimates of the number of Saudis below the poverty line vary from 12.7% to 25% Press reports and private estimates from 2013 “suggest that between 2 million and 4 million” of local Saudis live on “less than about $530 a month” – about $17 a day – which is considered the poverty line in Saudi Arabia. By contrast, Forbes magazine estimates King Abdullah’s personal wealth at $18 billion.
Women do not have the same rights as men in the kingdom. The State Department considers discrimination against women by the Saudi government to be a “significant problem” in Saudi Arabia and notes that women have few political rights because of the government’s discriminatory policies. The report of the World Economic Forum 2010 on the global divide between the sexes occupied in relation to gender equality to 129. Place of Saudi Arabia among 134 countries. Other sources complained about the lack of laws criminalizing violence against women.
In August 2013, a law criminalized domestic violence against women. The ban includes 12 months’ imprisonment and fines of up to 50,000 rials ($ 13,000).
According to Saudi law, every adult woman must have a male parent as a “guardian”, for whom she must have permission to travel, study or work.
According to well-known Saudi feminist and journalist Wajeha al- Huwaider, “regardless of their status, Saudi women are weak, even those who are” pampered “among them because they have no laws to protect them from attack by anyone.
Women face discrimination in court when one man’s testimony matches that of two women on family and inheritance matters. Polygamy is allowed for men and men have the unilateral right to divorce their wives (talaq) without the need for a legal justification. A woman can only divorce with her husband’s consent or in court if her husband has harmed her. In practice, it is very difficult for a Saudi woman to get a legal divorce. With regard to the right of inheritance that the Koran gives to fixed parts of the estate of the deceased must be left Koranic heirs and generally the heiresses receive half the share of the male heirs.
The average age of first marriage for Saudi women in Saudi Arabia is 25 years, although child marriage is no longer common. In 2015, Saudi women made up 13% of the country’s indigenous workforce, compared with 51% of all college graduates. The literacy rate for women is estimated at 81%, lower than that for men.
Obesity is a problem among the Saudis of the middle and upper classes , who are at home in the traditional work but are allowed to drive, thus limiting are able to leave their homes. Since April 2014, the Shura Council has asked the Saudi authorities at the Ministry of Education to consider lifting the ban on public school sports for girls, provided that all sports comply with the rules of Sharia clothing and gender segregation, according to the official SPA. Press agency.
The religious police, known as Mutawa , puts women in Saudi Arabia in public many restrictions on , including the obligation , in separate, specially designated family departments to sit in restaurants, to wear an abaya and to cover themselves. the hair. Women are also not allowed to drive.
Although Saudi Arabia women using the religious police nationwide imposed a strict dress code , are facilitators who work for the Al-Arabia news network that partially son Prince Abdulaziz belongs prohibited. of the late King Fahad to wear a veil and be encouraged to adopt a western dress code.
Some Saudi women have reached the top of the medical profession; Dr. For example, Ghada Al- Mutairi runs a medical research center in California, and Dr. Salwa Al- Hazzaa is the head of the ophthalmology department at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh and was the late King Fahad’s personal ophthalmologist.
On September 25, 2011, King Abdullah announced that Saudi women would be given the right to vote (and the right to vote) in local elections, provided a male guardian gives permission. On December 12, 2015 women were finally allowed to vote.