Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian traditions and customs

What traditions and customs are there in Saudi Arabia?

An overview of the traditions and customs of Saudi Arabia.


Food in daily life

The traditional staple foods were dates; goat, camel and cow milk; ghee, cheese and other dairy products; bread and other foods made from wheat, millet and barley; pumpkin, eggplant, okra, squash, beans, leeks, onions, and some other vegetables; mint, coriander, parsley and cumin; and occasionally lamb, goat or camel meat and, on the coasts, fish.

Older people remember the meals of the past as simple but adequate, without a wasted bite. They ate regularly at home and started the day with a breakfast of coffee and a few dates shortly after morning prayer. A mid-morning meal of dates, milk and/or dairy products, and bread was served.

The last and main meal was often taken before the sunset prayer and consisted of a hot grain-based dish, vegetables among sedentary people in oases, milk among nomadic Bedouins, rarely some meat, and dates.

Today’s meals are eaten later, and food is more abundant and elaborate. Cheese, yogurt, jam, eggs, beans and bread can be consumed around eight in the morning. A lunch of lamb or chicken on a rice plate with side dishes of vegetables and salad, followed by fresh fruit, is shared by family members around 2:30 p.m.

Dinner is usually a lighter version of lunch and is eaten much after 8pm. Less common today are dates, grain-based dishes, and milk. Rice has become ubiquitous, and chicken is very common. Arabic coffee roasted without sugar but flavored with cardamom is still the national drink; tea is also popular.

Foods that are taboo are those prohibited by Islam, especially pork and wine and other alcoholic beverages. Restaurants were rare and considered somewhat unseemly in the past, but fast food is now served by a broad spectrum of Middle Eastern, North African, Italian, Indian and Pakistani, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and other cuisines, in addition to American and from the Middle East.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

The arrival of a guest at your home is an event that leads to a special meal in honor of the visitor. Traditional etiquette called for sheep, goats, or camels to be slaughtered, and this is still often done. However, chicken can be substituted, and in many urban households meat dishes have replaced eating the whole animal.

The great ritual occasions associated with Islamic festivals, weddings, gatherings of family and relatives, and other social events still require the sacrificial killing of sheep or, less commonly, goats or young camels.

For these events, the meat is boiled in large pots, and part of the soup is divided among the guests, while the rest is poured into large trays of rice on which the cooked meat is placed. Traditionally, male guests and older men gather around the tray and eat first, using the right hand; they are followed by the younger men and finally by the boys.

Women and girls eat separately, often food prepared especially for them, but sometimes they eat what the men and boys have not eaten. Multiple rounds of coffee and tea are served before and after the meal, and incense is burned.


Traditionally, marriage was between paternal first cousins ​​or other relatives related to parental authority. It was customary for prospective spouses not to meet before the wedding night, and marriages had to be arranged by fathers, mothers, and other relatives.

These practices are slowly and unevenly changing, but the trend is towards fewer close cousin marriages and the couple communicating with each other before the wedding. Parents still arrange marriages, but they are more likely to do it indirectly and from behind the scenes.

Men are allowed to have four wives at a time as long as they can treat them equally, but polygamy is rare in most of the population. Marriage is considered a necessary part of life, and almost all adults marry. Marriage is often an expensive affair.

Divorce is relatively easy for men and difficult for women. Divorce rates are high and it is common for men to remarry, especially men.


Social interaction is characterized by strong gender segregation and respect for age differences. An egalitarian ethos and a high appreciation of polite behavior also prevail.

Men and women rarely interact across the gender divide outside the domestic space of families, and many of the most powerful things society does and does not do are intended to regulate that interaction beyond the confines of a family. home. Therefore, male-female interaction in a commercial store must be formal and strictly limited to the buying and selling process.

Generally, men and women should refrain from making specific references to individuals of the other sex, although it is appropriate and common for one to wonder about the well-being of another individual’s concepts of “family” or “home” that are understood as circumlocutions by others. Significant people of the opposite sex.

Deference must be shown to elders, and relations between generations are often characterized by strict formality and the maintenance of decorum in social gatherings.

Most social interaction takes place in specific gender and age groups. Social visits within these contexts are very common and occur both on a daily basis and at special events.

The latter especially include visits to convey condolences on a death or, on the contrary, to express congratulations on a happy event such as a wedding, graduation or promotion, or a safe return from a trip.

A guest, upon arrival, should individually greet the host and all others present by shaking hands or, if known to each other and of similar age, kissing each other on the cheeks three or more times. The individual being greeted must stand. The guest should be offered a refreshment of coffee and tea.

The host should also offer an invitation to lunch or dinner. A lively and relatively long exchange of greetings is expected between host and guest and between guest and others present, as each inquires after the other’s health and wishes God’s protection.

The offer of refreshments and the exchange of greetings extends to offices and stores (at least between people of the same sex); your breach is very rude. Meanwhile, gender segregation is maintained in public places such as airports or banks, where separate lines for men and women are common.

People tend to stay in close physical contact during social interaction. Walking arm-in-hand or holding hands and gently tapping or touching the palm of a person’s hand while talking is common, especially between people of the same sex who know each other well.

Staring, and especially staring, at strangers is rude. In public, people should avoid direct eye contact with passersby.

When greeting a stranger or an acquaintance, it is appropriate for the person who arrives first to say in Arabic, “Peace be upon you,” to which the correct response is, “And peace be with you.” When saying goodbye, it is correct to say, in Arabic, “Under the custody of God”, the answer being “Under the custody of the Generous One”.

In general, the same etiquette patterns hold throughout Saudi Arabia. However, there is more formality between the Bedouin and the rural population, while informal and more relaxed interaction is between the urban youth. The same patterns, but in attenuated forms, apply between local citizens and immigrants.


Religious beliefs

All Saudi citizens are Muslim. With the exception of a small minority of Shiites, Saudi Arabs are Sunni and mainly follow the Handbali (“madhab”) school of Islamic law. Half or more of the immigrants are also Muslim. Non-Muslim religions cannot practice in Saudi Arabia.

Religious professionals

Islam has no clergy or ordained priests. The most learned person in Islam is the one who leads the prayers. Scholars (ulama) include judges, preachers, teachers, prayer leaders, and others who have studied Islam.

Rituals and sacred places

The main daily rituals are related to the five daily prayers that constitute one of the five pillars of Islam. Those who pray face Mecca, ideally in a mosque or in a group. The haj (pilgrimage) is another of the five pillars and must be performed at least once in a lifetime.

The mosque and the tomb of Muhammad in Medina are also visited. The other three pillars of Islam are the testimony that there is no God but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of him, fasting during the day throughout the month of Ramadan, and almsgiving.

Death and the afterlife

The dead are washed, wrapped in seamless shrouds, and buried in graves facing Mecca without coffins or markers. Burial takes place before sunset on the day of death. The dead go to heaven or hell.

The arts and humanities


The main form of art in Saudi Arabia is literature. Classical Arabic poetry is highly regarded, while a wide range of colloquial poetic forms are popular and widely used in different social settings. Poetry recitations are common at weddings and to mark other important public events.

The novel has also become popular among authors and writers. There are local publishers, while authors also have access to publishers from other Arab countries. However, state censorship of publications plays an important role in deciding what can be published.

Graphic arts

Painting and sculpture are practiced, but a rich variety of folk art in weaving, decorative arts, furniture making, and similar work is of high quality. Jewelry making in traditional and modern styles is also common.

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