Culture

Saudi Arabian culture mainly revolves around both Islamic and tribal values. Islam’s two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, are located in the country.

Five times every day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques which are scattered around the country. The weekend begins on Thursday due to Friday being the holiest day for Muslims. Most Muslim countries have a Thursday-Friday or Friday-Saturday weekend. Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage is celebrated at the annual Jenadriyah cultural festival.

One of Saudi Arabia’s most compelling folk rituals is the Al Ardha, the country’s national dance. This sword dance is based on ancient Bedouin traditions: drummers beat out a rhythm and a poet chants verses while sword-carrying men dance shoulder to shoulder. Al-sihba folk music, from the Hejaz, has its origins in al-Andalus.

In Mecca, Medina and Jeddah, dance and song incorporate the sound of the mizmar, an oboe-like woodwind instrument in the performance of the Mizmar dance.

The drum is also an important instrument according to traditional and tribal customs. Samri is a popular traditional form of music and dance in which poetry is sung especially in the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabian Musical tradition depends heavily on the modern Arabian oud.

  • Al Ardha (Arabic: العرضة‎) is a type of folkloric dance performed by the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian peninsula, It was tradition only performed before going to war, but nowadays is performed at celebrations or cultural events, such as the Jenadriyah festival. The dance, which is performed by men carrying swords or canes, is accompanied by drums and spoken verse.
  • Mizmar (Arabic: مزمار‎) is the name of a folkloric dance native to the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. The dance involves moving while twirling a bamboo cane (tool)cane, to the music of drums.
  • Samri (Arabic: سامري‎)is the name of a folkloric music and dance. It involves singing poetry while the daff drum is being played. Two rows of men, seated on the knees sway to the rhythm.

Saudi Arabian dress follows strictly the principles of hijab (the Islamic principle of modesty, especially in dress). The predominantly loose and flowing but covering garments are helpful in Saudi Arabia’s desert climate.

Traditionally, men usually wear an ankle-length shirt woven from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a keffiyeh (a large checkered square of cotton held in place by a cord coil) or a ghutra (a plain white square made of finer cotton, also held in place by a cord coil) worn on the head. For rare chilly days, Saudi men wear a camel-hair cloak (bisht) over the top. Women’s clothes are decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread, and appliques. Women are required to wear an abaya or modest clothing when in public.

  • Ghutrah (Arabic: غتره‎)Is a traditional headdress typically worn by Arab men made of a square of cloth (“scarf”), usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head. It is commonly found in arid climate areas to provide protection from direct sun exposure, as well as for occasional use in protecting the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand.
  • Agal (Arabic: عقال‎) Is an Arab headdress constructed of cord which is fastened around the Ghutrah to hold it in place. The agal is usually black in colour.
  • Thawb (Arabic: ثوب‎) Thawb is the standard Arabic word for garment. Its an ankle-length usually with long sleeves, similar to a robe.
  • Bisht (Arabic: بشت‎) Is a traditional Arabic men’s cloak usually only worn for prestige on special occasions such as weddings

Arabic unleavened bread, or khobz, is eaten with almost all meals. Other staples include lamb, grilled chicken, falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls), shawarma (spit-cooked sliced lamb), and Ful medames (a paste of fava beans, garlic and lemon). Traditional coffeehouses used to be ubiquitous, but are now being displaced by food-hall style cafes. Arabic tea is also a famous custom, which is used in both casual and formal meetings between friends, family and even strangers.

The tea is black (without milk) and has herbal flavoring that comes in many variations. Islamic dietary laws forbid the eating of pork and the drinking of alcohol, and this law is enforced strictly throughout Saudi Arabia.

Public theatres and cinemas were prohibited, as some Muslims’ views deem those institutions to be incompatible with Islam. However, lately, a reform is undergone in the country and several cinemas and movies had been shown under high tensions from radical Saudi groups.

Also an IMAX theater is available, and in private compounds such as Dhahran and Ras Tanura public theaters can be found, but often are more popular for local music, arts, and theatre productions rather than the exhibition of motion pictures. DVDs, including American and British movies, are legal and widely available.

Due to the legal framework of the country, which does not provide legal protection for freedom of religion, the public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited. Though according to a 2009 Pew Forum report, there are about 25 million people who are Muslims, or 97 percent of the total population.

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