Saudi Arabia country overview

The people of Saudi Arabia

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Saudi Arabia information index

Religion of Saudi Arabia

The influence of the Wahhābī interpretation of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia can be seen in various aspects of society. From the way individuals practice their faith to the laws and regulations governing social and political life, the teachings of this sect have had a profound impact on the country. Members of the Wahhābī sect, known as muwaḥḥidūn, are often seen as strict followers of Islam. They adhere closely to the teachings of the Ḥanbalī school of Islamic jurisprudence, which emphasizes a literal interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith. This strict adherence to Islamic law has shaped the legal system in Saudi Arabia, with Islamic principles forming the basis of the country’s legal code. In addition to their influence on the legal system, scholars of the Wahhābī sect also play a significant role in shaping social and political matters in Saudi Arabia. These scholars are often consulted by government officials on matters relating to Islamic law and are seen as authoritative voices on religious matters. The sect takes its name from Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, a religious scholar who formed an alliance with Ibn Saud to establish the first Saudi state. This alliance laid the foundation for the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and cemented the influence of the Wahhābī interpretation of Islam in the country. Overall, the Wahhābī sect has had a lasting impact on Saudi society, shaping the way in which individuals practice their faith, the laws that govern their lives, and the role of religion in social and political matters.

One of the key aspects of the Saudi government’s reliance on religion for political legitimacy is its close ties to Wahhābism, a conservative and puritanical form of Sunni Islam. The Saud family has historically been closely aligned with Wahhabi scholars and clerics, who have played a significant role in shaping the country’s legal system and social norms. Additionally, the Saudi government’s role as the custodian of Mecca and Medina holds great symbolic and religious significance. As the guardians of the two holiest sites in Islam, the Saud family is expected to uphold the principles of the faith and ensure that they are respected and protected. This responsibility adds to the government’s religious legitimacy and reinforces its connection to the faith of the people. Despite these expectations, there have been instances where the royal family has faced criticism for not fully embodying Islamic principles in their governance. Some have argued that the government’s policies and actions have not always aligned with the teachings of Islam, leading to questions about the legitimacy of their rule. This tension between religious expectations and political actions has been a recurring theme in Saudi politics and has fueled debates about the role of religion in the government’s legitimacy. In conclusion, the Saudi government’s reliance on religion for political legitimacy is deeply ingrained in its history and governance. The close ties to Wahhābism and the custodianship of Mecca and Medina play a crucial role in establishing the government’s religious authority. However, the challenges of reconciling Islamic principles with political realities have at times led to criticism and debate about the government’s legitimacy. Ultimately, the relationship between religion and politics in Saudi Arabia continues to be a complex and evolving aspect of the country’s governance.

The Shiʿi Muslims in Saudi Arabia, who are part of the second major branch of Islam, represent a relatively small percentage of the population. They are primarily found in the oases of Al-Hasa and Al-Qaṭīf in the eastern region of the country. Within the Shiʿi community, the majority adhere to the Twelver sect, which is the largest branch of Shiʿism worldwide. However, there are also smaller numbers of Ismāʿīlīs, who follow a different interpretation of Shia Islam. The Christian community in Saudi Arabia is composed mainly of foreign workers and businessmen who have come to the country for employment opportunities. They often gather in churches and worship centers that cater to their specific denominations. Although Christianity is not officially recognized in the country, the government generally allows the practice of religion in private settings. The Jewish population in Saudi Arabia, which was once a small but culturally significant community, is now believed to be extinct. Historically, Jews in the Arabian Peninsula played important roles in trade, finance, and other sectors. However, due to various factors such as emigration, persecution, and assimilation, the Jewish presence has dwindled over the years. Overall, the religious landscape of Saudi Arabia is diverse, with a mix of Sunni and Shia Muslims, as well as small Christian and now extinct Jewish communities. Despite the official promotion of Sunni Islam as the state religion, the country’s population includes individuals from various religious backgrounds who contribute to the cultural tapestry of the nation. 

Non-Muslim faiths are practiced by foreign workers in the country, but there are restrictions when it comes to public worship and displays of these religions. The government has put limitations on or completely banned public displays by non-Wahhābī Muslim groups, which includes other Sunni sects. This has affected practices such as Sufism and the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday (mawlid), which are not openly observed in the country. The Shiʿah community has faced the most persecution in the country, with their practices and religious beliefs being heavily scrutinized and suppressed. The government’s strict enforcement of Wahhābī Islam has created an environment where those who do not adhere to this specific sect of Islam face discrimination and oppression. This has led to a lack of religious freedom for non-Wahhābī Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with their ability to openly practice their faiths being severely restricted. The restrictions on public displays and worship of non-Muslim faiths have created a challenging environment for religious minorities in the country.

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