The society and cultural practices of Saudi Arabia is highly controlled by the values and norms of Islam. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is rich in culture and the customs and beliefs are dominated by Muslim religion. It is an Islamic theocratic monarchy that has tightly controlled government. The kingdom is the origin of Islam and this has great influence on Saudi Arabia’s culture. The religion of Islam is the dominant in the Saudi Arabian society and about 95% of the people are Sunni Muslims. Almost all of the Saudi Arabian life is influenced by Islam including the architectural designs. The art and the calligraphy are impacted by Islam and most of the patterns used follow the style as depicted in the Quran. The dressing code of the Saudi Arabian men and women gives preference to traditional clothes over the modern styles of dressing. Decorations and jewelry are used for adornment and to symbolize the social and economic status as depicted by Islam. The form of entertainment is folk music whose popularity is high among the Saudi Arabian people. The culture of Saudi Arabia is distinctive and makes itto stand out as unique in the in the Muslim world.
First, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest in the Arabian Peninsula. The republic has extensive coastlines with the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Persian Gulf. According to the 2012 estimates the republic of Saudi Arabia has more than 26.5 million people (CIA – The World Factbook). The kingdom has a monarch type of government led by King Abdullah. However, the kingdom adopted the law that was based on Sharia law. The country is the homeland of the Arabs and the birthplace of Islam. The kingdom is home to the famous two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. The king has the official title of the custodian of the two most pious Holy Mosques, namely Mecca and Medina. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 after a campaign by Abd Al-Aziz Bin Abd Al-Rahman Al Saud to unify the Arabian Peninsula.
Moreover, the social interaction of the society is not influenced by the interaction with other societies. The way of life of the natives is not influenced by the immigrants despite the integration with other groups. The immigration factor in Saudi Arabia rarely affects the culture or the social interaction and marriage issues in the republic.The social interaction is defined by the strong gender segregation and respect for the different ages. The freedom of speech is limited in the kingdom and there are limitations to behaviors and lifestyle.
The Saudi Arabians use the Arabic language and almost all the immigrants use the same language for communication purposes. The Arabic language is widely usedduring prayers, religious rituals, in poetry, lectures, speeches, broadcasts, written communications, and other formal purposes. In the conversations the Saudis use amiya Arabic, which is a sub-dialectthat has internal variants. The Saudi Arabian culture is influenced by both the Islamic heritage and the Bedouin traditions.
Likewise, Islam is a state religion in Saudi Arabia and almost all people are Sunni except the small minority of Shia. There are rarely any other religions practiced in there because of the restrictions. The Saudi Arabian traditions are based on the Islamic teachings and rooted on the Arab customs. The Saudis are taught the teachings and the customs at tender ages at family level and in the schools.The culture of Saudi Arabia is solely defined by the Islamic heritage and the Bedouin traditions.Any person who profess to any other faith may be arrested, imprisoned or may even be sentenced to death because they are not allowed to practice in Saudi Arabia (Brown 2009). The majority of Sunni follow the Handbali School of Islamic law.
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The Islamic religion followed by the Saudis has rituals and Holy places. The rituals are related to the five pillars of the Islam. The Holy place of Islam religion is the mosque. Among the most important pillars of Muslim religion is the pilgrimage (haj) performed at least once in a lifetime. The other four pillars of the Muslim religion are five daily prayers, fasting, giving alms and professing that there is only one God and Muhammad is His Messenger.
Furthermore, the Saudi Arabians take the family unit and the extended family to be very important and forms the basis of their society. The Islamic law requires the Saudis to take family obligations and responsibility seriously. The family unit is large and goes to the extent of the extended families. The Arabs honor and respect their families and taking it as key social unit to the society. The Arabs value large families. The Saudi Arabian communities value family groups, and value family honor than individual honor. In any family setting the man is considered as the head of the family.
The Saudi men and women must seek consent to marry a non-Saudi before consummating their marriage. There are different rules for men and another set of rules for women. The rules for women marrying a non-Saudi are tougher than for men and make it hard to proceed with marriage.
In a family unit, the male offspring is more favored to the female offspring. The males are expected to provide care for the parents in their old age. The Islamic families are patriarchal.
Also, the Saudi Arabians follow a strict dietary restriction imposed by the religion of Islam. Some foods and drinks are strictly not allowed. The same dietary restrictions are applicable to the natives and the foreigners living or visiting the republic of Saudi Arabia. For example pork and alcohol are not allowed and import, purchase or consumption of the two attracts punishment. The Islam religion allows rice staple and grilled chicken or lamb. The Islamic law prohibits use of alcohol and Saudi Arabia has no alcohol. The available drinks are tea and coffee served in form of Arabian or Turkish coffee.
Additionally, music and dance are highly regarded in the Arab culture in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi entertainment is defined by the Sharia court which determines the principles of Sunni Islam. The music and dance has to be in agreement with the interpretations of Quran. In Saudi Arabia poetry has more preference since it is an Arab cultural way of life. Poetry has been used as an art that used oral tradition since the nomadic days of Bedouins. Poetry was used to preserve history, traditions and the Saudi social values. The field of entertainment is influenced by the traditional oral poetry. To date poetry is still popular among Saudis as it is inherited from the Islamic and Arabic way of life
The Saudi Arabian dressing follows the principles of hijab, which is an Islamic principle of modesty in dressing. The culture requires men to have ankle length shirts. The culture has great value for jewelryas an essential part of Arabian dressing. The culture uses jewelry to reveal and identify with the social and economic status rather than for decoration. The traditional Bedouins used it as a form of wealth and security.The dressing code of the Saudi Arabian people is the traditional hijab. The Muslim men are expected to wear an ankle length shirt that covers their entire body known as thawb. They are also expected to wear a checkered head cloth known as a keffiyeh.The Muslim women are required to wear abaya,a full-body and black clothing. They are also required to use the niqab, a black headpiece to cover the face and head leaving only a slit for eyes. The Muslim dressing code is not as strict for the foreigners, but they are expected to dress modestly in public.
Last, the Islam law has strict gender segregation that is authorizedby both the state and society. The females have fewer rights in comparison to male counterparts, and play limited roles in public. Women may work outside the home in settings where they do not have contact with unrelated men. The Saudi women are prohibited by sharia law from travelling without the escort of a male guardian (mahram). The women are forced to be dependent on men to conduct their private and public businesses. However, the Islamic laws do not prohibit men from owning property using their names and invest their own money in businesses. The status of women is low in the public but high in the family (Brown 2009). The Islamic laws hinder development since significant numbers of women with high levels of success in academia, and other fields are not recognized.The achievements of these women often go unnoticed since they are barred from the public life.
The Saudi Arabian law imposes strict on the behaviors and activities of Saudi women. Men and women have segregated places of work and they do not socialize in public with men. Women are supposed to interact only with men of their family.
Saudi Arabia is a country that most strictly applies sharia law, and it does not have a parallel civil legal code. This law is enforced by muttawa, the religious police that hunts for and arrests its violators to be whipped, put in prison, or beheaded. Foreigners have no protection in Saudi Arabia as more foreigners are beheaded than its own citizens annually. Non-Muslims are prohibited from practicing their faith in Saudi Arabia, where Islam is the only creed permitted. While Muslim collections rage about even the smallest identified slight against Islam in non-Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia defeats all non-Muslim religions within its borders. There are no church structures, and even a congregation of Christians only to pray or to commemorate Christmas or Easter is not permitted. Non-Muslims like Christians are compelled to eat halal foods that have been surrendered to a pagan idol, respect Ramadan and are not allowed to set foot in Mecca, which attracts 2 million Muslim visitors on hajj yearly (Schaffer, Filiberto, and Earle 368).
Sharia stands the path to a watering hole, and it signifies the Islamic way of life that is more than a structure of criminal justice. Sharia law is a religious code of living in Saudi Arabia in the similar way that the Bible offers a moral system to Christians. It is instituted as law and enforced by courts in the country. Sharia law shapes the culture of Saudi Arabia as it puts forward a code for living, leading all the elements of life – prayers, fasting, and contributions to the poor. It governs the lives of people in ways that are not governed by the law (Edwards).
The sole constitution used in Saudi Arabia is the Qur’an, and there are no specific statutes. Citizens follow sharia law that has created a culture over time that is unique and disciplined. These laws prohibit a number of everyday things that would otherwise be allowed in non-Muslim countries around the world. In Saudi Arabia’s culture, the religious police, which operates under sharia law, does not allow gyms and sports for women. In girls’ schools, there are no gym classes or sport teams. Therefore, the country has no professional women’s teams. Celebrating Valentine’s Day is banned for the reason of discouraging people from dating or having any contact outside marriage
Within sharia law, there is an explicit set of offenses referred to as Hadd offenses. These crimes are punishable by specific penalties, such as lashes, stoning, or severing of a hand. Saudi Arabia lives under pure sharia laws and enforces penalties for Hadd offenses. The specific penalties carried by these offenses are put in place by the Koran and the Prophet Mohammed. They are very strict and are responsible for the unique culture of Saudi Arabia. The offenses include unlawful sexual encounter, false accusation of sexual encounter, alcohol intake, theft, and highway robbery among others. Sexual offenses attract a penalty of stoning to death or flogging while theft is punishable by cutting off a hand. Penalties are severe enough to keep people from committing these offenses, leading to a much disciplined culture (Abiad 23).
The Saudi government believes that there are some limitations on human rights that are derived from sharia law. Women and other minorities are forced to live in a culture that oppresses them. Some of the restrictions in the Saudi Arabian culture that are considered oppressive as a result of following sharia law are mostly directed to women. They have almost no say in marriage or divorce as these things are decided for them by their husbands and fathers. They have minimal ability to petition for any change in marital status based on the public desires. Women are also forbidden to go out in public without at least wearing a hijab, but usually they must wear more covering garment, such as a niqab or burqa. They should also be accompanied by a male guardian who is a relative, and they are not allowed to drive. Working women do not receive equivalent pay for the same work and are treated discriminatorily concerning job benefits, raises, and advances. In most cases, they might be forced to work in a different set up to be segregated from their male counterparts (Abiad 68).
In Saudi Arabia, women and religious minorities are forced to live in a culture where sharia law forbids them from carrying weapons for self-defense. They are not allowed to join any military. Women are also not given the right to vote, and, in case they get such an opportunity, they cannot do it alone. They vote in the presence of a male guardian, and it prevents them from expressing their personal desires. Sharia law ensures that women are politically silenced in Arab culture. When a woman is allowed to hold the political position, some of her opinions are modified to allow her to continue holding the post. Minorities are not represented in the government. According to sharia law, reporting domestic abuse is close to impossible for any woman as such things are usually legal. Culture, shaped by sharia law, does not allow women and minorities to assemble freely or petition for better treatment (Abiad 21).
Sharia law has unified the country that was initially made up of dispersed tribes. Saudi Arabia is currently in a very distinguished position among Muslim-majority countries. The country has created a culture that cooperates with other Muslim majority-countries and offers support to them. A culture of giving is maintained as the country offers a tremendous amount of meat coming from sacrifice during Hajj to poor countries. The law ensures that people have the basics of food, shelter, and clothing provided by the Islamic state, and it is presented with an opportunity to prosper as human beings. It has significantly helped in poverty eradication in the society. Charity is something that every Muslim must practice by necessity (Korteweg and Selby 174).
Sharia law in Saudi Arabia has created a culture where discipline is highly valued as it covers a wide range of categories of laws that are not implemented in most countries around the world. The punishment system is superior to any other man-made system. The injustice that is too apparent in other countries where man-made law is dominant does not exist in the culture of Saudi Arabia. For example, some countries have seen cases where a rapist receives a lower sentence that someone who was convicted of robbery. Through this comparison, it is evident that that justice of sharia law is higher than that of any man-made law. Islamic punishments are carried out without impediment or uncertainty, and torture is outlawed and haraam for any Muslim to apply. The only problem is that the penalties are so inconsiderate and severe, and not entirely justified (Bassiouni).
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The values of Saudi society and culture are guided by sharia law. Members of each family are brought up in the Islamic faith, which demands commitment and obedience to God (Allah) and his prophets and respect and obedience to the laws. All the members are required to have love for and delight in the homeland and its magnificent history. The state aspires to promote family bond and Arab-Islamic values. The law takes care of all individuals and provides the right conditions for the growth of their skills and talents. Saudi culture is founded on the full devotion to God’s guidance, and the members are required to cooperate amongst themselves in charity, cohesion, and piety. The consolidation of national harmony is an obligation, and the law forbids all activities that can lead to division, partition, and disorder. The purpose of education in Saudi Arabia is to establish the Islamic doctrine in the hearts of young people. It is intended to help them acquire skills and understanding that will steer them into becoming useful members of the society, loving the homeland, and taking pride in the past records of the land (Bassiouni).
In Saudi Arabia’s culture, sharia law prohibits diseases pushed under the declaration of freedom, such as pornography, gambling, bestiality, and drugs and alcohol, which seek to manipulate and enslave people to their instincts and desires. These issues result in intensifying crime rates and the disorder that is widespread today in western society. The way of life in the country ensures the implementation of everyone’s entitlement to basic food that will avert people from resorting to unlawful acts. Unlike capitalism, sharia law prohibits laying bets and interest rates which exploit the poor for the benefit of the rich.
The aim of sharia law is to preserve the Saudi Arabian society in a form that is healthy and fruitful for the inhabitants. It helps individuals live the way their creator decreed them to live and ease the worship of Allah. Nothing comes close to sharia law, and it should be implemented in its totality to work and receive the blessings of Allah. Saudi Arabia is an example of a nation that implements this law, although not as entirely as it claims. Some man-made systems are also practiced in the country, but sharia law has a significant influence on the culture of Saudi Arabia, even with its changing nature.