Saudi Arabia country overview

The culture of Saudi Arabia

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Saudi Arabia information index

Daily life of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has a diverse population consisting of nomads, villagers, and townspeople. However, the society is primarily influenced by the patrilineal kinship principle, with the administrative organization centered around the royal family. Extended families hold significant importance in Saudi society, while villages serve as local service centers with members from different tribal affiliations. Cities, on the other hand, are not organized by tribes but still maintain the significance of kinship affiliation, with local affairs often dominated by a few families. Social stratification is more pronounced in cities compared to other areas.

In the past, social status in Saudi Arabia was determined by lineage and occupation rather than wealth. However, with the development of the oil industry, wealth and material position have gained additional social value. This has led to the emergence of a middle-income group of technocrats who are increasingly aware of the growing gap between the ruling families and the rest of the population. Consequently, discontent and occasional outbreaks of civil unrest have occurred.

Traditional attire remains prevalent among most Saudis. Men typically wear a long shirt called a thawb, usually made of white cotton. They also wear a head cover known as a kaffiyeh, held in place by a camel’s hair cord called an ʿiqāl.

Women traditionally wear a thawb with loose-fitting pants called sirwāl. In public, women are expected to be fully veiled, wearing a long black cloak called an ʿabāyah. A hijab covers the head, while a niqāb covers the face. Bedouin women often wear ornate clothing adorned with handcrafted silver jewelry.

Saudi Arabian cuisine is influenced by Persian Gulf countries, as well as Turkish, Persian, and African cultures. Islamic dietary customs are strictly followed, with pork and wine being avoided. Animals, even those permissible for consumption, must be slaughtered according to specific rituals. The national favorite dish is khūzī, a stuffed lamb. Kebabs and shāwarmah (shwarma), a marinated meat dish, are also popular. Makhbūs (machbous), a rice dish with fish or shrimp, is widely enjoyed. Fresh fruit and dates are staple foods, and coffee, served strong and hot in the Turkish style, is the traditional beverage.

In line with the Wahhābī interpretation of Islam, Saudi Arabia officially recognizes only two religious holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Other Islamic holidays, such as the Prophet’s birthday and ʿĀshūrāʾ, are tolerated on a small scale at the local level but considered dangerous innovations. Public observance of non-Islamic religious holidays is prohibited, except for the celebration of the founding of the Saud dynasty on February 22 and the unification of the kingdom on September 23, which are also the only holidays recognized according to the Western calendar.

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