The culture of Saudi Arabia is a rich one that has been shaped by its Islamic heritage, its historical role as an ancient trade center, and its Bedouin traditions.
Saudi society has experienced tremendous development over the past several decades. The Saudi people have taken their values and traditions – their customs, hospitality and even their style of dress – and adapted them to the modern world.
The Crossroads of the World
Located at the center of important ancient trade routes, the Arabian people were enriched by many different civilizations. As early as 3,000 BC, Arabian merchants were part of a far-reaching trade network that extended to south Asia, the Mediterranean and Egypt. They served as a vital link between India and the Far East on one side, and Byzantium and the Mediterranean lands on the other.
The introduction of Islam in the 7th century AD further defined the region’s culture. Within a century of its birth in the Arabian Peninsula, Islam had spread west to the Atlantic Ocean and east to India and China. It fostered a dynamic period of great learning in culture, science, philosophy and the arts known as the Islamic “Golden Age.”
And every year for the past 14 centuries, Muslim pilgrims from around the world travel to holy sites in Makkah and Madinah, further enriching the region’s culture. The pilgrims brought ivory from Africa and carpets from the East, and took local goods back to their homelands.
When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was formed in 1932, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman dedicated himself to preserving Arab traditions and culture, and his sons and successors have done the same.
Arab and Islamic Traditions
Saudi traditions are rooted in Islamic teachings and Arab customs, which Saudis learn about at an early age from their families and in schools.
The highlights of the year are the holy month of Ramadan and the Hajj (pilgrimage) season, and the national holidays that follow them. The holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, culminates with the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday, in which it is customary to buy presents and clothes for children and visit friends and relatives.
The other highlight is the Hajj season, during which millions of Muslim pilgrims from around the world come to Makkah. The Hajj season concludes with the Eid Al-Adha holiday, in which it is traditional for families to slaughter a sheep in memory of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
Arab traditions also play an important role in Saudi life. These age-old traditions have evolved over the millennia and are highly regarded. They include generosity and hospitality, which every Saudi family offers to strangers, friends, and family. The simplest expression of hospitality is coffee – its preparation alone is an intricate cultural tradition, and it is often served in small cups along with dates and sweets. Another gesture of hospitality is the burning of incense (oud) to welcome guests.