Living in the Middle East / Saudi Arabia

Culture and Customs

Date Posted: February 16, 2016      

The culture of Saudi Arabia is a rich one, shaped by its Islamic heritage and Bedouin traditions. As an Islamic country and the birthplace of this religion, every law and regulation is rooted in the Islamic traditions of Shari’ah law, which originates from the Holy Qur’an – the holy book of Islam. In fact the Holy Qur’an was adopted by Saudi Arabia as its constitution and so Islam is far more than a religion, it governs every part of life in the country.

Daily life is structured by Islamic observance. Businesses are closed five times a day during business hours for 30 to 45 minutes while employees and customers attend prayers. You may wish to check the daily prayer times if you wish to visit the shops in order to avoid any unplanned delays. The prayers are: Fajr (Dawn); Shuruq (Sunrise) – the latest time by which Fajr should be performed; Dhuhr (Afternoon); Asr (Sunset); Isha (Night).

Friday is the holiest day for Muslims, therefore, the weekend falls on a Friday and Saturday.

In general, the culture in Saudi Arabia can be summarized as devoutly religious, traditional and conservative with a strong focus on family values. Compared with other countries (even other Muslim countries) there are many restrictions placed on behavior and dress. The religious police in Saudi Arabia are tasked with enforcing Sharia principles. They have very wide powers, including the ability to arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing together; to enforce Islamic dress-codes; Muslim dietary laws; Muslim attendance at prayer time five times per day and store closures during prayer time. Religious police do not typically enter expatriate compounds and therefore the restrictive rules in Saudi Arabia are not normally applied within the confines of these residential compounds.