Culture of Saudi Arabia
The cultural setting of Saudi Arabia is Arab and Muslim, and features many elements from historical ritual and folk culture such as dance and music. Traditional values and cultural mores are adapted into legal prohibitions, even for non-Muslims. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited as is pork products. Popular forms of media entertainment are banned or permitted under tight controls to prohibit the spread of immoral words, images or ideas.
Restrictions on cinema
In the 1980s, movie theaters were banned, and this ban has only recently begun to be liberalized for special holidays, and to encourage the development of Saudi cinema. Certain films and television shows on VHS, and more recently DVD, are prohibited, while other films and television shows are permitted with censorship. Other forms of popular entertainment, music cassettes and CDs, novels, magazines, comic books, computer software, and video games are generally permitted, if they can be officially censored for immorality, or causing political offense to the government, especially the royal family.
Educated Saudis are well informed of issues of the Arab world, the Muslim world, and the world at large, but freedom of the press and public expression of opinion are not recognized by the government. News stories, public speeches and other acts of personal expression cannot conflict with traditional Islamic values, or dissent from government policy, insult government officials, especially the royal family, and cannot delve too deeply into certain sensitive and taboo subject matters that might embarrass the government or spread dissent, i.e. the role of women in Saudi society, the treatment of Shiite Muslims, damage caused by natural disasters, or social problems such as AIDS-HIV pandemic and human trafficking.
Informal public discussion of public policy is not actively encouraged, although it is not expressly illegal per se, unless it is deemed to be promoting immorality, dissent or disloyalty. The government has created a national Consultative Council, and given permission for certain "societies" to exist; and limited non-partisan municipal elections were held in 2005. Yet, the Consultative Council is an appointed body with limited powers, and the legal societies have little ability to influence government policy. Labor unions are prohibited, as are political parties, although a few underground political parties do exist.
Music and dance
One of Saudi Arabia's most compelling folk rituals is the Al Ardha, the country's national dance. This sword dance is based on ancient Bedouin traditions: drummers beat out a rhythm and a poet chants verses while sword-carrying men dance shoulder to shoulder. Al-sihba folk music, from the Hejaz, has its origins in al-Andalus. In Mecca, Medina and Jeddah, dance and song incorporate the sound of the mizmar, an oboe-like woodwind instrument in the performance of the mizmar dance. The drum is also an important instrument according to traditional and tribal customs. Samri is a popular traditional form of music and dance in which poetry is sung. There is also the Dabka dance in the north, and belly dance for ladies with many styles, such as khaleeji style in the east, and saedi style in Hijaz. One other dance popular in the Arabian world is called the Dabka, a traditional form of unisex line dancing found in the Eastern Arab World. The dance is based on rhythmic stomping, stepping and jumping, completely synchronized to the drummer. This dance is usually danced in weddings and engagements by everyone of all ages. Guitars are also prohibited, as they also do not 'fit' with Islam. Songs (words sung with musical instruments) are also not allowed; instead nasheeds are sung, which are basically a capella, songs without instruments. Nasheeds are usually religiously based, but not all are sung about religion.
Saudi Arabian dress follows strictly the principles of hijab (the Islamic principle of modesty, especially in dress). The predominantly loose and flowing, but covering, garments are helpful in Saudi Arabia's desert climate. Traditionally, men usually wear an ankle-length shirt woven from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a keffiyeh (a large checkered square of cotton held in place by a cord coil) or a ghutra (a plain white square made of finer cotton, also held in place by a cord coil) worn on the head. For rare chilly days, Saudi men wear a camel-hair cloak (bisht) over the top. Women's clothes are decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread, and appliqués. Women are required to wear an abaya, niqab or burqa when in public. The Saudi niqāb usually leaves a long open slot for the eyes; the slot is held together by a string or narrow strip of cloth. Many also have two or more sheer layers attached to the upper band, which can be worn flipped down to cover the eyes.
In recent years, there has been a blending of traditional attire with more fashion-forward styles.
Islamic dietary laws forbid the eating of pork and the drinking of alcohol, and this law is enforced strictly throughout Saudi Arabia. The most popular food in Saudi Arabia is kabsa, which is rice and meat. Arabic unleavened bread, or khubz, is eaten with almost all meals. Other staples include lamb, grilled chicken, falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls), shawarma (spit-cooked sliced lamb), and Ful medames (a paste of fava beans, garlic and lemon). Traditional coffeehouses used to be ubiquitous, but are now being displaced by food-hall style cafes. Arabic tea is also a famous custom, which is used in both casual and formal meetings between friends, family and even strangers. The tea is black (without milk) and has herbal flavoring that comes in many variations.
Film and theatre
Public theatres and cinemas had been prohibited for over three decades, as Sunni tradition deemed those institutions to be incompatible with Islam. However, in June 2009, citizens finally got a chance to go to the movies when Menahi, a film produced by Rotana, owned by Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, began showing in the King Fahd cultural centre in Riyadh.
However, an IMAX theatre is available, and in private compounds such as Dhahran and Ras Tanura public theaters can be found, but often are more popular for local music, arts, and theatre productions rather than the exhibition of motion pictures. DVD retail sales, including Arabic, English and Indian language movies, are legal and widely available.
Some Saudi novelists have had their books published in Aden, Yemen, because of censorship in Saudi Arabia. Despite signs of increasing openness, Saudi novelists and artists in film, theatre, and the visual arts face greater restrictions on their freedom of expression than in the West. Contemporary Saudi novelists include:
- Abdul Rahman Munif (exiled, now deceased)
- Yousef Al-Mohaimeed
- Abdu Khal
- Turki al-Hamad (subject of a fatwā and death threats)
- Ali al-Domaini (in jail)
- Ahmed Abodehman (now writes in French)
- Raja'a Alem
- Abdullah Al-emi
- Rajaa Al Sanie, author of best-selling novel Girls of Riyadh
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an Islamic theocratic monarchy in which Islam is the official religion; the law requires that all Saudi citizens be Muslims. Religious freedom is non-existent. The Government does not provide legal recognition or protection for freedom of religion, and it is severely restricted in practice. Moreover, the public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited. The Saudi Mutaween (Arabic: مطوعين), or Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (i.e., the religious police), enforces the prohibition on the public practice of non-Muslim religions.
For this reason, Saudi culture lacks the diversity of religious expression, buildings, annual festivals and public events that is seen in countries where religious freedom is permitted.
- ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/525348/Saudi-Arabia/45221/Cultural-life
- ^ Moqtasami (1979), pp. 41-44
- ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11705976
- ^ IMAX Arabic
- ^ International Religious Freedom Report 2007: Saudi Arabia, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, September 14, 2007, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2007/90220.htm, retrieved 2008-04-29
- ^ Saudi Arabia: International Religious Freedom Report 2008
- International Religious Freedom Report 2010
- Consular Information Sheet
- Saudi Arabia a cultural profile
Saudi Arabia topics
History Geography Law Politics Military Economy Society Culture Symbols
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