18 November 2013

Welcome to Saudi Arabia!

Saudi Arabia is officially known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but is often referred to as simply "The Kingdom", "Saudi" or "KSA".  

It was officially founded in 1932 and has been an absolute monarchy since then.  The Quran and the Sunnah (the traditions of Muhammad) are the country's constitution and the primary source of law.  

The capital (and largest) city is Riyadh.  The official language is Arabic, and the official religion is Islam.  No other religion may be openly practiced--this includes wearing or displaying religious symbols such as crosses.  

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which bans women from driving.  This year (2013) women were given the right to publicly ride bicycles--but only in recreational areas and accompanied by a male relative.  Single women (local or foreign) are never allowed to be accompanied by a non-related male.  

Alcohol, pork products, and pornography are forbidden.  (Keep in mind that a woman wearing a t-shirt and knee length shorts would be considered 'porn' in Saudi--so essentially all Western books, movies, magazines, etc fall into this category.)  
There are no movie theaters or other forms of public exhibition of films.  

Water and dirt are more expensive than oil/gas.  

The weekend is Friday (the holy day for Muslims) and Saturday.    

Five times each day, Muslims are called to prayer from the mosques.  Stores close to observe the prayer times.  A few of the large stores (such as grocery stores) and most restaurants won't require everyone to leave, but the registers close and no one can enter the store during prayer time.  

Two of the most holy cities in Islam are in Saudi Arabia (Mecca and Medina).  Non-Muslims are not allowed to visit these holy grounds.  

Football (soccer) is the national sport.  Other popular sports include scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing, camel racing and falconry.  

It is illegal to practice any form or sorcery or magic, and there is even a special police force for catching witches.  Not surprisingly, Harry Potter is banned in the country.  

They use the Islamic/Muslim/Hijri calendar (concurrently with the Gregorian calendar).  It is a lunar calendar consisting of 12 months in a year of 354 or 355 days, and it is used by Muslims to determine the proper days on which to observe the annual fast (Ramadan) and to attend Hajj.  The current Islamic year is 1436 AH and runs from approximately 3 Nov 2013 (evening) to 23 Oct 2014 (evening).  

Education is free at all levels.  The government spends about 25% of its budget on education.  A large part of the curriculum at all levels is devoted to Islam, and classes (and sometimes even schools) are segregated by gender.  

The government provides free health care for citizens and does not collect income or sales tax (even from foreigners).  

These are just a few interesting facts about Saudi Arabia.  If you are curious to learn more, Wikipedia had a good article on Saudi Arabia.