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Culture & Identity of Saudi Arabia

WARNING: Terrorist threats linger in Saudi Arabia, please read this travel warning before going!

Introduction

Life in Saudi Arabia is heavily based on their Islamic faith as this religion dictates many rules and laws, truly dictating how most of the people live. However, the oil industry is also changing the way of life, particularly in the form of work schedules and income.

Islam's home is Saudi Arabia and the people and country are very conservative Muslims. The lives of many people revolve around religious obligations, such as Friday prayer, and the five daily prayers. The religion also forbids alcohol as well anything provocative in nature, meaning there is little nightlife and movies and graphic novels are also outlawed, giving the country a very muted entertainment scene. Strict rules on dating and associating with the opposite sex also restricts the social life in the country.

However, the many restrictions are a way of life in the country and for many this isn't much of an issue since they have experienced nothing different and family is the center of life so there is little need to go out with friends, although many people may desire to.

Today the oil industry is changing the country though. This valuable natural resource is providing a large number of jobs in the country and is also giving the people are more regular working schedule, while also urbanizing the population. Today over 80% of the people live in cities and many have regularly-scheduled jobs. Most jobs begin at about 7:30 am and end at about 3:00 pm. However, Islam's holy day is Friday so the work week in Saudi Arabia is from Saturday to Wednesday with Thursdays and Fridays off.

Another effect of the oil industry and increased wealth is the expansion of infrastructure, technology, healthcare, and education. Today the country looks and feels like a modern country with all the technological amenities available, yet religion rules over all else as schools and offices stop for prayer.

The debate on the many restrictions in the country is almost unheard-of in Saudi Arabia itself, but for Saudis abroad there are disagreements on the laws of the country. Many Saudis take their vacations in the nearby United Arab Emirates where they take off their conservative clothing at the airport. Others leave entirely for a life elsewhere, but for many people the laws are not restrictive so much as they are a way of life. There is no law in Saudi Arabia for women to cover their faces, but it is extremely rare to see a woman without her face covered. This is the culture, not law and the way of life in the country is based on this culture, which is rooted in religion and family.

Identity

Saudi Arabia is a country in which the people tend to identify in two ways: first as citizens of Saudi Arabia, which has a very specific definition tied to it, and second the people tend to identify with their tribal or family affiliation. To be Saudi, a person must be a citizen of the country and must be Muslim. Islam is the core of the entire society's culture and is at the core of the identity as there is no real distinction between the political and religious definitions in the country as they are interwoven as one in the same. However, this tie is relatively recent as the country has, in many ways, adopted the religious definition as affiliation has a much longer history than the political state. More than just religion and politics, the people of Saudi Arabia generally share ethnic similarities, a similar dialect of the Arabic language, and numerous culinary and cultural similarities.

The people also generally identify by their family or tribal groups, which have a long history in the country. These tribal and family grouping have, in some cases, been held together over centuries and have traditionally ruled over local areas, where these families and groups have strongly influenced the local people, culture, and identity. While this is how most Saudis have identified in the past, today there is a slow transition, shifting from identifying first with a person's tribal affiliation to first identifying as a citizen of Saudi Arabia, although no one seems to be abandoning their tribal affiliation entirely.

This page was last updated: December, 2013