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Saudi Arabia - SOCIETY

Saudi Arabia - Population

Saudi Arabia

Saudis and Non-Saudis

Estimates of the population holding Saudi citizenship have varied widely. Official figures published by the Saudi government indicated a population of 14,870,000 in 1990. In the same year, however, estimates by one Western source inside the kingdom were as low as 6 million. United Nations estimates were slightly less than the official Saudi figure. Based on the official Saudi figure, at the 1990 rate of growth, a population of 20 million was projected by the year 2000. The 1992 Saudi census indicated an indigenous population of 12.3 million people and a growth rate of 3.3 percent.

In addition to the population holding Saudi citizenship, there were large numbers of foreign residents in the kingdom. In 1985 the number of foreigners was estimated at 4,563,000, with a total foreign work force of 3,522,700. In 1990 the number of foreigners had risen to 5,300,000. In 1990 the greatest number of foreign workers came from Arabic-speaking countries, chiefly Egypt, followed by Yemen, Jordan, Syria, and Kuwait, then Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). About 180,000 came from European countries and 92,000 from North America. Between 1985 and 1990, the number of foreigners employed in the economy rose, in contrast to the substantial decline expected and called for in the Fourth Development Plan, 1985-90. This increase was reflected in the number of residence permits issued to foreigners, which rose from 563,747 in 1985 to 705,679 in 1990. A goal of Saudi planners continued to be a reduction in the number of foreign workers, and the Fifth Development Plan, 1990- 95, projected a 1.2 percent annual decline over five years, or a drop of almost 250,000 foreign workers. The 1992 census gave the number of resident foreigners as 4.6 million.

Whether such a decline could occur, or had already begun to occur in 1992, was questionable. From an economic point of view, there were difficulties in increasing the number of Saudi citizens in the work force. One difficulty was that potential Saudi workers for low-skilled and other jobs were becoming less competitive with foreigners in the private-sector labor market. Wages of non-Saudi workers had been adjusted downward since the early 1980s, and, with a ready supply of non-Saudis willing to work in low-skilled occupations, the wage gap between Saudis and non-Saudi workers was widening. In addition, as the government recognized, Saudi secondary school and university graduates were not always as qualified as foreign workers for employment in the private sector. Although the Riyadh-based Institute of Public Administration offered training programs to increase the competitiveness of Saudi nationals, the programs had difficulty attracting participants.

Social constraints on the employment of women (7 percent of the work force in 1990; 93 percent of the national work force were men) also hampered indigenization of the work force. Government and private groups actively sought ways to expand the areas in which women might work. The issue became more pressing as the number of female university graduates continued to increase at a faster rate than the number of male graduates.

Although such economic and social pressures have militated against increasing the number of Saudi nationals in the work force, the desired decline in foreign labor may have occurred as a result of new residency requirements imposed in the summer of 1990 to encourage the departure of Yemenis, the second largest segment of the foreign labor population. As a punitive response to the government of Yemen's sympathy with Iraq, the Saudi government issued a decree requiring Yemenis, who were previously exempt from regulations governing foreigners' doing business in the kingdom, to obtain residence permits. Subsequently, about 1 million Yemenis left the country. Only three weeks after the decree was issued, the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce announced that there were almost 250,000 jobs, especially in the area of small retail businesses, available for young Saudis as a result of the regulation of foreign residence visas. It was unclear in 1992 whether the types of employment and businesses vacated by Yemenis would prove attractive to Saudi job seekers, or whether these jobs would be recirculated into the foreign labor market.

<> Diversity and Social Stratification
<> Cultural Homogeneity and Values
<> Structure of Tribal Groupings
<> Tribe and Monarchy
<> Beduin Economy in Tradition and Change

Updated population figures for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Diversity and Social Stratification

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi population is characterized by a high degree of cultural homogeneity and by an equally high degree of social stratification. The territory that in 1992 constituted the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia consisted of four distinct regions and diverse populations. Each region has sustained some measure of nomadic and seminomadic population: as recently as 1950, at least one-half the total population of the kingdom was estimated to be nomadic. Tribal identities were paramount among the nomadic population and among those in towns and villages who recognized a tribal affiliation. The Eastern Province had a substantial Shia population with cultural links to Iran, Bahrain, and other places in the gulf region, as well as an Indian, Yemeni, and black African component. Asir was more closely linked to Yemen than to Saudi Arabia both by population and geography. Najd was geographically divided into three regions, with town centers that functioned almost as independent city-states until the early twentieth century. Until the era of development began in the 1960s, Najd remained relatively isolated, located as it was in the center of the peninsula in the midst of three deserts and a mountain chain, but its towns, too, had populations linked to the gulf, the Hijaz, and Africa.

By contrast, the Hijaz, being home to the holy sites of Islam and host to pilgrimage traffic, was directly tied historically into the Ottoman bureaucratic system. The populations of Mecca, Medina, and Jiddah have been infused for centuries by descendants of foreign Muslims who had come for the pilgrimage and stayed. Mecca had substantial Indian and Indonesian communities, and Jiddah had descendants of Persians and Hadramis (from Hadramaut, or Aden), as well as Africans and people from other parts of the Arabic-speaking world. The cities of the Hijaz benefited by donations from pious Muslims throughout the world and became major centers of Islamic scholarship and learning. Jiddah was virtually without peer as the commercial center in the kingdom until the 1960s, and in all the Hijaz towns, mercantile families comprised a powerful elite.

Social stratification was linked to this population diversity. Tribal affiliation constituted a major status category based on bloodline. At the top of the tribal status category were the qabila, families that could claim purity of descent from one of two eponymous Arab ancestors, Adnan or Qahtan, and could therefore claim to possess asl, the honor that stemmed from nobility of origin. To some extent, tribal status could be correlated to occupation, yet manual labor in general, but particularly tanning hides and metal work, was considered demeaning for individuals of qabila status. Qabila families considered themselves distinct from and distinctly superior to khadira, nontribal families, who could not claim qabila descent. Khadira include most tradesmen, artisans, merchants, and scholars, and constituted the bulk of the urban productive population of pre-oil Arabia. Marriage between individuals of qabila and khadira status was not normally considered. The claim to qabila status was maintained by patrilineal descent; therefore, qabila families were concerned to observe strict rules of endogamy (marriage back into the paternal line) so that status might be maintained and children, who were considered to belong to the family of the father, not the mother, would not suffer the taint of mixed blood. Within the qabila status group, however, there were status differentials, some groups being considered inferior precisely because they had once intermarried with khadira or an abd (slave) and were unable to claim purity of descent. The abd was at the bottom of the tribal-linked status hierarchy in the past. Black Africans were imported into the peninsula in large numbers to be sold as slaves until the late nineteenth century. Although slavery was not formally abolished until 1962, intermarriage between khadira and the black population has been extensive and has blurred social distinctions between the two. In contemporary Saudi Arabia, new status categories based on education and economic advantage began to undermine the importance of tribal affiliation to status and were having an homogenizing effect on this barrier to social integration.

An additional status category based on bloodline was that of ashraf, those who claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad. The ashraf (sing., sharif) were significant in the Hijaz but far less so in Najd.

These status categories based on blood have at times in the past and were in the 1990s being transcended by status groups based on religion, commerce, professions, and political power. Religious authority, for example, constituted an additional category of status. The ulama historically have represented a powerful intellectual elite of judges, scholars, imams, notaries, and preachers. Prestige still strongly adhered to religious scholarship and especially to the groups of scholars whose religious authority was recognized by the rulers and who were employed in the government bureaucracy. To some extent, as secular education became more valued and greater economic rewards accrued to those with technical and administrative skills, the status of the ulama declined.

Merchants constituted an additional elite status category based on wealth. Many of the traditional merchant class, especially merchants from the Hijaz and the Eastern Province, lost influence as Saudi rulers ceased borrowing from them and began to compete with them, using oil resources to create a new merchant class favoring Najdis. The rulers also used preferential recruitment for administrative personnel from Najdi tribes, who in turn used their position to favor other Najdis and Najdi businesses. The result has been the creation of powerful administrative and commercial classes supplanting older elite groups based outside Najd.

The interest and status of these groups may overlap others. In the Hijaz, members of an elite group known as the awaali (first families) claimed group solidarity based on past family connections; their association was actually distinguished by wealth and life-style, and the circle of families was constantly in flux. Families who belonged to the group came from diverse backgrounds and included descendants of religious scholars, merchants, and pilgrimage guides.

The Shia of the Eastern Province were near the low end of the social ladder in relation to the fruits of development and access to sources of power. According to literature produced outside Saudi Arabia, Shia opposition groups were active inside the kingdom and constituted the majority of the political prisoners in Saudi jails. Shia were generally disparaged in society by the Wahhabi antipathy in which their rituals were held. The status of Shia, however, was in flux: they began to be drawn into positions of responsibility in government service and since the 1980s have received an increased share of government funding for development.

Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Cultural Homogeneity and Values

Saudi Arabia

The population was characterized by a high degree of cultural homogeneity. This homogeneity was reflected in a common Arabic language and in adherence to Sunni Wahhabi Islam, which has been fostered within the political culture promoted by the Saudi monarchy. Above all, the cultural homogeneity of the kingdom rested in the diffusion of values and attitudes exemplified in the family and in Arabian tribal society, in particular the values and attitudes regarding relations within the family and relations of the family with the rest of society.

The family was the most important social institution in Saudi Arabia. For Saudis generally, the family was the primary basis of identity and status for the individual and the immediate focus of individual loyalty, just as it was among those who recognized a tribal affiliation. Families formed alignments with other families sharing common interests and life-styles, and individuals tended to socialize within the circle of these family alliances. Usually, a family business was open to participation by sons, uncles, and male cousins, and functioned as the social welfare safety net for all members of the extended family.

The structure of the family in Saudi Arabia was generally compatible with the structure of tribal lineage. Families were patrilineal, the boundaries of family membership being drawn around lines of descent through males. Relations with maternal relatives were important, but family identity was tied to the father, and children were considered to belong to him and not to the mother. At its narrowest, a family might therefore be defined as comprising a man, his children, and his children's children through patrilineal descent.

Islamic laws of personal status remained in force in Saudi Arabia without modification, and the patrilineal character of the family was compatible with and supported by these Islamic family laws. Marriage was not a sacrament but a civil contract, which had to be signed by witnesses and which specified an amount of money (mehr) to be paid by the husband to the wife. It might further include an agreement for an additional amount to be paid in the event of divorce. The amount of the mehr averaged between 25,000 and 40,000 Saudi riyals in the early 1990s, although some couples rejected the mehr altogether, stipulating only a token amount to satisfy the legal requirement necessary to validate the marriage contract. The contract might also add other stipulations, such as assuring the wife the right of divorce if the husband should take a second wife. Divorce could usually only be instigated by the husband, and because by law children belonged to the father, who could take custody of them after a certain age (the age varied with the Islamic legal school, but was usually seven for boys and puberty for girls), legally a wife and mother could be detached from her children at the wish of her husband.

When women married, they might become incorporated into the household of the husband but not into his family. A woman did not take her husband's name but kept the name of her father, because legally women were considered to belong to the family of their birth throughout their lives. Many in Saudi Arabia interpreted the retention of a woman's maiden name, as well as her retention of control over personal property as allowed under Islamic law, as an indication of women's essential independence from a husband's control under the Islamic system. Legally, a woman's closest male relative, such as a father or brother, was obligated to support her if she were divorced or widowed. Divorce was common.

According to Islamic law, men are permitted to marry as many as four wives. Among the adult generation of educated, Western- oriented elites, polygyny was not practiced. Polygyny was common, however, among some groups, such as the religiously conservative and the older generation of the royal family. In the cities, polygynous households were seen among recent migrants from rural areas. For a family of means, a polygynous housing arrangement usually entailed a separate dwelling unit for each wife and her children. These units might be completely separate houses or houses within a walled family compound, in which case the compound might include a separate house that the men of the family shared and used for male gatherings, such as meals with guests or business meetings.

Because the prerogatives of divorce, polygyny, and child custody lay with the husband, women in Saudi Arabia appeared to be at a considerable disadvantage in marriage. However, these disadvantages were partially offset by a number of factors. The first was that children were attached to mothers, and when children were grown, especially sons, their ties to the mother secured her a place of permanence in the husband's family. Second, marriages were most often contracted by agreement between families, uniting cousins, or individuals from families seeking to expand their circle of alliances and enhance their prestige, so that a successful marriage was in the interest of, and the desire of, both husband and wife. In addition, Islamic inheritance laws guaranteed a share of inheritance to daughters and wives, so that many women in Saudi Arabia personally held considerable wealth. Because women by law were entitled to full use of their own money and property, they had economic independence to cushion the impact of divorce, should it occur. Most important, custody of children was in practice a matter for family discussion, not an absolute regulated by religion. Furthermore, judges of the sharia courts, according to informal observations, responded with sympathy and reason when women attempted to initiate divorce proceedings or request the support of the court in family-related disputes.

Families in Saudi Arabia, like families throughout the Middle East, tended to be patriarchal, the father in the family appearing as an authoritarian figure at the top of a hierarchy based on age and sex. Undergirding the patriarchal family were cultural and religious values that permeated the society as a whole, and that found their clearest expression in tribal values and practices. Families shared a sense of corporate identity, and the esteem of the family was measured by the individual's capacity to live up to socially prescribed ideals of honor.

The values and practices inherent in these ideals as well as adherence to Islam, were at the heart of the cultural homogeneity among the diverse peoples--tribal and nontribal--of the kingdom. The society as a whole valued behavior displaying generosity, selflessness, and hospitality; deference to those above in the hierarchy of the family; freedom from dependence on others and mastery over one's emotions; and a willingness to support other family members and assume responsibility for their errors as well. An example of the sense of corporate responsibility binding Arabian families may be seen in an incident that occurred in the 1970s in a Hijazi village. Although this incident occurred among beduin who were recently settled, the group solidarity illustrated was applicable to the Arabian family in general as well as to those united by tribal affiliation. An automobile accident took the life of a young boy, and the driver of the car was obligated to pay compensation to the boy's father. The family of the driver, although indigent, was able to borrow the money from a local merchant and present it to the boy's father in a ceremony "to forgive." Afterward, delegated members of the tribe assumed the responsibility of collecting money toward repayment of the compensation from all the people in the tribe, who happened to include close relatives of the boy who was killed. In this way, all parties to the tragedy were satisfied that the best interests of the extended family/tribal group had been served in serving the interests of an individual member.

Chastity and sexual modesty were also very highly valued. Applied primarily to women, these values were not only tied to family honor but were held to be a religious obligation as well. Specific Quranic verses enjoin modesty upon women and, to a lesser degree, upon men; and women are viewed as being responsible for sexual temptation (fitna). Although this attitude is ancient in the Middle East and found to some degree throughout the area in modern times, it has taken on religious significance in Islam through interpretations of Muslim theologians.

The veiling and separation of women were considered mechanisms to ensure sexual modesty and avoid fitna. In practice, the effect of veiling and separation also ensured the continuing dependence of women on men. Some families adopted more liberal standards than others in defining the extent of veiling and separation, but the underlying value of sexual modesty was almost universal. Because the separation of women from unrelated men was accepted as a moral imperative, most activities of a woman outside her home required the mediation of a servant or a man; for example, if a woman should not be seen, how could she apply for a government housing loan in an office staffed by men? In fact, how could she get to the government office without a servant or a man to take her, because women were not allowed to drive. The continuing dependence of women on men, in effect, perpetuated the family as a patriarchal unit. Control of women ensured female chastity and thus family honor as well as the patrilineal character of the family. In Saudi society in general, the role of women was basic to maintaining the structure of the family and therefore of society.

Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Structure of Tribal Groupings

Saudi Arabia

Almost all nomadic people are organized in tribal associations, the exceptions being the saluba, the tinkers and traders of the desert, and black beduin, descendants of former slaves. Not all tribal people, however, are beduin because urban and agricultural peoples may maintain tribal identities.

Structurally, tribal groups are defined by common patrilineal descent that unites individuals in increasingly larger segments. The lineage is the unit that shares joint responsibility for avenging the wrongs its members may suffer and, conversely, paying compensation to anyone whom its members have aggrieved. Although tribes may differ in their status, all lineages of a given tribe are considered equal. Water wells, aside from the newer deep wells drilled by the government, are held in common by lineages. Among nomads, lineage membership is the basis of summer camps; all animals, although owned by individual households, bear the lineage's brand. The lineage is the nexus between the individual and the tribe. To be ostracized by one's lineage leaves the individual little choice but to sever all tribal links; it is to lose the central element in one's social identity.

Above the level of lineage, there are three to five larger segments that together make up the tribe. Donald Cole, an anthropologist who studied the Al Murrah, a tribe of camel-herding nomads in eastern and southern Arabia, notes that four to six patrilineally related lineages are grouped together in a clan (seven clans comprise the Al Murrah tribe). However the subdivisions of a tribe are defined, they are formed by adding larger and larger groups of patrilineally related kin. The system permits lineages to locate themselves relative to all other groups on a "family tree."

In practice, effective lineage and tribal membership reflect ecological and economic constraints. Among nomads, those who summer together are considered to be a lineage's effective membership. On the individual level, adoption is, and long has been, a regular occurrence. A man from an impoverished lineage will sometimes join his wife's group. His children will be considered members of their mother's lineage, although this contravenes the rules of patrilineal descent.

The process of adjusting one's view of genealogical relationships to conform to the existing situation applies upward to larger and larger sections of a tribe. Marriages and divorces increase the number of possible kin to whom an individual can trace a link and, concomitantly, of the ways in which one can view potential alliances and genealogical relationships. The vicissitudes of time, the history of tribal migrations, the tendency of groups to segment into smaller units, the adoption of client tribes by those stronger, a smaller tribe's use of the name of one more illustrious--all tend to make tenuous the tie between actual descent and the publicly accepted view of genealogy. At every level of tribal organization, genealogical "fudging" brings existing sociopolitical relationships into conformity with the rules of patrilineal descent. The genealogical map, therefore, is as much a description of extant social relations as a statement of actual lines of descent.

Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Tribe and Monarchy

Saudi Arabia

The rise of the centralized state has undercut tribal autonomy, and sedentarization has undermined the economic benefits of tribal organization, but in the 1990s the tribe remained a central focus of identity for those claiming a tribal affiliation. Contemporary tribal leadership continued to play a pivotal role in relations between individuals and the central government, particularly among those who were recently settled or still nomadic.

The tribal leader, the shaykh, governs by consensus. Shaykhs acquire influence through their ability to mediate disputes and persuade their peers toward a given course of action. The qualities their position demands are a detailed grasp of tribal affairs, a reputation for giving good advice, and generosity. Shaykhs are essentially arbitrators; the process of resolving disputes reflects the tribe's egalitarian ethos. Shaykhs do not lead discussions but carefully ascertain everyone's opinion on a given question. Consensus is necessary before action is taken. To force a decision is to undermine one's influence; leaders are effective only as long as they conform to the tribe's expectations.

Tribal leaders in the past brokered relationships among competing tribes and clans. Raiding was a mechanism of economic redistribution that conferred status on strong and successful raiding clans. Tribes or lineages could opt out of the round of raiding and counterraiding by seeking the protection of a stronger, more militarily oriented group. The protected paid their protector an agreed sum (khuwa), in return for which their lives and property were to be spared. The shaykh who accepted khuwa was obliged to safeguard those who paid it or compensate them for whatever damages they incurred. As with the booty of raiding, the shaykh who accepted the payment could only guarantee this influence by distributing it to his fellow tribesmen. These client-patron relationships based on payment of protection money were undermined by Abd al Aziz in the 1920s when he released weaker tribes from obligations to stronger ones and made himself the sole source of wealth redistributed from the spoils of raiding, and then later from oil profits.

The working relationship between the monarchy and tribal leaders is viewed in much the same framework as the traditional relationship between the shaykh and tribal members. In fact, the same framework of the relationship between tribal shaykh and tribal members is the model for the ideal relationship between the monarchy and all Saudi citizens. Just as the tribal shaykh was expected to mediate disputes and assure the welfare of his group by receiving tribute and dispensing largesse, governors in the provinces and the king himself continue the custom of holding an open audience (majlis) at which any tribesman or other male citizen could gain a hearing. The largesse of the shaykh was dispensed not as direct handouts of food or clothing, as in the past, but through the institutions of the state bureaucracy in the form of free medical care, welfare payments, grants for housing, lucrative contracts, and government jobs.

The tribes of Arabia acknowledged the political authority of the Saudi monarchy as being above the tribal group. Loyalty to the state was not a matter of nationality or still less an abstract notion of citizenship; it was a matter of loyalty to the Al Saud and to the royal family as the focus of the Islamic nation. In a study of the Al Murrah, Nicholas Hopkins notes that "The Al Murrah make a distinction between al-Dawlah (the state or bureaucracy) and al-Hukumah (the Saudi royal family or governors); they are loyal to the latter and fearful of the former, but fear that the state is taking over the government." Most tribes were affiliated with the Al Saud through marriage ties as the product of Abd al Aziz's deliberate policy of cementing ties between himself and the tribal groups. In the 1970s and 1980s, the political alliance between tribe and state was reinforced by marrying tribal women to government officials and Saudi princes. According to a 1981 study carried out among the Al Saar beduin in southern Arabia, these marriages were encouraged by tribal leaders because they were seen as a means of ensuring continuing access to government leaders.

Tribal solidarity has been institutionalized and tribal ties to both dawlah and hukumah have been cemented through the national guard. The amir of the Al Murrah tribal unit studied by Hopkins was the head of a national guard unit composed mainly of Al Murrah, and most Al Murrah families in the unit under study had at least one family member serving in the national guard. Through the national guard former nomads received training and the potential for high-level careers, as well as instruction in military sciences, and housing, health, and social services for dependents and families. The government also provided water taps and markets in cities, towns, and villages that were used in marketing livestock. Also provided were veterinary services, subsidized fodder, and buildings for storage.

Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Beduin Economy in Tradition and Change

Saudi Arabia

The word beduin is derived from the Arabic word bawaadin (sing., baadiya), meaning nomads, and is usually associated with a camel-herding life in the desert. The word, therefore, describes an occupation and is not synonymous with the word tribe (qabila), despite the fact that the two are often used interchangeably. The word bawaadin, furthermore, refers not only to camel-herding but is an elastic term that is understood in relation to hadar, or settled people. People from the city, for example, were likely to view villagers as part of the bawaadin, but the villager would consider only the nomadic people as bawaadin. Villagers and nomads, on the other hand, would make a distinction between shepherds who tend sheep and goats, staying close by the village, and the beduin who raised camels. "While the physical boundary between the desert and the sown is strikingly sharp in the Middle East . . ." notes Donald Cole, "the boundary between nomadic pastoralist and sedentary farmer is less precise." Beduin and farmers were united in a single social system. Each relied on the other for critical goods and services to sustain a way of life; they shared substantial cultural unity. Tribal loyalties transcend differences in livelihood; many tribes had both sedentary and nomadic branches.

There is a nomadic-sedentary continuum; at one extreme are completely settled farmers and merchants, at the other are camel herders who produce primarily for their own consumption and have little recourse to wage labor. A host of finely graded distinctions exist between the two extremes. Wealthy beduin frequently established a branch of the family in an oasis with commercial and agricultural investments. Individual households moved along the continuum as their domestic situation changed. Part of the family might settle to attend school, while others maintained the family's flocks.

Among nomads there is a dichotomy--as well as a status differential--between those who herd sheep and goats and those who herd camels. Because sheep and goats are more demanding in their need for water and thus more limited in their migrations, their herders migrate shorter distances and have greater contact with the oasis population. Camels, on the other hand, can endure much longer periods without water, and camel herders are thereby able to range much more widely than other pastoralists. Camel-herding tribes were usually the most powerful militarily and had more status than other herders.

Alliances between beduin and townsmen have historically been a defining feature of the politics of the peninsula. Just as beduin could opt out of raiding a particular town, the town could pay an agreed khuwa, the payment being the exchange of a portion of their surplus production for a guarantee of peace.

At the same time that town and village relied on nomad protection, nomads themselves relied on the sedentary populace for sustenance and diverse services. Nomadism has never been a self-contained system. Even camel-herding beduin relied on the oasis population for a variety of needs. Their diet was supplemented with dates, grains, and, more recently, processed foods; the sedentary population provided medical care when home remedies failed, education, and religious practitioners, tent fibers, and tent pins. Farmers who owned animals entrusted them to nomads' care and the nomads in turn received the animals' milk; beduin left their date palms in the farmers' hands in return for a portion of the harvest.

Development policies in Saudi Arabia have encouraged the sedentarization of most nomadic groups in the kingdom. The percentage of fully nomadic people is unknown, but it was certainly declining in the early 1990s. Those who continued to maintain their livestock faced economic difficulties in spite of government assistance. The rise in the cost of living in Saudi Arabia, coupled with the decline in the commercial value of camels and other livestock, occasioned a need for greater cash income. Consequently, beduin men had begun migrating to the cities for wage work, often as drivers of cars, trucks, and tractors. They frequently left their families behind to tend the animals.

A study among Al Saar beduin shows that urban migration of men resulted in increased work for women and, at the same time, denied them the economic benefits of government programs designed to improve the welfare of nomadic families. With the family together, women generally tended only the sheep and goats; men herded the camels. In addition to caring for animals, producing food, and caring for the household, nomadic women also engaged in crafts, primarily weaving household textiles, such as mats, tent cloth, tent dividers, and sacks to contain their belongings.

The women in the study were left alone with children and had total responsibility for caring for all the animals, camels as well as sheep and goats, while their husbands remained in the towns as much as six months at a time. However, because they were not entitled to a separate citizenship card, being listed as dependents on their husbands' citizenship cards, they were unable to apply for livestock subsidies or for land or home loans issued through government-run service centers near their summer grazing areas. Similarly, women were denied use of the pickup truck, now ubiquitous among nomadic families and indispensable for transporting wood and water and for transportation between the encampment and the herds as well as to government service centers. Although the burden of labor was left to women, the truck could only be used by women in the desert where they could not be seen by government authorities because women were not allowed to drive.

One result of the increased burden on women has been the social reorganization of labor based on the combined efforts of women. Women with infants tended to carry out traditional female work of child care and food preparation, whereas older women, widows, and women without infants cared for the herds and also sold their animals at the service stations, another task traditionally the responsibility of men.

Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - RELIGION

Saudi Arabia

Early Development of Islam

The vast majority of the people of Saudi Arabia are Sunni Muslims. Islam is the established religion, and as such its institutions receive government support. In the early seventh century, Muhammad, a merchant from the Hashimite branch of the ruling Quraysh tribe in the Arabian town of Mecca, began to preach the first of a series of revelations that Muslims believe were granted him by God through the angel Gabriel. He stressed monotheism and denounced the polytheism of his fellow Meccans.

Because Mecca's economy was based in part on a thriving pilgrimage business to the Kaaba, the sacred structure around a black meteorite, and the numerous pagan shrines located there, Muhammad's vigorous and continuing censure eventually earned him the bitter enmity of the town's leaders. In 622 he was invited to the town of Yathrib, which came to be known as Medina (the city) because it was the center of his activities. The move, or hijra, known in the West as the hegira, marks the beginning of the Islamic era. The Muslim calendar, based on the lunar year, begins in 622. In Medina, Muhammad--by this time known as the Prophet--continued to preach, defeated his detractors in battle, and consolidated both the temporal and spiritual leadership of all Arabia in his person before his death in 632.

After Muhammad's death, his followers compiled those of his words regarded as coming directly from God into the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam. Other sayings and teachings of his and his companions as recalled by those who had known Muhammad, became the hadith. The precedent of his personal deeds and utterances was set forth in the sunna. Together the Quran, the hadith, and the sunna form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of an orthodox Sunni Muslim.

During his life, Muhammad was both spiritual and temporal leader of the Muslim community; he established Islam as a total, all-encompassing way of life for individuals and society. Islam traditionally recognizes no distinction between religion and state, and no distinction between religious and secular life or religious and secular law. A comprehensive system of religious law (the sharia) developed during the first four centuries of Islam, primarily through the accretion of precedent and interpretation by various judges and scholars. During the tenth century, however, legal opinion began to harden into authoritative doctrine, and the figurative bab al ijtihad (gate of interpretation) gradually closed, thenceforth excluding flexibility in Sunni Islamic law.

After Muhammad's death, the leaders of the Muslim community chose Abu Bakr, the Prophet's father-in-law and one of his earliest followers, as caliph, or successor. At the time, some persons favored Ali, the Prophet's cousin and husband of his daughter Fatima, but Ali and his supporters (the so-called Shiat Ali or Party of Ali) eventually recognized the community's choice. The next two caliphs--Umar, who succeeded in 634, and Uthman, who took power in 644--were acknowledged by the entire community. When Ali finally succeeded to the caliphate in 656, Muawiyah, governor of Syria, rebelled in the name of his murdered kinsman Uthman. After the ensuing civil war, Ali moved his capital to Mesopotamia, where a short time later he, too, was murdered.

Ali's death ended the period in which the entire community of Islam recognized a single caliph. Upon Ali's death, Muawiyah proclaimed himself caliph from Damascus. The Shiat Ali, however, refused to recognize Muawiyah or his line, the Umayyad caliphs; in support of a caliphate based on descent from the Prophet, they withdrew and established a dissident sect known as the Shia.

Originally political in nature, the differences between the Sunni and Shia interpretations gradually assumed theological and metaphysical overtones. Ali's two sons, Ahsan and Husayn, became martyred heroes to the Shia and repositories of the claims of Ali's line to mystical preeminence among Muslims. The Sunnis retained the doctrine of the selection of leaders by consensus, although Arabs and members of the Quraysh, Muhammad's tribe, predominated in the early years.

Reputed descent from the Prophet continued to carry social and religious prestige throughout the Muslim world in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, disagreements among Shia over who of several pretenders had a truer claim to the mystical powers of Ali produced further schisms. Some Shia groups developed doctrines of divine leadership far removed from the strict monotheism of early Islam, including beliefs in hidden but divinely chosen leaders with spiritual powers that equaled or surpassed those of the Prophet himself. The main sect of Shia became known as Twelvers because they recognized Ali and eleven of his direct descendants.

The early Islamic polity was intensely expansionist, fueled both by fervor for the new religion and by economic and social factors. Conquering armies and migrating tribes swept out of Arabia, spreading Islam. By the end of Islam's first century, Islamic armies had reached far into North Africa and eastward and northward into Asia.

Although Muhammad had enjoined the Muslim community to convert the infidel, he had also recognized the special status of the "people of the book," Jews and Christians, whose scriptures he considered revelations of God's word that contributed in some measure to Islam. Inhabiting the Arabian Peninsula in Muhammad's time were Christians, Jews, and Hanifs, believers in an indigenous form of monotheism who are mentioned in the Quran. Medina had a substantial Jewish population, and villages of Jews dotted the Medina oases. Clusters of Christian monasteries were located in the northern Hijaz, and Christians were known to have visited seventh-century Mecca. Some Arabic-speaking tribal people were Christian, including some from the Najdi interior and the well-known Ghassanids and Lakhmids on the Arabian borderlands with Constantinople. Najran, a city in the southwest of present-day Saudi Arabia, had a mixed population of Jews, Christians, and pagans, and had been ruled by a Jewish king only fifty years before Muhammad's birth. In sixth-century Najran, Christianity was well established and had a clerical hierarchy of nuns, priests, bishops, and lay clergy. Furthermore, there were Christian communities along the gulf, especially in Bahrain, Oman, and Aden (in present-day Yemen).

Jews and Christians in Muslim territories could live according to their religious law, in their communities, and were exempted from military service if they accepted the position of dhimmis, or tolerated subject peoples. This status entailed recognition of Muslim authority, additional taxes, prohibition on proselytism among Muslims, and certain restrictions on political rights.

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<> Islamism in Saudi Arabia
<> Pilgrimage

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Tenets of Sunni Islam

Saudi Arabia

The shahada (testimony) succinctly states the central belief of Islam: "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his Prophet." This simple profession of faith is repeated on many ritual occasions, and its recital in full and unquestioning sincerity designates one a Muslim. The God of Muhammad's preaching was not a new deity; Allah is the Arabic term for God, not a particular name. Muhammad denied the existence of the many minor gods and spirits worshiped before his prophecy, and he declared the omnipotence of the unique creator, God. Islam means submission to God, and one who submits is a Muslim. Being a Muslim also involves a commitment to realize the will of God on earth and to obey God's law.

Muhammad is the "seal of the Prophets"; his revelation is said to complete for all time the series of biblical revelations received by Jews and Christians. Muslims believe God to have remained the same throughout time, but that men strayed from his true teaching until set right by Muhammad. Prophets and sages of the biblical tradition, such as Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa), and Jesus (Isa), are recognized as inspired vehicles of God's will. Islam, however, reveres as sacred only the message, rejecting Christianity's deification of Christ. It accepts the concepts of guardian angels, the Day of Judgment, general resurrection, heaven and hell, and eternal life of the soul.

The duties of the Muslim--corporate acts of worship--form the five pillars of Islamic faith. These are shahada, affirmation of the faith; salat, daily prayer; zakat, almsgiving; sawm, fasting during the month of Ramadan; and hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca. These acts of worship must be performed with a conscious intent, not out of habit. Shahada is uttered daily by practicing Muslims, affirming their membership in the faith and expressing an acceptance of the monotheism of Islam and the divinity of Muhammad's message.

The believer is to pray in a prescribed manner after purification through ritual ablutions at dawn, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and nightfall. Prescribed genuflections and prostrations accompany the prayers, which the worshiper recites facing Mecca. Prayers imbue daily life with worship, and the day is structured around an Islamic conception of time. Whenever possible, men pray in congregation at the mosque under a prayer leader. On Fridays, the practice is obligatory. Women may attend public worship at the mosque, where they are segregated from the men, but woman most frequently pray at home. A special functionary, the muezzin, intones a call to prayer to the entire community at the appropriate hours; those out of earshot determine the proper time from the position of the sun.

In the early days of Islam, the authorities imposed a tax on personal property proportionate to one's wealth; this tax was distributed to the mosques and to the needy. In addition, freewill gifts were made. Although still a duty of the believer, almsgiving in the twentieth century has become a more private matter. Properties contributed by pious individuals to support religious activities are usually administered as a religious foundation, or waqf.

The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan, a period of obligatory fasting that commemorates Muhammad's receipt of God's revelation, the Quran. Fasting is an act of self-discipline that leads to piety and expresses submission and commitment to God. Fasting underscores the equality of all Muslims, strengthening sentiments of community. During Ramadan all but the sick, weak, pregnant or nursing women, soldiers on duty, travelers on necessary journeys, and young children are enjoined from eating, drinking, or smoking during the day. Official work hours often are shortened during this period, and some businesses close for all or part of the day. Because the lunar calendar is eleven days shorter than the solar calendar, Ramadan revolves through the seasons over the years. When Ramadan falls in the summertime, a fast imposes considerable hardship on those who must do physical work. Each day's fast ends with a signal that light is insufficient to distinguish a black thread from a white one. Id al Fitr, a three-day feast and holiday, ends the month of Ramadan and is the occasion of much visiting.

Finally, Muslims at least once in their lifetime should, if possible, make the hajj to the holy city of Mecca to participate in special rites held during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. The Prophet instituted this requirement, modifying preIslamic custom to emphasize sites associated with Allah and Abraham, father of the Arabs through his son Ismail (also known as Ishmael). The pilgrim, dressed in two white, seamless pieces of cloth (ihram) performs various traditional rites. These rites affirm the Muslim's obedience to God and express intent to renounce the past and begin a new righteous life in the path of God. The returning male pilgrim is entitled to the honorific "hajj" before his name and a woman the honorific "hajji." Id al Adha, the feast of sacrifice, marks the end of the hajj month.

The permanent struggle for the triumph of the word of God on earth, jihad, represents an additional duty of all Muslims. This concept is often taken to mean holy war, but most Muslims see it in a broader context of civil and personal action. Besides regulating relations between the individual and God, Islam regulates the relations of one individual to another. Aside from specific duties, Islam imposes a code of ethical conduct encouraging generosity, fairness, honesty, and respect. It also explicitly propounds guidance as to what constitutes proper family relations and it forbids adultery, gambling, usury, and the consumption of carrion, blood, pork, and alcohol.

A Muslim stands in a personal relationship to God; there is neither intermediary nor clergy in orthodox Islam. Men who lead prayers, preach sermons, and interpret the law do so by virtue of their superior knowledge and scholarship rather than because of any special powers or prerogatives conferred by ordination. Any adult male versed in the prayer form is entitled to lead prayers--a role referred to as imam.

During the formative period of Islamic law, four separate Sunni schools developed and survived. These schools differ in the extent to which they admit usage of each of the four sources of law: the Quran, the sunna or custom of the Prophet, reasoning by analogy, and the consensus of religious scholars. The Hanafi school, named after Imam Abu Hanifa, predominates in the territories formerly under the Ottoman Empire and in Muslim India and Pakistan; it relies heavily on consensus and analogical reasoning in addition to the Quran and sunna. The Maliki school, named after Malik ibn Anas, is dominant in upper Egypt and West Africa; developed in Medina, it emphasizes use of hadith that were current in the Prophet's city. The school of Muhammad ibn Idris ash Shafii, prevailing in Indonesia, stresses reasoning by analogy.

The fourth legal school is that of Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855), which is the school adhered to in Saudi Arabia. The Hanbali school has attracted the smallest following because it rejects the use of analogy as well as the consensus of judicial opinion except as recorded by the jurists of the first three centuries of Islam. However, an important principle in Hanbali thought is that things are assumed to be pure or allowable unless first proved otherwise.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Wahhabi Theology

Saudi Arabia

The political and cultural environment of contemporary Saudi Arabia has been influenced by a religious movement that began in central Arabia in the mid-eighteenth century. This movement, commonly known as the Wahhabi movement, grew out of the scholarship and preaching of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, a scholar of Islamic jurisprudence who had studied in Mesopotamia and the Hijaz before returning to his native Najd to preach his message of Islamic reform.

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab was concerned with the way the people of Najd engaged in practices he considered polytheistic, such as praying to saints; making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques; venerating trees, caves, and stones; and using votive and sacrificial offerings. He was also concerned by what he viewed as a laxity in adhering to Islamic law and in performing religious devotions, such as indifference to the plight of widows and orphans, adultery, lack of attention to obligatory prayers, and failure to allocate shares of inheritance fairly to women.

When Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab began to preach against these breaches of Islamic laws, he characterized customary practices as jahiliya, the same term used to describe the ignorance of Arabians before the Prophet. Initially, his preaching encountered opposition, but he eventually came under the protection of a local chieftain named Muhammad ibn Saud, with whom he formed an alliance. The endurance of the Wahhabi movement's influence may be attributed to the close association between the founder of the movement and the politically powerful Al Saud in southern Najd.

This association between the Al Saud and the Al ash Shaykh, as Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab and his descendants came to be known, effectively converted political loyalty into a religious obligation. According to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab's teachings, a Muslim must present a bayah, or oath of allegiance, to a Muslim ruler during his lifetime to ensure his redemption after death. The ruler, conversely, is owed unquestioned allegiance from his people so long as he leads the community according to the laws of God. The whole purpose of the Muslim community is to become the living embodiment of God's laws, and it is the responsibility of the legitimate ruler to ensure that people know God's laws and live in conformity to them.

Muhammad ibn Saud turned his capital, Ad Diriyah, into a center for the study of religion under the guidance of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab and sent missionaries to teach the reformed religion throughout the peninsula, the gulf, and into Syria and Mesopotamia. Together they began a jihad against the backsliding Muslims of the peninsula. Under the banner of religion and preaching the unity of God and obedience to the just Muslim ruler, the Al Saud by 1803 had expanded their dominion across the peninsula from Mecca to Bahrain, installing teachers, schools, and the apparatus of state power. So successful was the alliance between the Al ash Shaykh and the Al Saud that even after the Ottoman sultan had crushed Wahhabi political authority and had destroyed the Wahhabi capital of Ad Diriyah in 1818, the reformed religion remained firmly planted in the settled districts of southern Najd and of Jabal Shammar in the north. It would become the unifying ideology in the peninsula when the Al Saud rose to power again in the next century.

Central to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab's message was the essential oneness of God (tawhid). The movement is therefore known by its adherents as ad dawa lil tawhid (the call to unity), and those who follow the call are known as ahl at tawhid (the people of unity) or muwahhidun (unitarians). The word Wahhabi was originally used derogatorily by opponents, but has today become commonplace and is even used by some Najdi scholars of the movement.

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab's emphasis on the oneness of God was asserted in contradistinction to shirk, or polytheism, defined as the act of associating any person or object with powers that should be attributed only to God. He condemned specific acts that he viewed as leading to shirk, such as votive offerings, praying at saints' tombs and at graves, and any prayer ritual in which the suppliant appeals to a third party for intercession with God. Particularly objectionable were certain religious festivals, including celebrations of the Prophet's birthday, Shia mourning ceremonies, and Sufi mysticism. Consequently, the Wahhabis forbid grave markers or tombs in burial sites and the building of any shrines that could become a locus of shirk.

The extensive condemnation of shirk is seen in the movement's iconoclasm, which persisted into the twentieth century, most notably with the conquest of At Taif in the Hijaz. A century earlier, in l802, Wahhabi fighters raided and damaged one of the most sacred Shia shrines, the tomb of Husayn, the son of Imam Ali and grandson of the Prophet, at Karbala in Iraq. In 1804 the Wahhabis destroyed tombs in the cemetery of the holy men in Medina, which was a locus for votive offerings and prayers to the saints.

Following the legal school of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Wahhabi ulama accept the authority only of the Quran and sunna. The Wahhabi ulama reject reinterpretation of Quran and sunna in regard to issues clearly settled by the early jurists. By rejecting the validity of reinterpretation, Wahhabi doctrine is at odds with the Muslim reformation movement of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This movement seeks to reinterpret parts of the Quran and sunna to conform with standards set by the West, most notably standards relating to gender relations, family law, and participatory democracy. However, ample scope for reinterpretation remains for Wahhabi jurists in areas not decided by the early jurists. King Fahd ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud has repeatedly called for scholars to engage in ijtihad to deal with new situations confronting the modernizing kingdom.

The Wahhabi movement in Najd was unique in two respects: first, the ulama of Najd interpreted the Quran and sunna very literally and often with a view toward reinforcing parochial Najdi practices; second, the political and religious leadership exercised its collective political will to enforce conformity in behavior. Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab asserted that there were three objectives for Islamic government and society; these objectives have been reaffirmed over the succeeding two centuries in missionary literature, sermons, fatwa rulings, and in Wahhabi explications of religious doctrine. According to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab the objectives were "to believe in Allah, enjoin good behavior, and forbid wrongdoing."

Under Al Saud rule, governments, especially during the Wahhabi revival in the 1920s, have shown their capacity and readiness to enforce compliance with Islamic laws and interpretations of Islamic values on themselves and others. The literal interpretations of what constitutes right behavior according to the Quran and hadith have given the Wahhabis the sobriquet of "Muslim Calvinists." To the Wahhabis, for example, performance of prayer that is punctual, ritually correct, and communally performed not only is urged but publicly required of men. Consumption of wine is forbidden to the believer because wine is literally forbidden in the Quran. Under the Wahhabis, however, the ban extended to all intoxicating drinks and other stimulants, including tobacco. Modest dress is prescribed for both men and women in accordance with the Quran, but the Wahhabis specify the type of clothing that should be worn, especially by women, and forbid the wearing of silk and gold, although the latter ban has been enforced only sporadically. Music and dancing have also been forbidden by the Wahhabis at times, as have loud laughter and demonstrative weeping, particularly at funerals.

The Wahhabi emphasis on conformity makes of external appearance and behavior a visible expression of inward faith. Therefore, whether one conforms in dress, in prayer, or in a host of other activities becomes a public statement of whether one is a true Muslim. Because adherence to the true faith is demonstrable in tangible ways, the Muslim community can visibly judge the quality of a person's faith by observing that person's actions. In this sense, public opinion becomes a regulator of individual behavior. Therefore, within the Wahhabi community, which is striving to be the collective embodiment of God's laws, it is the responsibility of each Muslim to look after the behavior of his neighbor and to admonish him if he goes astray.

To ensure that the community of the faithful will "enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong," morals enforcers known as mutawwiin (literally, "those who volunteer or obey") have been integral to the Wahhabi movement since its inception. Mutawwiin have served as missionaries, as enforcers of public morals, and as "public ministers of the religion" who preach in the Friday mosque. Pursuing their duties in Jiddah in 1806, the mutawwiin were observed to be "constables for the punctuality of prayers . . . with an enormous staff in their hand, [who] were ordered to shout, to scold and to drag people by the shoulders to force them to take part in public prayers, five times a day." In addition to enforcing male attendance at public prayer, the mutawwiin also have been responsible for supervising the closing of shops at prayer time, for looking out for infractions of public morality such as playing music, smoking, drinking alcohol, having hair that is too long (men) or uncovered (women), and dressing immodestly.

In the first quarter of the century, promoting Wahhabism was an asset to Abd al Aziz in forging cohesion among the tribal peoples and districts of the peninsula. By reviving the notion of a community of believers, united by their submission to God, Wahhabism helped to forge a sense of common identity that was to supersede parochial loyalties. By abolishing the tribute paid by inferior tribes to militarily superior tribes, Abd al Aziz undercut traditional hierarchies of power and made devotion to Islam and to himself as the rightly guided Islamic ruler the glue that would hold his kingdom together. In the early 1990s, unity in Islam of the Muslim umma (community) under Al Saud leadership was the basis for the legitimacy of the Saudi state.

The promotion of Islam as embracing every aspect of life accounted in large measure for the success of Wahhabi ideology in inspiring the zealotry of the Ikhwan movement. Beginning in 1912, agricultural communities called hujra (collective pl.) were settled by beduin who came to believe that in settling on the land they were fulfilling the prerequisite for leading Muslim lives; they were making a hijra, "the journey from the land of unbelief to the land of belief." It is still unclear whether the Ikhwan settlements were initiated by Abd al Aziz or whether he co-opted the movement once it had begun, but the settlements became military cantonments in the service of Abd al Aziz's consolidation of power. Although the Ikhwan had very limited success in agriculture, they could rely on a variety of subsidies derived from raids under the aegis of Abd al Aziz and provisions disbursed directly from his storehouses in Riyadh.

As newly converted Wahhabi Muslims, the Ikhwan were fanatical in imposing their zealotry for correct behavior on others. They enforced rigid separation of the sexes in their villages, for example, and strict attention to prayers, and used violence in attempting to impose Wahhabi restrictions on others. Their fanaticism forged them into a formidable fighting force, and with Ikhwan assistance, Abd al Aziz extended the borders of his kingdom into the Eastern Province, Hail, and the Hijaz. Ultimately, the fanaticism of the Ikhwan undermined their usefulness, and they had to be reckoned with; the Ikhwan Rebellion (1928-30) marked their eclipse.

In the 1990s, Saudi leadership did not emphasize its identity as inheritor of the Wahhabi legacy as such, nor did the descendants of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, the Al ash Shaykh, continue to hold the highest posts in the religious bureaucracy. Wahhabi influence in Saudi Arabia, however, remained tangible in the physical conformity in dress, in public deportment, and in public prayer. Most significantly, the Wahhabi legacy was manifest in the social ethos that presumed government responsibility for the collective moral ordering of society, from the behavior of individuals, to institutions, to businesses, to the government itself.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Shia

Saudi Arabia

Shia are a minority in Saudi Arabia, probably constituting about 5 percent of the total population, their number being estimated from a low of 200,000 to as many as 400,000. Shia are concentrated primarily in the Eastern Province, where they constituted perhaps 33 percent of the population, being concentrated in the oases of Qatif and Al Ahsa. Saudi Shia belong to the sect of the Twelvers, the same sect to which the Shia of Iran and Bahrain belong. The Twelvers believe that the leadership of the Muslim community rightfully belongs to the descendants of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, through Ali's son Husayn. There were twelve such rightful rulers, known as Imams, the last of whom, according to the Twelvers, did not die but went into hiding in the ninth century, to return in the fullness of time as the messiah (mahdi) to create the just and perfect Muslim society.

From a theological perspective, relations between the Shia and the Wahhabi Sunnis are inherently strained because the Wahhabis consider the rituals of the Shia to be the epitome of shirk (polytheism; literally "association"), especially the Ashura mourning celebrations, the passion play reenacting Husayn's death at Karbala, and popular votive rituals carried out at shrines and graves. In the late 1920s, the Ikhwan (Abd al Aziz ibn Abd ar Rahman Al Saud's fighting force of converted Wahhabi beduin Muslims) were particularly hostile to the Shia and demanded that Abd al Aziz forcibly convert them. In response, Abd al Aziz sent Wahhabi missionaries to the Eastern Province, but he did not carry through with attempts at forced conversion. Government policy has been to allow Shia their own mosques and to exempt Shia from Hanbali inheritance practices. Nevertheless, Shia have been forbidden all but the most modest displays on their principal festivals, which are often occasions of sectarian strife in the gulf region, with its mixed Sunni-Shia populations.

Shia came to occupy the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder in the newly formed Saudi state. They were excluded from the upper levels of the civil bureaucracy and rarely recruited by the military or the police; none was recruited by the national guard. The discovery of oil brought them employment, if not much of a share in the contracting and subcontracting wealth that the petroleum industry generated. Shia have formed the bulk of the skilled and semiskilled workers employed by Saudi Aramco. Members of the older generation of Shia were sufficiently content with their lot as Aramco employees not to participate in the labor disturbances of the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1979 Shia opposition to the royal family was encouraged by the example of Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini's revolutionary ideology from Iran and by the Sunni Islamist (sometimes seen as fundamentalist) groups' attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca in November. During the months that followed, conservative ulama and Ikhwan groups in the Eastern Province, as well as Shia, began to make their criticisms of government heard. On November 28, 1979, as the Mecca incident continued, the Shia of Qatif and two other towns in the Eastern Province tried to observe Ashura publicly. When the national guard intervened, rioting ensued, resulting in a number of deaths. Two months later, another riot in Al Qatif by Shia was quelled by the national guard, but more deaths occurred. Among the criticisms expressed by Shia were the close ties of the Al Saud with and their dependency on the West, corruption, and deviance from the sharia. The criticisms were similar to those levied by Juhaiman al Utaiba in his pamphlets circulated the year before his seizure of the Grand Mosque. Some Shia were specifically concerned with the economic disparities between Sunnis and Shia, particularly since their population is concentrated in the Eastern Province, which is the source of the oil wealth controlled by the Sunni Al Saud of Najd. During the riots that occurred in the Eastern Province in 1979, demands were raised to halt oil supplies and to redistribute the oil wealth so that the Shia would receive a more equitable share.

After order was restored, there was a massive influx of government assistance to the region. Included were many large projects to upgrade the region's infrastructure. In the late 1970s, the Al Jubayl project, slated to become one of the region's largest employers, was headed by a Shia. In 1992, however, there were reports of repression of Shia political activity in the kingdom. An Amnesty International report published in 1990 stated that more than 700 political prisoners had been detained without charge or trial since 1983, and that most of the prisoners were Shia.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Islamism in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

The decade of the 1980s was characterized by the rise of ultraconservative, politically activist Islamic movements in much of the Arab world. These Islamist movements, labeled fundamentalist in the West, sought the government institutionalization of Islamic laws and social principles. Although Saudi Arabia already claimed to be an Islamic government whose constitution is the Quran, the kingdom has not been immune to this conservative trend.

In Saudi Arabia, the 1960s, and especially the 1970s, had been years of explosive development, liberal experimentation, and openness to the West. A reversal of this trend came about abruptly in 1979, the year in which the Grand Mosque in Mecca came under attack by religiously motivated critics of the monarchy, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established. Each of these events signaled that religious conservatism would have to be politically addressed with greater vigor. Although the mosque siege was carried out by a small band of zealots and their actions of shooting in the mosque appalled most Muslims, their call for less ostentation on the part of the Saudi rulers and for a halt to the cultural inundation of the kingdom by the West struck a deep chord of sympathy across the kingdom. At the same time, Ayatollah Khomeini's call to overthrow the Al Saud was a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the monarchy as custodian of the holy places, and a challenge to the stability of the kingdom with its large Shia minority.

In the years following these events, the rise of the ultraconservative periphery has caused the vast center of society to shift in a conservative direction, producing greater polarity between those who are Western-oriented and the rest of society. The 1991 Persian Gulf War marked another dramatic shift toward conservative sentiment, and this conservative trend continued to gain momentum in the early 1990s.

The conservative revival has been manifest in literature, in individual behavior, in government policies, in official and unofficial relations with foreigners, in mosque sermons, and in protest demonstrations against the government. The revival was also apparent in increased religious programming on television and radio, and an increase in articles about religion in newspapers.

On an individual level, some Saudi citizens, especially educated young women, were expressing the revivalist mood by supplementing the traditional Saudi Islamic hijab (literally curtain or veil), a black cloak, black face veil, and hair covering, with long black gloves to hide the hands. In some cases, women who formerly had not covered their faces began to use the nontransparent covering once worn mainly by women of traditional families. Some, especially younger, university- educated women, wore the hijab when traveling in Europe or the United States to demonstrate the sincerity of their belief in following the precepts of Islam.

In the Hijaz, another expression of the Islamic revival was participation in the ritual celebration of popular Islamic holidays. Some elite Hijazi families, for example, have revived the mawlid, a gathering for communal prayer on the occasion of the Prophet's birthday, or to celebrate a birth, mourn a death, bless a new house, or seek God's favor in fulfillment of some wish, such as cure of an illness or the birth of a child. Mawlid rituals, especially when performed by women, were suppressed by Abd al Aziz when he conquered the Hijaz because they incorporated intercession and the Wahhabis considered them the equivalent of polytheism.

Reacting to the revivalist mood, the government has backed the mutawwiin in responding to calls for controls over behavior perceived as non-Islamic. In November 1990, a group of forty-seven women staged a demonstration to press their claim for the right to drive. The mutawwiin demanded that the women be punished. The government confiscated the women's passports, and those employed as teachers were fired. The previously unofficial ban on women's driving quickly became official. As a further indication of the growing conservatism, considerable criticism of the women's behavior in asking for the right to drive came from within the women's branch of the university in Riyadh.

Religiously sanctioned behavior, once thought to be the responsibility of families, was being increasingly institutionalized and enforced. Women, for example, were usually prevented from traveling abroad unless accompanied by a male chaperon (mahram), a marked shift from the policy of the late 1970s, when a letter granting permission to travel was considered sufficient. This rule has compounded the difficulties for women wishing to study abroad: a 1982 edict remained in force that restricted scholarships for women to those whose father, husband, or brother was able to remain with them during the period of study.

State funding has increased for the nationwide organization of mutawwiin that is incorporated into the civil service bureaucracy. Once responsible primarily for enforcing the attendance of men in the mosque at prayer time, the tasks of the mutawwiin since the 1980s have come to include enforcing public abstinence from eating, drinking, and smoking among both Muslims and non-Muslims in the daylight hours during Ramadan. The mutawwiin (also seen as Committees for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice or Committees for Public Morality) are also responsible for seeing that shops are closed at prayer time and that modest dress is maintained in public. Foreign women were under increased pressure to wear clothing that covered the arms and legs, and men and women who were unrelated might be apprehended for traveling together in a car. In the early 1980s, an offending couple might have received an official reprimand, but in the early 1990s they might experience more serious consequences. In 1991, for example, a Saudi citizen who gave a foreign female coworker a ride home was sentenced to a public flogging and his coworker subsequently was deported.

The rise in conservatism also can be seen in measures taken to obstruct non-Muslim religious services. Non-Muslim services have long been discouraged, but never prohibited, in Arabia. Even at the height of the Wahhabi revival in the 1920s, Christian missionary doctors held prayer services in the palace of Abd al Aziz. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Christian religious services were held regularly in private houses and in housing compounds belonging to foreign companies, and these services were usually ignored by mutawwiin as long as they did not attract public attention or encourage proselytism. With the end of the Persian Gulf War, however, mutawwiin began to enforce a ban on non-Muslim worship and punished offenders. In 1991, for example, a large number of mutawwiin accompanied by uniformed police broke up a Christian service in Riyadh and arrested a number of participants, including children.

The most significant indicator of the growing shift toward conservatism was the willingness of the state to silence opposition groups. For example, in May 1991, more than 400 men from the religious establishment and universities, including Saudi Arabia's most prominent legal scholar, Shaykh Abd al Aziz ibn Baz, petitioned the king to create a consultative council, a request to which the king responded favorably in February 1992. In their petition, however, the signatories asked not only for more participation in decision making, but also for a revision of all laws, including commercial and administrative regulations, to conform with the sharia. They asked for the creation of Islamic banks and an end to interest payments in established banks, as well as the redistribution of wealth, protection for the rights of the individual, censure of the media so that it would serve Islam and morality, and the creation of a strong army so that the kingdom would not be dependent on the West. The requests represented a combination of apparently liberal petitions (a consultative council, redistribution of wealth) with a conservative religious bent.

In a follow-up to the petition, a number of the signatories wrote a letter stating that funds for religious institutions were being cut back, that the institutions were not being given the resources to create jobs, and that their fatwas were being ignored. The letter further claimed that those who signed the original petition had had their passports confiscated and were being harassed by security personnel even though "they had committed no other crime than giving advice to the Guardian." This affair suggested that the government was sufficiently concerned about the increasingly conservative mood to shift its strategy from merely co-opting the conservative agenda to suppressing its extreme voices.

In another incident, a movement called Islamic Awakening, which had a growing following in religious colleges and universities, attempted to hold a public demonstration in early 1991, but participants were threatened with arrest if they did so. At the same time, the government arrested a well-known activist in the Islamic Awakening while he was preaching a sermon in a Riyadh mosque.

Factors contributing to the increased attraction of Islamic conservatism included the problem of impending loss of identity caused by overwhelming Westernization. As secular education, population mobility, the breakup of extended family households, and the employment of women chipped away at cherished institutions of family and society, religion was a refuge and a source of stability.

Another factor was disaffection with the existing economic system in the face of rising unemployment. During the rapid expansion of the 1970s, employment in the public sector was virtually assured for Saudi citizens with technical skills and for those with a Western education. By the end of the decade, however, those positions, especially in education and in the ministries, came under pressure from increasing numbers of university graduates with rising expectations that no longer could be fulfilled in public sector employment. In addition, in the 1990s a growing number of young men educated in Islamic colleges and universities were unemployed; their acquired knowledge and skills were becoming more irrelevant to the demands of the economy and bureaucratic infrastructure, even within the judiciary where traditionally Islamic scholarship was most highly valued.

An additional factor lay in the monarchy's continuing need to maintain legitimacy as an "Islamic government." As long as the ruling family believes it must continue to prove itself a worthy inheritor of the legacy on which the kingdom was founded, it will be obliged to foster religious education and the Islamic political culture in which the kingdom's media are steeped. A lesser factor in the rise of conservatism may be widespread sympathy with the sense of being victimized by the West, as evidenced, for example, in the continuing displacement of Palestinians in the occupied territories and southern Lebanon.

Islam remained the primary cohesive ideology in the kingdom, the source of legitimacy for the monarchy, and the pervasive system for moral guidance and spirituality. The nature of the Islamic society Saudi Arabia wished to have in the future, however, was one of the important and passionately debated issues in the kingdom in the early 1990s. The ultraconservative moral agenda appealed on an emotional level to many Saudi citizens. But the desire to expand the jurisdiction of sharia law and to interfere with the banking system was also a source of concern for many people. Because nearly all Saudis have reaped material benefits from state-funded development, people were hesitant to jeopardize those benefits and the political stability that allowed development. Some have suggested that the new system of basic laws was a clear signal that the monarchy was firmly committed to liberalization and no longer felt compelled to tolerate conservative excesses. Close assessment of the implications of the basic laws suggested, however, that the monarchy was making no substantive changes and, in effect, was taking no chances to risk disturbing the balance among competing religious persuasions in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Pilgrimage

Saudi Arabia

The hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, occurs annually between the eighth and thirteenth days of the last month of the Muslim year, Dhu al Hijjah. The hajj represents the culmination of the Muslim's spiritual life. For many, it is a lifelong ambition. From the time of embarking on the journey to make the hajj, pilgrims often experience a spirit of exaltation and excitement; the meeting of so many Muslims of all races, cultures, and stations in life in harmony and equality moves many people deeply. Certain rites of pilgrimage may be performed any time, and although meritorious, these constitute a lesser pilgrimage, known as umra.

Improved transportation and accommodations have increased dramatically the number of visitors who enter the kingdom for pilgrimage. In 1965 almost 300,000 Muslims came from abroad to perform the rites of pilgrimage, primarily from other Arab and Asian countries. By 1983 that number had climbed to more than 1 million. In addition to those coming from abroad, each year 600,000 to 700,000 people living in the kingdom join in the hajj rituals. In 1988 and 1989, a total of 1.5 million pilgrims attended the hajj, representing a drop of about 200,000 in the number of foreign pilgrims, probably the result of a temporary ban on Iranian pilgrims instituted after a violent confrontation with Saudi police. In the hajj season of 1992, the Saudi press claimed a record of 2 million pilgrims.

The Ministry of Pilgrimage Affairs and Religious Trusts handles the immense logistical and administrative problems generated by such a huge international gathering. The government issues special pilgrimage visas that permit the pilgrim to visit Mecca and to make the customary excursion to Medina to visit the Prophet's tomb. Care is taken to assure that pilgrims do not remain in the kingdom after the hajj to search for work.

An elaborate guild of specialists assists the hajjis. Guides (mutawwifs) who speak the pilgrim's language make the necessary arrangements in Mecca and instruct the pilgrim in the proper performance of rituals; assistants (wakils) provide subsidiary services. Separate groups of specialists take care of pilgrims in Medina and Jiddah. Water drawers (zamzamis) provide water drawn from the sacred well.

In fulfilling the commandment to perform the hajj, the pilgrim not only obeys the Prophet's words but also literally follows in his footsteps. The sacred sites along the pilgrimage route were frequented by Muhammad and formed the backdrop to the most important events of his life. It is believed, for example, that he received his first revelation at Jabal an Nur (Mountain of Light) near Mina.

The haram, or holy area of Mecca, is a sanctuary in which violence to people, animals, and even plants is not permitted. The word haram carries the dual meaning of forbidden and sacred. As a symbol of ritual purification, on approaching its boundaries the male pilgrim dons an ihram, two white seamless pieces of cloth, although many don the ihram upon first arriving in the kingdom. Women wear a white dress and head scarf and may choose to veil their faces, although it is not required. Once properly attired, pilgrims enter a state of purity in which they avoid bathing, cutting hair and nails, violence, arguing, and sexual relations.

Approaching Mecca, pilgrims shout, "I am here, O Lord, I am here!" They enter the Grand Mosque surrounding the Kaaba, a cube-shaped sanctuary first built, according to Muslim tradition, by Abraham and his son Ismail. The Kaaba contains a black stone believed to have been given to Abraham by the angel Gabriel, according to some sources, and by others, to have been simply part of the structure of the original Kaaba. In pre-Islamic times, the Kaaba was the object of pilgrimage, housing the idols of the pagan jahiliya, the age of ignorance, and, according to Islamic tradition, was cleansed by Muhammad of idols and rededicated to the worship of the one God.

On the eighth day, the pilgrims go to Mina, a plain outside Mecca, spending the night in prayer and meditation. On the morning of the ninth day, they proceed to the Plain of Arafat where they perform the central ritual of the hajj, the standing (wuquf). The congregation faces Mecca and prays from noon to sundown. Muhammad delivered his farewell sermon from a hill above the plain called the Mount of Mercy, or Mount Arafat, during his final pilgrimage. In performing wuquf, the pilgrim figuratively joins those the Prophet addressed. It is believed that the pilgrim leaves Arafat cleansed of sin.

A cannon sounds at sunset, and all rush to Muzdalifah, where they toss pebbles at one of three stone pillars representing Satan. Satan, in Islamic tradition, tempted Abraham not to sacrifice Ismail as God commanded. Ismail stoned Satan in response to the temptation, an act that symbolizes for the Muslim Ismail's total submission to the will of God, for he went as a willing victim to the sacrifice. In the stoning, pilgrims renounce evil and declare their willingness to sacrifice all they have to God. Following the stoning, each pilgrim buys a camel, sheep, or goat for sacrifice in imitation of Abraham, and the excess meat is distributed to the poor. The sacrifice is duplicated by Muslims the world over, who celebrate the day as Id al Adha, the major feast of the Muslim year. The sacrifice ends the hajj proper. The pilgrim may then bathe, shave, cut his hair, and resume normal clothing.

Lastly, the pilgrims go to the Grand Mosque in Mecca. In the sanctuary, the pilgrims walk around the Kaaba seven times and point to the stone or kiss it as a symbol of the continuity of Islam over time and of the unity of believers. They then pray in the Place of Abraham, the spot within the mosque where the patriarch prayed. During this time, the pilgrims may also reenact the running between the hills of Safa and Marwa and may drink from the sacred well of Zamzam, commemorating the frantic search by Hagar to find water for her son Ismail, and the opening of the well of Zamzam by the angel Gabriel, which saved the future father of the Arabs. These rites constitute the umra. Some pilgrims conclude their pilgrimage with a visit to the Prophet's Mosque in Medina.

The rite of pilgrimage not only has special significance in the life of Muslims but also has profound political significance for the Saudi monarchy. The king has claimed for himself the title Khadim al Haramayn, or "custodian of the two holy mosques," a title that complements the Saudi claim to legitimacy. To prove themselves worthy of the title, Saudi monarchs must show that they are not only capable of defending the interests of Arabian Muslims but also of defending the holy sites of Islam for the benefit of Muslims the world over. The Saudis have therefore invested heavily over the years in facilitating the arrival, transportation, feeding, and accommodation of pilgrims arriving annually for the rites of the hajj. New airport buildings, road networks, water supplies, and public health facilities have been provided. Much publicity has accompanied government contributions to the comfort of pilgrims. The government distributes bottled water, juices, and boxed lunches during the climbing of Mount Arafat; stations ambulances staffed with first-aid teams in strategic locations; shows health education videos on airplanes and ships bringing pilgrims; and relieves pilgrims of the task of having to slaughter their sacrificial animal. The Islamic Development Bank now sells vouchers for sacrificial animals, which are chosen by the pilgrim and then slaughtered, processed, and frozen for distribution and sale in slaughterhouses in Mina.

Since the late 1980s, the Saudis have been particularly energetic in catering to the needs of pilgrims. In 1988 a US$l5 billion traffic improvement scheme for the holy sites was launched. The improvement initiative resulted partly from Iranian charges that the Saudi government was incompetent to guard the holy sites after a 1987 clash between demonstrating Iranian pilgrims and Saudi police left 400 people dead. A further disaster occurred in 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims suffocated or were crushed to death in one of the new air-conditioned pedestrian tunnels built to shield pilgrims from the heat. The incident resulted from the panic that erupted in the overcrowded and inadequately ventilated tunnel, and further fueled Iranian claims that the Saudis did not deserve to be in sole charge of the holy places. In 1992, however, 114,000 Iranian pilgrims, close to the usual level, participated in the hajj.

To symbolize their leadership of the worldwide community of Muslims as well as their guardianship of the holy sites, Saudi kings address the pilgrimage gathering annually. The Saudis also provide financial assistance to aid selected groups of foreign Muslims to attend the hajj. In 1992, in keeping with its interests in proselytizing among Muslims in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, the Saudi government sponsored the pilgrimage for hundreds of Muslims from Azerbaijan, Tashkent, and Mongolia.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - EDUCATION

Saudi Arabia

Education has been a primary goal of government in Najd since the late eighteenth century, when the Wahhabi movement encouraged the spread of Islamic education for all Muslim believers. Because the purpose of Islamic education was to ensure that the believer would understand God's laws and live his or her life in accordance with them, classes for reading and memorizing the Quran along with selections from the hadith were sponsored in towns and villages throughout the peninsula. At the most elementary level, education took place in the kuttab, a class of Quran recitation for children usually attached to a mosque, or as a private tutorial held in the home under the direction of a male or female professional Quran reader, which was usually the case for girls. In the late nineteenth century, nonreligious subjects were also taught under Ottoman rule in the Hijaz and Al Ahsa Province, where kuttab schools specializing in Quran memorization sometimes included arithmetic, foreign language, and Arabic reading in the curriculum. Because the purpose of basic religious learning was to know the contents of holy scripture, the ability to read Arabic text was not a priority, and illiteracy remained widespread in the peninsula. In 1970, in comparison to all countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the literacy rate of 15 percent for men and 2 percent for women in Saudi Arabia was lower only in Yemen and Afghanistan. For this reason, the steep rise in literacy rates--by 1990 the literacy rate for men had risen to 73 percent and that for women to 48 percent--must be seen as an achievement.

Students who wished to pursue their studies beyond the elementary level could attend an informal network of scholarly lectures (halaqat) offering instruction in Islamic jurisprudence, Arabic language, Quranic commentaries (tafsir), hadith, literature, rhetoric, and sometimes arithmetic and history. The most prestigious ulama in Arabia received specialized training at Al Azhar mosque in Cairo, or in Iraq. In Saudi Arabia, higher studies in religious scholarship were formalized in 1945 with the establishment of the At Taif School of Theology (Dar al Tawhid). In the early 1990s, there were two university-level institutions for religious studies, the Islamic University of Medina and the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh.

Since the 1920s, a small number of private institutions has offered limited secular education for boys, but it was not until 1951 that an extensive program of publicly funded secondary schools was initiated. In 1957 the first university not dedicated to religious subjects, Riyadh University, subsequently renamed King Saud University, was established. The Ministry of Education, which administered public educational institutions for boys and men, was set up in 1954. Publicly funded education for girls began in 1960 under the inspiration of then Crown Prince Faisal and his wife Iffat.

Initially, opening schools for girls met with strong opposition in some parts of the kingdom, where nonreligious education was viewed as useless, if not actually dangerous, for girls. This attitude was reflected in the ratio of school-age boys to girls in primary school enrollments: in 1960, 22 percent of boys and 2 percent of girls were enrolled. Within a few years, however, public perceptions of the value of education for girls changed radically, and the general population became strongly supportive. In 1981 enrollments were 81 percent of boys and 43 percent of girls. In 1989 the number of girls enrolled in the public school system was close to the number of boys: almost 1.2 million girls out of a total of 2.6 million students, or 44 percent. School attendance was not compulsory for boys or girls.

By 1989 Saudi Arabia had an education system with more than 14,000 education institutions, including seven universities and eleven teacher-training colleges, in addition to schools for vocational and technical training, special needs, and adult literacy. The system was expanding so rapidly that in 1988-89 alone, 950 new schools were opened to accommodate 400,000 new students. General education consisted of kindergarten, six years of primary school, and three years each of intermediate and secondary (high) school. All instruction, books, and health services to students were provided free by the government, which allocated nearly 20 percent of its expenditures, or US$36.3 billion, to human resources under the Fourth Development Plan, 1985-90. The Fifth Development Plan, 1990-95, proposed a total expenditure of about US$37.6 billion.

Administratively, two organizations oversaw most education institutions in the kingdom. The Ministry of Education supervised the education of boys, special education programs for the handicapped, adult education, and junior colleges for men. Girls' education was administered by the Directorate General of Girls' Education, an organization staffed by ulama, working in close cooperation with the Ministry of Education. The directorate general oversaw the general education of girls, kindergartens and nurseries for both boys and girls, and women's literacy programs, as well as colleges of education and junior colleges for girls. The Ministry of Higher Education was the authority overseeing the kingdom's colleges and universities.

Public education, at both the university and secondary-school level, has never been fully separated from its Islamic roots. The education policy of Saudi Arabia included among its objectives the promotion of the "belief in the One God, Islam as the way of life, and Muhammad as God's Messenger." At the elementary-school level, an average of nine periods a week was devoted to religious subjects and eight per week at the intermediate-school level. This concentration on religious subjects was substantial when compared with the time devoted to other subjects: nine periods for Arabic language and twelve for geography, history, mathematics, science, art, and physical education combined at the elementary level; six for Arabic language and nineteen for all other subjects at the intermediate level. At the secondary level, the required periods of religious study were reduced, although an option remained for a concentration in religious studies.

For women, the goal of education as stated in official policy was ideologically tied to religion: "the purpose of educating a girl is to bring her up in a proper Islamic way so as to perform her duty in life, be an ideal and successful housewife and a good mother, ready to do things which suit her nature such as teaching, nursing and medical treatment." The policy also recognized "women's right to obtain suitable education on equal footing with men in light of Islamic laws." In practice, educational options for girls at the precollege level were almost identical to those for boys. One exception was that, at all levels of precollege education, only boys took physical education, and only girls took home economics.

Inequalities of opportunity existed in higher education that stemmed from the religious and social imperative of gender segregation. Gender segregation was required at all levels of public education, but was also demanded in public areas and businesses by religiously conservative groups as well as by social convention. Because the social perception was that men would put the knowledge and skills acquired to productive use, fewer resources were dedicated to women's higher education than to men's. This constraint was a source of concern to economic planners and policy makers because training and hiring women would not only help solve the difficulties of indigenizing the work force, but would also help to satisfy the rising expectations of the thousands of women graduating from secondary schools, colleges, and universities.

The concern was compounded by the fact that women as a group have excelled academically over males in secondary schools, and the number of female graduates has outstripped the number of males, even though the number of girls entering school was considerably lower than the number of boys. The number of female secondary level graduates has increased more than tenfold, from 1,674 in 1975 to 18,211 in 1988. Calculated as a combination of the hours invested in those who drop out or repeat classes and those who graduate, it took an average of eighteen pupil years to produce a male graduate of general education, as opposed to fifteen pupil years to produce a female graduate. Under conditions existing in the early 1990s, the problem can only become more acute because the Fifth Development Plan projected 45,000 female secondary school graduates in 1995 and only 38,000 male graduates.

This increase in women graduates has not been met by a commensurate increase in higher education opportunities. Despite substantial expansion of college and university programs for women, they remained insufficient to serve the graduates who sought admission. The Fifth Development Plan cited higher education for women as a major issue to be addressed, and Saudi press reports in 1992 indicated that there was discussion of creating a women's university.

A major objective for education in the Fourth Development Plan and the Fifth Development Plan has been to develop general education to deal with technological changes and rapid developments in social and economic fields, with the ultimate goal of replacing a portion of Saudi Arabia's huge foreign labor force (79 percent of the total in 1989) with indigenous workers. In the late 1980s, a high rate of student dropouts and secondary school failures precluded the realization of these goals. (In 1990 the ratios of the number of students at the primary, intermediate, and secondary levels to the total number of students stood at 69.6, 20.5, and 9.9 percent, respectively.) The dropout problem was far more acute with boys than with girls. One means of addressing the dropout problem was a program initiated in 1985 called "developed secondary education," designed to prepare students for university study as well as for practical participation in the work force. In this program, the student was allowed to select two-thirds of his or her study plan from courses that had practical applications or genuine appeal to the student's own interests and abilities. After completing a required general program consisting of courses in religion, mathematics, science, social studies, English, Arabic, and computers, students elected a course of study in one of three concentrations: Islamic studies and literature, administrative science and humanities, or the natural sciences.

Another goal in both the Fourth Development Plan and the Fifth Development Plan has been to indigenize the secondary teacher corps. At the end of the 1980s, about 40 percent were foreigners, mostly from other Arabic-speaking countries, and almost half of that percentage were Egyptian. In the early 1980s, there had been steep gains in the number of Saudis teaching at all levels, especially at the elementary level. This gain resulted from the increase during the 1970s of institutes for training teachers and the greater material incentives for careers in education, stipulated in a royal decree of 1982. Nonetheless, training schools for teachers had trouble attracting candidates, especially males; male enrollment declined slightly, whereas female enrollment nearly tripled. In 1984 there were about 12,000 women enrolled in the seven female colleges of education located in Riyadh, Jiddah, Mecca, Medina, Buraydah, Abha, and Tabuk. The challenge of attracting Saudis to the teaching profession was being met in the early 1990s by a plan to abolish the training institutes for secondary teachers and shift the enrollment to junior colleges. This move would allow graduates the opportunity to complete a university education for a bachelor's degree and thus draw more potential candidates to the teaching profession.

Government funding for higher education has been particularly munificent. Between 1983 and 1989, the number of university students increased from approximately 58,000 to about 113,000, a 95 percent increase. Equally dramatic was the increase in the number of women students at the university level: from 20,300 to 47,000 during the same period, or a 132 percent increase. In 1989 the number of graduates from all of the kingdom's colleges and universities was almost the same for men and women: about 7,000 each.

The new campus of King Saud University in Riyadh, built in the early 1980s, was designed to accommodate 25,000 male students; the original university buildings in central Riyadh were converted into a campus for the women's branch of the university. King Saud University included colleges of administrative sciences, agriculture, arts, dentistry, education, engineering, medical sciences, medicine, pharmacy, and science. Of these, the only course of study that excluded women was engineering, on the premise that a profession in engineering would be impossible to pursue in the context of sex-segregation practices. In the early 1990s, the university offered postgraduate studies in sixty-one specializations, and doctorates in Arabic, geography, and history. In 1984 there were 479 graduate students, including 151 women.

The University of Petroleum and Minerals (King Fahd University) in Dhahran, founded in 1963, offered undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering and science, with most programs of study offered in English. Also in Dhahran was King Faisal University, founded in 1976, with colleges of agricultural sciences and foods, architecture, education, medicine, and veterinary medicine. In 1984 some 40 percent of its 2,600 students were women.

In progress in 1992 was the expansion of King Abd al Aziz University in Jiddah. Founded in 1968, the university in 1990 had about 15,000 undergraduate students, of whom about one-third were women. It consisted of nine colleges, including arts and sciences, environmental studies, marine sciences, medicine, and meteorology. The university's expansion plans, funded by an investment of US$2 billion, called for the addition of colleges of education, environmental design, pharmacy, and planning and technology. The completed expansion should accommodate 25,500 students, with a medical complex to include a hospital, a health services center, and a medical research facility.

The establishment and growth of faculties of arts and sciences, medicine, and technology have been accompanied by the growth in religious institutes of higher learning. The Islamic University of Medina, founded in 1961, had an international student body and faculty that specialized in Islamic sciences. In 1985 the university had 2,798 students including several hundred graduate students. The Islamic University also had a college preparatory program that specialized in teaching the Arabic language and religion; in 1985 there were 1,835 students, all but 279 of them foreign.

At least two of the universities founded for religious instruction have integrated secular subjects and practical training into their curriculum. The Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University, established in 1974, produced qualified Muslim scholars, teachers, judges, and preachers. The university specialized in such classical studies as Arabic language and Islamic jurisprudence. It also offered newer approaches to the study of Islam, with courses in state policy in Islam, Islamic sects, and Islamic culture and economics. In addition, practical subjects such as administration, information and mass media, library sciences, psychology, and social service were offered. In 1986 enrollment numbered 12,000 students with an additional 1,000 in graduate programs. More than 1,500 of these students were women. Umm al Qura University, originally a college of sharia with an institute to teach Arabic to non-Arabs, had grown to include colleges of agricultural sciences, applied sciences, engineering, and social sciences. Of its 7,500 undergraduate students in 1984, 51 percent, or 3,800, were women.

The expansion of the university system in Saudi Arabia has enabled the kingdom to limit financial support for study abroad. Such restrictions had long been the desire of some conservatives, who feared the negative influences on Saudi youth from studying abroad. Since the mid- to late 1980s, the number of Saudi students going abroad to study has dropped sharply. In the 1991-92 school year, only 5,000 students were reported studying abroad; there were slightly more than 4,000 the previous year, with half of those studying in the United States. These figures contrasted with the approximately 10,000 students studying abroad in 1984. As in the past, students going abroad to study received substantial financial assistance. Students selected to receive government funding to study abroad in 1992 received allowances for tuition, lodging, board, and transportation; those intending to study science or technology received an additional stipend. A male student also was encouraged through financial incentives to marry before leaving Saudi Arabia and to take his wife and children with him. The incentives, including an offer of tuition payment that allowed the wife to pursue a course of study as well, addressed concerns about moral temptations and cultural confusions that might arise from living alone abroad. As an additional buffer against such potential problems, an orientation program in Islamic and foreign cultures was offered at Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University for students about to go abroad.

Women going abroad to study were a particular concern for the ulama in the Department of Religious Research, Missionary Activities, and Guidance. In 1982 government scholarships for women to study abroad were sharply curtailed. Enforcement of the mahram rule, whereby women were not allowed to travel without their closest male relative as a chaperon, discouraged prospective students from studying abroad. In 1990 there were almost three times as many men studying abroad on government scholarships as there were women, whereas in 1984 more than half were women.

The expansion of formal religious education programs in a technologically modernizing society has created some economic dislocations and some degree of social polarization between those equipped primarily with a religious education and those prepared to work in the modern economic sector. Opportunities for government employment in religious affairs agencies and the judiciary have been shrinking as traditional areas of religious authority have given way to new demands of the modernizing and developing state. At the same time, unemployment was becoming a problem in the society at large. In the private sector, for example, where most of the employment growth was expected from 1990 to 1995, employment was projected to increase by 213,500, but at the same time the Saudi indigenous labor force was expected to increase by 433,900. Consequently, the growing number of graduates in religious studies--in 1985, 2,733 students in the Islamic University of Medina and more than 8,000 in Muhammad ibn Saud University in Riyadh--was a potential source of disaffection from the state and its modernizing agenda.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - HEALTH

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has committed vast resources (US$16.4 billion in the years 1985 to 1990) to improving medical care for its citizens, with the ultimate goal of providing free medical care for everyone in the kingdom. In 1990 the number of hospitals operated by the government and the private sector together stood at 258, with a capacity of 36,099 beds. Of these hospitals, 163 were run by the Ministry of Health and sixty-four by the private sector. In addition, other government agencies, such as the national guard, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Defense and Aviation, operated hospitals and clinics for their staffs and families. There were also thirty-one teaching hospitals attached to the medical faculties of universities in the kingdom.

King Fahd Medical City outside Riyadh was a US$534 million project. It was to include five hospitals of different specializations, with a capacity of 1,400 beds in addition to outpatient clinics, and was expected to be completed in the early 1990s. To provide personnel for the expanding medical facilities, which in 1992 were staffed largely by foreign physicians, nurses, technicians, and administrators, the government has encouraged medical education in the kingdom and has financed medical training abroad. Four of the kingdom's seven universities offered medical degrees and operated well-equipped hospitals. Saudi universities also had colleges of nursing, pharmacology, and other fields related to the delivery of medical care.

One objective of medical planning was to sponsor cutting-edge research in the kingdom. There were some reported successes. The King Saud University College of Pharmacology developed a drug effective in stabilizing blood sugar in diabetics, and heart surgeons at the Armed Forces Hospital Heart Center in Riyadh performed innovative open-heart surgery on an infant. At the College of Sciences of King Saud University, scientists have used radioactive isotopes to determine the effect of antibiotics on body functions. The King Khalid Eye Specialist Hospital, staffed by foreign doctors, was a world center for the treatment of eye disorders.

Whereas advanced medical research and some of the most sophisticated medical care available anywhere in the world were concentrated in Riyadh and a few major cities, medical care at the most basic level was limited in the countryside. In the early 1990s, a key objective of the Ministry of Health was to facilitate the delivery of primary care to rural areas by establishing primary health-care centers that provided basic services and dispensed medicines. For every four or five primary centers, which numbered 1,668 in 1990, there was to be one diagnostic and maternity center (there were ninety-eight centers in 1990). The large specialist hospitals located in cities were intended as referral hospitals for sophisticated medical treatment such as transplants, cancer treatment, surgery, and complicated diagnoses.

For the primary centers to be effective, health education has had to become an essential part of the centers' mission. In some areas, basic hygiene was unknown, as was the principle of contagion. The rural population and others who had had little or no exposure to observable benefits of modern medicine tended to view preventive measures and medicines with caution. According to a common traditional view, illness was not related to human behavior, such as poor sanitation habits, but was caused by spiritual agents, such as the jinn, the evil eye, or the will of God. Prevention and treatment of disease, therefore, lay in appealing to the spiritual agent responsible, using means such as prayer to God, votive offerings, or amulets to ward off the evil eye.

Before the introduction of modern medicine, local practitioners specialized in a variety of treatments, such as exorcism for mental illness, setting of broken bones, herbal remedies for many ailments, and cauterization. Cauterization involved heating a stick or nail until it was red-hot and then applying it to the area believed to be affected; this procedure was used to treat almost any affliction, from coughs to abscesses to convulsions. Recourse to local healers was declining as access to more effective health care and health education became available.

Infant mortality rates for the kingdom remained high in the early 1980s, with an estimated 118 deaths per 1,000 live births. By contrast, based only on deliveries of infants in hospitals of the Ministry of Health, the infant mortality rate (children stillborn or died during birth) was low, declining in 1990 to 21 per 1,000 in 1990 from 25 per 1,000 in 1986. Death rates have declined as well, from 20 per 1,000 in 1965, to 10.7 per 1,000 between 1975 and 1980, down to 7.6 per 1,000 between 1985 and 1990.

In 1990 the World Health Organization certified that Saudi Arabia was free from the quarantine diseases of cholera, plague, and yellow fever. Compulsory immunization of infants and young children and the introduction in 1986 of an epidemic control system to facilitate communication on outbreaks of communicable diseases have contributed to the successful eradication of these diseases. Poliomyelitis, however, has persisted, and the Ministry of Health has set a target date of the year 2000 to eliminate the disease.

Malaria remained a problem in the Tihamah southern coastal plain, especially in Jizan, Asir, and Al Qunfudhah, which was on the coast in northern Asir. In 1988 the disease affected 1.6 percent of the total population, down from the 4.2 percent recorded eight years earlier. This drop was attributed mainly to measures taken to eliminate breeding grounds for mosquitoes and spraying with insecticides. Bilharzia was a continuing problem in Jizan, Al Bahah, Asir, Najran, Medina, Al Jawf, Hail, and At Taif. The incidence of the disease was lowered from 8.4 percent in 1980 to 1.9 percent in 1988, but efforts to eliminate infestations of the bilharzia parasite and to prevent reinfestation were a continuing challenge. Cases of leishmaniasis have occurred in almost every province with the expansion of agricultural lands, which provide breeding grounds for diseasecarrying flies. In 1988 the reported number of cases (under 15,000) was small, but the disease was being studied to prevent its spread. Trachoma was considered one of the main causes of blindness in the kingdom despite programs designed to combat the disease.

Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia

The family and religious values have profound implications for future development and for policy planning. Family values, and the corresponding behaviors of individuals, have been institutionalized by the state in the process of centralizing control and allocating resources. Many of the state-supported restrictions on women, for example, did not exist in the 1960s and 1970s. They were the product of attempts to reconcile family and religious values with opportunities and objectives that have grown out of the development process and of increased religious conservatism. Over the past two decades, one striking outgrowth of Saudi development has been rapid migration of the population to the cities. In the early 1970s, an estimated 26 percent of the population lived in urban centers. In 1990 that figure had risen to 73 percent. The capital, Riyadh, had about 666,000 inhabitants according to the 1974 census (the most recent official census). By 1984 the population, augmented by the removal of the diplomatic missions from Jiddah to Riyadh, was estimated at about 1.8 million.

Urbanization, education, and modernization were having profound effects on society as a whole, but especially on the family. The urban environment fostered new institutions, such as women's charitable societies, that facilitated associations and activities for women outside the family network. Urban migration and wealth were breaking up the extended family household, as young couples left hometowns and established themselves in single-family homes. Education for women also was encouraging the rise of the nuclear family household: a study in Ad Dammam carried out in 1980 showed that of a sample of 100 salaried women, 91 percent of whom had a high-school or university education, fully 90 percent lived in nuclear family households. By contrast, in a sample of rural women who were 91 percent illiterate, only half lived in a nuclear family unit. The same study showed that the more educated, salaried women had an average of two children, as opposed to rural women with an average of 4.6 children. As the level of education rose, the age of first marriages rose as well: 79 percent of the salaried women were over the age of sixteen (and most over the age of nineteen) when first married, whereas 75 percent of rural women were married between the ages of ten and twelve.

In spite of the limitations imposed by sex-segregation values, and in spite of the small proportion of women in the work force relative to men (7 percent in 1990), the number of working women--and the kinds of places in which they worked--were growing. In the early 1990s, women were employed in banks, including banks exclusively for women, in utility and computer operations, in television and radio programming, and in some ministries. They worked as clerical assistants, journalists, teachers and administrators in girls' schools, university professors, and as social workers. In medicine, women served as doctors, pharmacists, and, more recently, as nurses. In 1992 there were almost 3,100 Saudi women trained and employed as nurses, or 10 percent of the total number of nurses employed in the kingdom. This number represented a dramatic change in the attitudes of some families, not only toward the profession, but about the limits of sex segregation. In the 1970s, nursing was disparaged as a profession for women because of the presumed contact it entailed with male doctors and patients; nursing programs in Saudi Arabia thus could not recruit female Saudi students.

By the 1990s, women had proved themselves competent to succeed in employment that had been culturally perceived as men's work, and, in the academic field they had shown that they could be more successful than men. Women had also carved out for themselves positions of respect outside the family, whereas previously an aspect of respect for women came from being unknown outside the family.

The practices of veiling and separation, and the values underlying these practices, however, were not being dislodged. There was little expressed desire for such change because the practices were grounded in fundamental family values, religiously sanctioned and institutionalized by the government. The premise that women, from a moral standpoint, should not associate with unrelated men was the basis for all Saudi regulations on the behavior of women, including the separation of boys and girls in the education system, the requirement that women have a male chaperon to travel, that women hire a male manager as a requirement for obtaining a commercial license, that women not study abroad without a male chaperon, not check into a hotel alone, and not drive a car in the kingdom.

There was a link between tribal-family values, religion, and state power that made intelligible the outcome of the women's driving demonstration of November 1990. If, in fact, society held as a basic moral premise that a woman should not be seen by any man outside her own family, how could the same society allow her to drive a car, when anyone passing by could see her face? The position of the ulama as stated in a fatwa by the head of the Department of Religious Research, Missionary Activities, and Guidance was that women should not be allowed to drive because Islam supported women's dignity. The fatwa did not say that Islam forbade women's driving--Saudi Arabia was the only Muslim country that forbade women to drive--but said that because Islam supported women's dignity, a Muslim government must protect women from the indignity of driving. The state could not easily abrogate such rulings of the ulama because these rulings responded to the family-tribal values and the interpretations of Islam that were at the heart of Saudi society. The general public response was supportive of the ulama and the actions of the state. Indeed, there was a broad consensus of support for such rulings precisely because they corresponded to the values of modesty and sex segregation that were enmeshed in religion and in the honor of the family.

Changes being wrought through urbanization and development were having disturbing consequences for the traditional notion of the family and its values. They brought closely held religious values into question. For men, the consequences were particularly unsettling because these changes brought their position of control and protection of the family into question. Education, urbanization, and modernization placed women in areas of public space where, culturally, they should not be, for public space was space reserved for men. The physical world around Saudis was changing. Social groupings were realigning, status categories were shifting, and economic dislocations were altering people's income expectations. In such a fluctuating world, for both men and women, clinging to traditional attitudes about women in the family was an expression of a desire for stability in the society at large. The development policies of the 1970s and 1980s, had in effect, planted the seeds of a cultural backlash, seeds that were coming into flower in the early years of the decade of the 1990s.

Saudi Arabia

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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