Finding its influence from Islamic heritage, Bedouin traditions, and numerous tribes that were a part of the old trade, the culture of Saudi Arabia has greatly evolved over the years. Everything from the country’s history and architecture to the arts and daily lifestyle of Saudi Arabia reflects the vibrancy of its culture. Saudi Arabia is famous for its highly traditional, deeply religious, and family-oriented residents. A majority of people follow Islam to its core and with minorities following Christianity, Hinduism, and atheism. Saudi Arabia is known for its warm hospitality and diverse cultural experience among tourists worldwide.
Situated at the center of prominent ancient trade routes, the culture of Saudi Arabia has been influenced by various civilizations. At the time of the unification of Saudi Arabia in 1932, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman pledged to preserve the Arab culture and traditions. Following him, his successors also have strived to do the same.
Here are some of the major historical influences that paved the culture of the kingdom that it is today.
1. Old trade routes
Back in 3,000 BC, several Arabian merchants were part of an extensive trade network extending to Egypt, the Mediterranean, and South Asia. These merchants linked the region to the Mediterranean lands and Byzantium on one side and India and the Far East on the other. On their trade routes, they brought in the essence of various cultures from around the world.
2. Foundation of Islam
In the 7th century AD, the country’s culture was further influenced by the introduction of Islam. Over a century after its introduction in the Arabian Peninsula, the religion spread to China and India in the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. In the Arabian region, Islam fostered a period of huge developments and learnings in the fields of science, culture, and philosophy.
3. Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage
For the past 1400 years, Muslims around the globe have traveled to the holy Saudi Arabian cities of Makkah and Madinah every year, enriching the region’s culture even further. Muslims from around the world visit these holy cities to carry out the holy pilgrimage of Hajj and Umrah which further led to the evolution of the culture in Saudi Arabia.
Traditions of Saudi Arabia
There are several age-old traditions in Saudi Arabia, all of which are rooted in Araba customs and Islamic teachings. People of Saudi learn to follow these traditions from an early age, both at home and in school. Given below are some major Saudi traditions:
The holy month of Ramadan is a major highlight of the year in Saudi Arabia and is followed by numerous national holidays. During this month, most of the locals fast from dawn to dusk. Ramadan ends with the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday, where locals buy clothes and presents for each other and celebrate with family and friends.
The other major highlight of the year in the country is the Hajj pilgrimage season, during which thousands of Muslim pilgrims from across the globe visit the holy city of Makkah. This pilgrimage season ends with the Eid Al-Adha holiday, where families sacrifice goats to honor Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as proof of his faith in Allah.
3. Generosity and compassion
Saudis follow several age-old and highly regarded Arab traditions, including hospitality and generosity. The Saudi community greets even strangers with warm smiles and friendly gestures.
Serving coffee is considered the simplest expression of hospitality in Saudi Arabia. Traditionally, it is served in small cups and is often accompanied by dates and other sweets. Another highly-regarded sign of hospitality is welcoming guests by burning incense (oud).
Basic etiquettes and rules followed in Saudi Arabia
There are several basic etiquettes and rules in Saudi Arabia that everyone is expected to follow regardless of whether they are locals or tourists.
Some of these are:
- Alcohol is banned, and its consumption and sale are strictly prohibited and illegal
- Women should wear an abaya whenever in a public place
- Holding hands in public or any other public display of affection isn’t acceptable
- Unaccompanied males aren’t allowed to go into the family sections of the cafes and restaurants
- One should only use their right hand for shaking hands. In Islam, using the left hand for such gestures is considered rude
- Eating or drinking anything in public during Ramadan is prohibited
- Gambling is strictly forbidden in the country
Over the centuries, Saudi Arabia’s unique cultural heritage has undergone considerable development and transformation. In the old days, the materials and designs of buildings were influenced by geography, climate, and available resources. For instance, coral from the Red Sea was used in Jeddah, and stone and red bricks were commonly used in the country’s western region. In the central areas of Saudi Arabia, adobe was preferred due to its easy availability, insulating qualities, and malleability.
Nowadays, architects in Saudi use modern technology, equipment, and resources while taking inspiration from Islamic concepts and traditional building designs. This combination of the old and the new has helped establish a link between the country’s past and its future. Two of the best examples of modern architecture and traditional Islamic design blends are the King Khalid International Airport and King Saud University.
Moreover, one of the most visible structures in the country is minarets. The skyline of every urban center in Saudi Arabia features multiple minarets, which symbolize the bond between Allah and the Muslim society. These minarets tower over all other surrounding buildings to allow the call of prayer to be easily heard by all those living in the mosque’s neighborhood.
Clothes in Saudi Arabia culture
People of Saudi Arabia usually prefer wearing traditional clothes compared to Western attire. The loose and breathable traditional clothes are not only comfortable in the country’s hot climatic conditions but also keep in line with the Islamic ideal of modesty. Here is how men and women in Saudi Arabia typically dress.
1. Traditional women’s clothes in Saudi Arabia
Customarily, women in Saudi Arabia wear a black abaya over their dress. Abayas are available in different modern and traditional styles. They traditionally wear a Shayla on their head. A Shayla is a black, gauzy scarf that wraps around the head and is secured with jewelry, circlets, or hats. Their traditional dresses are often decorated with sequins, brightly colored fabric appliqués, or coins. Some Saudi women can also be seen wearing a sheer veil, which not only protects them against constant exposure to the harsh sunlight but also serves as a symbol of virtue and modesty.
2. Traditional men’s clothes in Saudi Arabia
Traditionally, men in Saudi Arabia wear a thawb, which is an ankle-length shirt crafted with cotton or wool. They wear a ghutra (a large square of cotton fabric) on their heads. The ghutra is folded diagonally over a kufiyyah (a skullcap) and is secured with an igaal (cord circlet). The final piece of the traditional attire is a bisht, which is a full-length, flowing outer cloak typically crafted with camel hair or wool.
Food in Saudi Arabia culture
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is renowned for its delightful cuisine all around the world. The dishes generally consist of meat, rice, and wheat along with yogurt and local spices to add to the flavors. Saudi Cuisine is a blend of flavors from all around the Arabian peninsula and European and African countries. Tharid and Hareesa are among the most popular dishes in Saudi Arabia from the times of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and before.
Saudi Arabia’s folk music
Music is a huge part of a region’s culture. Saudi Arabia’s folk music reflects its storied history and shows the influence of the nomadic Bedouins and the pilgrims from around the globe. The country’s folk music varies from one region to another. For instance, the folk music of the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah reflects how the entire Islamic world has influenced these two cities. In the Hijaz region, al-sihba’s music combines Arab Andalusia and poetical songs. All in All, every region in Saudi Arabia has its folk music, which is highly beloved by the locals.
Saudi Arabia’s traditional dance
Like music, dances are also quite popular amongst the Saudi Arabian people. The country’s national dance is ardha, which is a sword dance performed by men. Originating in Saudi’s central area called Najd, Ardha is an ancient traditional dance that involves a combination of singers, a poet or a narrator, and dancers carrying swords. While performing this dance, the dancers stand in a circle or two parallel lines with a poet singing amidst them.
Poetry in Saudi Arabia
The culture of Saudi Arabia offers immense importance to poetry as it is considered the highest expression of literary art. In the days of the Bedouin, people gathered around a storyteller telling soul-stirring tales of war, love, chivalry, bravery, and important historical events. Poetry is used to serve as entertainment as well as a way of orally preserving the country’s history, values, and traditions.
With its perfect use of the Arabic language, the Holy Quran became the ultimate literary model and amplified the Saudis’ love for poetry. Even today, poetry is extremely popular in Saudi Arabia and forms a big part of their culture. In many cultural events held in the country, people gather to read the work of established poets. Also, the country has a popular televised poetry competition.
Modern blend and cultural shift
Over the past several decades, the country has undergone a significant cultural transformation. The Saudi people have preserved their century-old customs, values, and traditions and adapted them to today’s contemporary world. While many traditions and attitudes are centuries old, the lifestyle is modern and fast-paced. In today’s time, the country is among the leaders in technology and industries. Consequently, the behavior and social norms are continuously being transformed as the people balance the modern age with their cultural traditions.
Tourists visiting the kingdom must respect the cultural norms and try to indulge in the traditions for a wholesome experience of Saudi Arabia.
The Culture of Saudi Arabia FAQs
What are the basic norms for tourists during prayer hours in Saudi Arabia?
People in Saudi Arabia usually gather in mosques or areas reserved for prayers during prayer times. In the vicinity of these areas, one should avoid doing anything that could disturb the worshippers, like playing loud music or talking loudly.
Is photography allowed in Saudi Arabia?
Yes, photography is allowed. However, tourists should respect the privacy of locals; hence, it is advisable to ask people if it is okay to click their pictures. Tourists should not take pictures of government buildings like police stations or national infrastructure like airports.
What is the traditional dance of Saudi Arabia called?
Ardha is the popular traditional dance of Saudi Arabia.
What are the general topics of poetry in Saudi Arabia?
Tales of love, war, chivalry is some of the poetry topics.
Is alcohol permitted in Saudi Arabia?
No, alcohol is strictly prohibited in the kingdom.