Saudi arabian americans

by Sonya Schryer


Saudi Arabia measures 899,766 square miles (2,331,000 square kilometers), and comprises four-fifths of the Arabian Peninsula. It is roughly one-third the size of the United States. Saudi Arabia is bounded by the Red Sea to the west; Iraq, Jordan, and Kuwait to the north; the Gulf of Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to the east; Oman to the southeast; and Yemen to the southwest. Saudi Arabia's official language is Arabic and the capital city is Riyadh.

While population figures vary, the United Nations estimated that 20 million people lived in Saudi Arabia in 1998. One quarter of the population were foreign workers, half of them Arab. There was a small contingent of Westerners, many of whom worked in the oil industry and for international businesses.

Saudi Arabia is home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. These cities have special significance for Muslims the world over. Islam, the national religion of Saudi Arabia, requires that all Muslims able to do so make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetimes. Islam is tightly interwoven into all facets of Saudi life, including government, law, education, dress, marriage, and family. Members of religions other than Islam, including foreign workers, are not permitted to exercise their faith publicly, nor may anyone attempt to convert a Muslim. The Saudi flag, green with white Arabic script, proclaims the first pillar of Islam: "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger." Below these words is a saber.


From 4000 B.C. through biblical times, trade routes that linked modern India, China, Africa, and the Middle East crossed the Arabian Peninsula. Mecca lay on one of the more prominent routes, providing service to Egyptian caravans. The Arabians themselves were broken up into various clans who traced their lineage to Abraham and his son Ishmael.

The prophet Muhammad (c. 570 A.D. -632 A.D. ), himself a merchant in Mecca, founded Islam in 622 A.D. and unified most of the Arabian Peninsula in his lifetime. The momentum of Islam led to the conquering of central Asia, northern Africa, and Spain within one hundred years of the death of Muhammad. In practical terms, the widespread observance of Islam improved business relations among regions because Islamic standards of fair dealing practices were respected, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, or language. While Jews and Christians of conquered lands were tolerated as "People of the Book," they were also taxed more heavily than converts to Islam. During the Middle Ages, Arabia enjoyed a scientific, artistic, intellectual, and cultural preeminence unmatched in Europe until the Renaissance. Arabia's decline in subsequent years led to conquest by the Ottoman Empire and its weak control, which extended from the beginning of the sixteenth into the early twentieth century.


Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, more simply known as Ibn Saud, founded the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the of September 23, 1932. King Ibn Saud consolidated his control through military conquests, advantageous marriages, and the support of the Wahhabi Movement, founded by the religious reformer, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792). Wahhab had studied various religious practices and traveled widely before returning to the Najd, a region of central Arabia surrounded by desert on three sides. There he aligned himself with the al-Saud family, who maintained leadership in the Najd.

The Wahhabi Movement was puritanical and fierce in its demand that Muslims live by an exacting interpretation of the Koran , the holy book of Islam, and of the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Wahhabism required conformity, piety, and governmental or military enforcement of Islamic law. Among other tenets, Wahhabism decried any action, including the adoration of saints, which competed with the monotheism of Islam. The Wahhab/Saud dynasty shaped the moral and political landscape of sixteenth century Arabia. Its control stretched beyond the geographical boundaries of the Arabian Peninsula, and its influence permanently asserted itself in the Najd.

King Ibn Saud drew his authority by ruling in consult with the ulama (religious scholars), an indispensable aspect of public leadership in Wahhabi philosophy. As his ancestors had done, he fused political leadership with religious ideology. In 1933, oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi monarchy used this wealth to bring Arabia to the forefront of global economics.


The first Saudis in the United States came as ambassadors and staff to the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1940s. In 1999, the Information Department of the embassy was unaware of any regular Saudi citizens who had lived in the United States for extended periods before the end of the Second World War.


Following World War II, young Saudi men began coming to the United States to obtain higher educations. Saudi Arabia's oil wealth allowed the government to sponsor these students financially. As of 1999, they were provided with tuition money, funds for room and board, clothing, medical care, one round trip plane ticket to visit Saudi Arabia each year, and other benefits. Bonuses were given to those studying in scientific or technical fields.

Saudi men were encouraged through economic incentives to marry, and to take their families with them, and therefore reduce feelings of isolation and culture shock. One incentive included tuition money for a man's spouse to study as well. Unmarried Saudi women were required to have a chaperone to travel outside of Saudi Arabia, also as of 1999, although ultimately a woman's family could choose not to chaperone her. According to editor Richard Nyrop, in his book Saudi Arabia: A Country Study, "[t]he vast majority [of Saudi students] remained deeply committed to the Saudi values surrounding religion as well as family and social life. The one area where there were measurable changes of opinion was in the attitudes toward women and women's role in society."

When universities in Saudi Arabia began opening in the 1960s, the number of Saudi students abroad decreased. This pleased conservative groups, who were concerned about sending so many young people out of the country, particularly to non-Muslim nations. In 1984, approximately 10,000 Saudis were studying outside of Saudi Arabia. More than half were women. In 1991-92, this figure dropped to 5,000, with half studying at universities in the United States. In 1999, the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C. estimated that 5,000 Saudis were studying in the United States, and that the majority were male.

The close political and economic relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States led to a number of generous educational grants on behalf of the Saudi government. In April of 1976, Saudi Arabia presented the University of Southern California with an endowment in the amount of one million dollars to establish the King Faisal Chair of Islamic and Arab Studies. At that time, more than 150 Saudi students were matriculating at the University of Southern California.

In 1999, there were 25 Saudi Student Houses, supported by the embassy and the Saudi Cultural Mission, across the United States. In October of 1997, the Saudi Student House at Indiana State University held a "Saudi National Day," which featured traditional food, dancing, a fashion show, displays, slides and videos. At Michigan State University, a Saudi Student House was established in April of 1996 to provide Islamic, educational, social, and athletic services; in 1999 it reported 70 members. Saudi students also congregated at mosques and Islamic centers, many of which received support from the embassy.

Academically, Saudi students were diverse, researching a wide variety of topics at the masters and doctoral levels. In the late 1970s, a majority were studying the social sciences, and subsequent dissertations on the community of Saudi students constitute a substantial body work about their experiences. Examples of researched topics include Abdullah Ahmed Oweidat's Ph.D. dissertation entitled "A Study of Changes in Value Orientation of Arab Students in the United States" (University of Southern California, 1981). He studied Saudi and other Arab students and found that those who had resided in the United States for at least three years demonstrated values similar to those held by Americans, which were significantly different Arab students who had recently arrived to the United States. Another Ph.D. dissertation, by Abdullah Muhammad Alfauzan, researched how Saudi Arabian students in the United States viewed women's participation in the work force in Saudi Arabia. He found that Saudi students in the United States possessed more liberal viewpoints than their counterparts in Saudi Arabia.

Among many other topics, Saudi students have also written dissertations on agriculture, Arabian art, student teaching in Saudi Arabia, advertising dollars in the media in Saudi Arabia, and the relationship between job characteristics and quality of work life in a Saudi Arabian hospital. Much of their work provided academia in the United States with information that was underutilized or not available to American researchers.


Citizens of Middle Eastern countries have been immigrating to the United States since the late nineteenth century. Middle Eastern Muslims did not begin to immigrate in great numbers, however, until after World War II. Many Arab American organizations, Muslim and Christian, have since established themselves in the United States. They have developed student groups, scholarship networks, newspapers, magazines, television programming, restaurants, cultural centers, and traveling museum exhibits. Saudi Arabians, as well as the Saudi government, have made financial contributions to Muslim organizations. Nevertheless, the relatively small Saudi community, and the low number of Saudis who choose to live permanently in the United States, has limited uniquely Saudi-American cultural developments.

In the 1990 census, only 4,486 U.S. citizens reported that they were of Saudi Arabian descent. Saudi Arabians reported living in 42 of the 50 United States. The greatest number, 517, resided in California. There were five additional states that reported over 200 Saudi Arabians: Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

There are a variety of reasons why so few Saudi Arabians chose to permanently relocate to the United States. Among these were the wealth of Saudi Arabia, the religious faith and pride of Saudis who found it difficult to maintain an Islamic lifestyle in the United States, and a lack of factors motivating citizens to leave Saudi Arabia. Saudis are also required to obtain an exit visa from their government in order to leave Saudi Arabia, and they must provide a reason to get it. The limited number of marriages between U.S. and Saudi citizens may also have contributed to the low number of Saudi immigrants and Saudi Americans.

Political dissent and dissatisfaction with the restrictions of living in an orthodox Muslim society were among the factors that encouraged migration. The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which established preferential treatment for educated immigrants, also encouraged a limited number of Saudis to seek U.S. citizenship. Those Saudi Arabians who did settle permanently in the United States were commonly well educated and lived near cities where they held professional jobs.

Due to the number of Saudi families in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, there were enough children of primary and secondary school age to establish the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1984 (other Muslim children are also permitted to attend). The government of Saudi Arabia funded the academy to provide an academic, religious and Arabic curriculum. It services 1,150 children in kindergarten through the 12th grade and sits on 100 acres.

Acculturation and Assimilation


There are many Saudi Arabian proverbs, both secular and religious. Examples of the secular include: "He who knows not and knows not he knows not is a fool. Shun him;" "He who knows not and knows he knows not is simple. Teach him;" "He who knows and knows not he knows is asleep. Wake him;" "He who knows and knows he knows is wise. Follow him;" "He who loves thinks others are blind; the others think he is crazy;" "Better a thousand enemies outside the house than one inside;" and "He who has health has hope; and he who has hope, has everything."

Proverbs from the prophet Muhammad include: "Riches are not from abundance of worldly goods, but from a contented mind;" "Let go of the things of which you are in doubt for the things in which there is no doubt;" and "God is beautiful and He loves beauty."

Koranic proverbs include: "Whatever good you have is all from God. Whatever evil, all is from yourself" and "God will not change the condition of men until they change what is in themselves."


Traditional Saudi Arabian cuisine is similar to other Middle Eastern foods in that it favors lamb, rice, and a wide variety of vegetables and spices. Because of the Islamic prohibition against pork, it is absent from all Saudi cooking. Both Gahwah, a coffee of unroasted beans and cardamom, and tea, are very popular.

In the United States, Saudi women prepare traditional dishes and learn to work with American foods. In 1999, the Information Department of the Saudi embassy was unaware of a single Saudi restaurant in the United States, but reported that many Saudis enjoy the cuisine of other Middle Eastern countries and frequent their restaurants. Sensitive to the desires of Saudi expatriates, Saadeddin Pastry Limited, headquartered in Riyadh, ships Saudi pastries and sweets worldwide for holidays, weddings, and other special occasions.


Saudi music, secular or religious, was not being produced in the United States as of 1999, however, it has become more accessible through various music providers such as on the World Wide Web. Individual import companies, including Caravelle Fine Middle Eastern Imports, also advertise their ability to provide Saudi music in the United States. Increasing interest in Arabic music led to the publication of several books on the topic, including the translation of Habib Hassan Touma's The Music of the Arabs.


Traditional Saudi clothing for men consists of a thobe, a long sleeved, loose-fitting garment that covers the body from neck to ankles. Thobes are sewn of cotton or wool and may be plain white or very colorful with fine embroidery work. A head-piece is also customary, designed to protect against the elements. For special occasions, Saudi men may wear a bisht, a gold-edged cloak, over the thobe.

Women's fashions are varied, not confined to traditional Saudi Arabian garb. Jeans and heels are not unheard of. In public, all women are required to wear the abaya, a black garment that covers them from head to foot. A variety of veils are worn as well. At the very minimum, they cover a woman's hair and neck, although veils that cover a woman's face entirely are also used, particularly in the holy city of Mecca. The Saudi Arabian police force, named the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice (often called the religious police), enforce a dress code and may cite or arrest women appearing under-clothed in public.

While in the United States, most male Saudi students adopt Western standards of dress, including fashionable name brands as well as jeans, T-shirts and the like. Many Saudi women do not wear the abaya while in the United States, and some do not wear a head covering at all, although most do. A family's religious piety influences how a woman will dress after arriving in the United States. In conservative settings such as the mosque, or for celebrations, both men and women are more likely to wear traditional clothing.


Khaleegy (meaning "gulf"), a popular Saudi women's dance, is characterized as fast and exciting. It is often performed at women's parties in a special dancing costume known as the thobe al nasha'ar, and associated songs speak of the beauty of the dancer, often mentioning her hair. Muhammad Abdou was a popular singer of songs typifying this style in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. In the United States, the khaleegy came to be included in the repertoires of dancing groups such as the Jawaahir Dance Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota.


The nation of Saudi Arabia recognizes two religious holidays, both of which are celebrated by Muslims the world over. The first is Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan, and lasts for seven days. Fasting during the Arabic month of Ramadan is a required practice of all adult Muslims in good health, although menstruating women are excused. Due to fasting, government offices, businesses, and schools in Saudi Arabia operate for fewer hours each day throughout the month. Few Muslims of any nationality in the United States are able to take time away from their jobs during Ramadan. Eid Al-Fitr is celebrated at mosques and Islamic centers with special dress, meals, and prayers. Giving zakat (alms) at the end of Ramadan is also a religious requirement. Muslims who do not live near mosques often travel to them for holidays. In January of 1999, approximately 14,000 Muslims gathered to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr at the Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

The second Islamic religious holiday is called Eid Al-Adha. It celebrates the end of the Haj and lasts for 10 days. The Haj is a pilgrimage to Mecca required of all adult Muslims at least once in their lives, if they are able. Due to the lunar nature of the Arabic calendar, known as the Hijra calendar, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha do not fall on the same days each year in the Western world. September 23rd, the day Saudi Arabia was declared an independent nation, is often recognized as well.


Sickle cell disease, most commonly known in the United States to affect Africans and African Americans, affects several other groups, including Saudi Arabians. In 1999, with the assistance of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, worldwide collaborative research was being conducted to examine additional risk factors pertaining to Saudis with sickle cell disease.

In 1998, Suzanne Toombs Mallery finished her Ph.D. dissertation entitled "Zar Possession as Psychiatric Diagnosis: Problems and Possibilities" at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Mallery reported that Zar Possession was classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV of the American Psychiatric Association as a culture-bound phenomenon. She found that this illness primarily afflicted women in North Africa and the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, and was characterized by somatic and emotional symptoms such as headaches, seizures, chronic pain, infertility, generalized and persistent depression, apathy and crying.

The United States has had a long-term relationship with Saudi Arabia in the areas of medical research and care. In the 1960s through to the 1980s, Saudi Arabia developed and instituted expansive medical coverage for its citizens, built hospitals, and trained physicians. The United States assisted in this process, and as a result, some Saudi doctors were trained in the United States. In 1999, Saudi Arabia presented George Mason University in northern Virginia with a 1.1 million dollar grant to train 12 Saudi nurses for 15 months. Moreover, Saudi Arabia continues, as of 1999, to host and recruit doctors from around the world.


Arabic is the national language of Saudi Arabia, but English is commonly used in business transactions, particularly with foreigners. There were ten large newspapers operating in Saudi Arabia in 1992, all privately owned; seven were printed in Arabic and three in English. English is commonly taught in the public schools, and sometimes French is offered in private academies.

The most common greeting in the Arabic language is " Assalaamu alaikum, " which means "Peace be upon you." This is often combined with kisses to the right and left cheek. "Hello" in Arabic is " Marhaba, " How are you?" is " Keef Halek, " and Good morning is " Sabah Al Kair. " " Eid Mubarak " is spoken to wish someone a happy holiday.

Family and Community Dynamics


In 1970, the literacy rate for Saudi Arabian boys was 15 percent, for girls a mere 2 percent. In the 1970s and 1980s, the public education system in Saudi Arabia experienced massive growth. As a result, by 1990 the literacy rate for boys was 73 percent and 48 percent for girls. In 1998, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, males attended approximately 9.0 years of schooling, and females attended about 8.4 years.

In the 1990s, public education was free, non-compulsory, heavily grounded in religion, and conducted separately for males and females. Initially, there was resistance to educating girls, but it was quickly overcome and secondary school graduation rates for females met and exceeded that of males in the early 1990s. The higher graduation rate for young women came despite their comparatively fewer years of education. Due to the rapid growth in women's education over the past decades, the 1990s saw a high demand for female teachers.

Technical, vocational or university education is available after the completion of secondary school in Saudi Arabia. In the 1990s it was a stated aim of the government to replace the high numbers of foreign workers in the country with Saudi nationals. The sponsorship of Saudi students at institutions of higher education in other countries often involves a number of years of work for the government upon return.


Saudi Arabia had one of the highest birth rates in the world in 1998. The World Health Organization estimated that the average number of children born to each woman was 5.8, compared to 2.0 for American women. Many Muslims choose to name their children after the prophet Muhammad and his wives and companions, or other Koranic figures. According to tradition, alms are frequently given after the birth of each child as a way of giving thanks. On the seventh day after a child's birth, a celebration similar to an American baby shower is often held at the home of the child's grandmother. Family and friends gather, candles are lit, cheers are made, and often the child is named on this occasion. Subsequent birthdays are usually not celebrated.


Women in Saudi Arabia lead lives much more tied to domestic affairs than do American women. By law, women are not allowed to drive, bicycle, or use any form of public transportation without a male escort. They do not venture into public without a male escort, usually a family member. Women are not allowed to travel outside of Saudi Arabia without the express permission of their fathers of their husbands.

In 1997, according to the United Nations Secretariat and International Labor Office, 7 percent of Saudi women over the age of 15 were "economically active," compared with 79 percent of men. Female workers were concentrated in areas where they served other women, such as nursing, teaching, or staffing women's banks and stores. By Islamic law, a woman's money is her own, including any inheritance she may acquire, and the dowry she receives when she marries. Her husband is responsible for her maintenance, regardless of her personal wealth.

Saudi women retain their last name after marriage, but their activities are regulated by their families and by religious law. Men are legally allowed up to four wives, although technically a woman must agree to her husband's subsequent marriages. The discord often caused by such arrangements discourages most men from attempting them.

Per statistics of the World Health Organization in 1998, maternal mortality rates for Saudi women were 130 per 100,000 pregnancies, compared to 12 in the United States. According to other reports in 1997-98, the ratio of women to men in Saudi Arabia was in the lowest 10 percent worldwide, at 81:100. The average age at marriage for Saudi women was 21.7 years, compared to 25.6 years for men. Contraceptive use among married women was reported at 14 percent, and births to married teenagers were reported at 8 percent. As of 1999, women were not allowed to participate in politics in any official way.


Courtship is unknown in Saudi Arabia. Men and women do not "date," and marriage is often arranged by the couple's parents. More liberal parents allow their children greater opportunity to select their spouses.

Islamic marriages, while a very serious matter for all involved, are not a sacrament. Marriage is a contract, and while certain aspects are immutable, both parties contribute to the contract according to their needs and desires. For instance, a woman may request the right to travel in her marriage contract. Wedding parties are usually separate for the bride and groom, taking place in different locations and even on different nights. Divorce is permissible as a last resort, but the importance placed on marriage and the family keeps the divorce rate low.

Young Saudi men and women living with their families in the United States often experience a greater degree of freedom, boys more so than girls, but adolescents are unlikely to get to know members of the opposite sex. For reasons discussed earlier, Saudi Arabians are unlikely to permanently settle in the United States, and Saudi children, even if born there, expect to return to their parent's homeland.

Saudi men living alone in the United States as students are more likely to return to Saudi Arabia to find a wife than to marry an American woman. In Islam, males are legally permitted to marry any woman "of the Book," meaning Jews and Christians, as well as fellow Muslims, but family preferences for other Arabs often hold sway. Some Saudi men have married American women and returned with them to Saudi Arabia. In 1999, the American Embassy was aware of about 500 American women residing in Saudi Arabia as the wives of Saudi citizens. Often, the geographical and cultural transition is difficult or impossible for a couple to make. When marriages fail, American women have few resources. Boarding a plane, train, or bus, with or without their children, is impossible unless they have their husband's consent. Problems such as these, as well as drastic cultural differences, have limited the number of marriages between Saudis and Americans.

Saudi men living in the United States who do not wish to return to Saudi Arabia to marry do have other options when seeking a spouse. In the 1990s, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), headquartered in Plainfield, Indiana, maintained an electronic database of persons seeking to marry. Through it, Muslims living in the United States and Canada were able to locate potential spouses with whom they could share Islamic values. The restrictions for Saudi women desiring to marry non-Saudis are severe. As of 1999, they were required to get a kingly dispensation to marry anyone not from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, or the United Arab Emirates. In 1999, the American Embassy was aware of four Saudi women married to American men. For these reasons, Saudi men and women living in the United States are unlikely to marry Americans, thereby eliminating one aspect of Americanization: The cross-cultural marriages that have played key roles in helping to establish other ethnic communities in America.


In Islam, as with most other religions, there exist observances surrounding death and the dead. After death, a body is bathed three times, the last time with scented oil. Men are washed by men and women by women, except in the case of married persons. Prayers are said during the bathing process and the body is wrapped in a white shroud. If a person dies in the morning, they must be buried that same day. If they die in the afternoon, they must be buried by the following morning. No embalming materials are used. The dead are buried five or six feet deep, on their right side, with their head facing Mecca. Coffins are allowed, but more often the person is put to rest only in their shroud. Ornate coffins, tombs, or headstones are prohibited.

Prayers are recited throughout the burial ceremony. Most frequently, God is praised, forgiveness is asked for the person's sins, and a prayer is recited for all Muslims. Forgiveness is not asked for the sins of children, as they are considered blameless. One prayer for the deceased, first recited by the prophet Muhammad and listed in Gardens of the Righteous: Riyadh as-Salihim of Imam Nawawi (trans. Muhammad Zafrullah Khan. London: Curzon Press, 1975), is as follows: "Allah, do forgive him and have mercy on him and make him secure and overlook his shortcomings, and bestow upon him an honored place in Paradise, and make his place of entry spacious, and wash him clean with water and snow and ice, and cleanse him of all wrong as Thou dost clean a piece of white cloth of dirt, and bestow upon him a home better than him home and family better than him family and a spouse better than his spouse, and admit him into Paradise, and shield him from the torment of the grave and the torment of the Fire." Muslims in the United States have established graveyards in their communities to observe these rites.


As the birthplace of Islam and the home of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia has reported a 100 percent Muslim population. The vast majority of the population follows Sunni Islam as it is practiced in accordance with the Wahhabi Movement. Sunni Muslims follow the teachings of the Koran and the example of the prophet Muhammad (the sunna consists of the personal customs and habits of the prophet Muhammad). Shi'a ("sect") Muslims are made up of a distinct group whose roots can be traced back to the time following the death of the prophet Muhammad, when political control of the Islamic community was undecided due to factionalism among Muhammad's followers. The primary difference between the two groups is that Sunni Muslims recognize a caliph (leader), who maintains military and political authority in Muslim societies. Shi'as recognize an imam (religious leader) descended directly from the prophet Muhammad and Ali (the first imam) as a person of military, political, and religious authority, such that he is sinless and pure. There are various sects among the Shi'a Muslims as well. A third, distinct group of Muslims, some Sunni and some Shi'a, are known as Sufis. Sufis follow a mystical path to discipline the mind and body through spirituality and asceticism.

Islamic law is known as shari'a (shari'a literally translates to "the way to the water whole" but also means "the right path"), and it is the official constitution of Saudi Arabia, based in large part on the Koran. The Koran includes many stories present in the Torah and the bible, and is considered by Muslims to be God's direct, undiluted message. It has not changed since it was written down by companions of the prophet Muhammad. All facets of life are governed in the Islamic system, which does not dwell on differences of ethnicity, class, or caste, instead bringing people together through an allencompassing, monotheistic faith. The teachings of Islam include clear instructions on such varying topics as marriage, family and criminal law, inheritance rights, business, banking, and individual deportment.

Islam has a dual meaning, indicating both submission to God and peace. There are five pillars of Islam, all of which must be practiced by Muslims.

1. Belief in and profession of the shahada (testimony): "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger." These are the words on the flag of Saudi Arabia. 2. Salat (prayer). Muslims pray five times daily in the direction of Mecca, with each occurrence having its own name and time frame. A ritual washing of the face, nose, mouth, ears, hands and feet is required before the prayer to purify the supplicant. The salat is a highly ritualized requirement, unlike Christian prayers that may rely heavily on requests for intercession and personal confessions. A period directly after the salat, known as the dua, is appropriate for personal prayers. 3. Zakat (alms-giving). Zakat is required of every adult Muslim to assist the community, including orphans, widows, and the poor. It is not looked at as a gift, rather a person gives zakat as their wealth and good fortune were given to them by God. 4. The fast of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Fasting consists of abstention from food, drink, and sexual activity during the hours between sunrise and sunset. Fasting is required of all adults who are physically able, except for women who are menstruating. These women must make up missed days during other times in the year. The ill, those nursing or pregnant, and those who are traveling can also make up missed days later in the year. The fast of Ramadan is ended with a large celebration known as Id al-Fitr (breaking of the fast). 5. Haj (pilgrimage) is the last pillar of Islam, and it requires that all Muslims who are able make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives. Haj is made in the month after Ramadan.

Employment and Economic Traditions

In 1933, huge oil fields were discovered in Saudi Arabia. That same year, Saudi Arabia gave an oil concession to the Standard Oil Company of California. By 1938, when mining began, it was estimated that Saudi Arabia possessed 25 percent of the world's oil supply. King Ibn Saud, and subsequent rulers, were faced with turning an isolated country, almost completely ignored by the Western industrializing nations, into a global economic force. Among other concerns was their desire to obtain the economic benefits of oil production, but not to corrupt Saudi Arabia with Western values.

Saudi Arabia needed an ally who could train their workers to get the oil out of the ground, or it would be forever at the mercy of foreign technicians and the prices they set. King Ibn Saud met with President Theodore Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy in Egypt in 1945. Ultimately, the United States agreed to train Saudi workers, many of whom, in the beginning, had to first be taught to read, and to pay for the oil that resulted from their joint efforts. The enormous influx of money and technical advances lifted Saudi Arabia into the modern twentieth century faster, perhaps, than has happened to any other industrializing society. Worldwide, other businesses are entering into arrangements with Saudi firms.

Politics and Government

The authority of the ruling family was challenged several times in the latter half of the twentieth century. One of the more dramatic incidents was the capture by religious fundamentalists of the al-Haram, or Great Mosque, in Mecca in 1979. More than 200 people lost their lives during the two week stand off. Also in 1979, the newly installed Iranian government called for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy, claiming that they no longer ruled with Islamic authority. During the Iran-Iraq war, which raged from 1980-1988, the Saudi government supported Iraq financially for fear of Iranian domination in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia's close political ties with the United States, born of the economic relationship created by oil, led to their support of Operation Desert Shield in 1990-1991. Although disturbed by the presence of non-Muslim and female soldiers on Arab land, the Saudis accepted over 700,000 troops from 37 nations to forge the attack against Iraq. The Persian Gulf War (1991) led to domestic unrest in Saudi Arabia, when reform-minded citizens and human rights organizations sought to relax the rigorous methods and policies of the Saudi government.

While Saudi Arabia and the United States are linked because of a mutually beneficial relationship over oil, the two countries do not always agree on issues. Significantly, Saudi Arabia and the United States have differed in foreign policy stances regarding Israel and the Middle East. This led to the oil embargo of the early 1970s.


Ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia led to their joint efforts during the Persian Gulf War. Differences in foreign policy, though, specifically as they relate to Israel and the Middle East, have limited military cooperation. This did not prevent the enrollment of ten Saudi cadets at the State University of New York's Maritime College at Fort Shuyler in 1999.



Saudi Arabia is often referred to in the American media concerning business issues. There is also a variety of publications concerning Arab Americans. But there are not any large publications specific to Saudis in the United States. The Press Release Network of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, provides press release services for U.S. and Middle Eastern firms in the United States to more than 200 journals and news organizations in the Middle East, including the Saudi Press Agency.


Saudi Students Radio and TV (SSRT), Colorado State University.

Mission was to provide audience with information about Saudi Arabia and its achievements in all areas; provide broadcasting services that are important to Saudi students at Colorado State university, such as lectures and seminars; and to provide daily news that serves community.

Organizations and Associations

Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

Address: 601 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20037.

Telephone: (202) 342-3800.

Islamic Saudi Academy.

Address: 8333 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, VA 22309.

Telephone: (703) 780-0606.

The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the USA (SACM).

Address: 2600 Virginia Ave. Suite # 800, Washington, DC 20037.

Sources for Additional Study

Al-Farsy, Fouad. Modernity and Tradition: The Saudi Equation. New York, NY: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1990.

Braswell, George W., Jr. Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996.

User Contributions:

moshood olumide
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jul 12, 2007 @ 9:09 am
i like to speak arab and study more in saudi help me people of saudi
Report this comment as inappropriate
Apr 20, 2008 @ 3:15 pm
thank you for all this information. i am a student at a university where saudis study abroad and its handy to know their backgrounds through this web source.
blaine salazar
Report this comment as inappropriate
Sep 30, 2009 @ 8:20 pm
I like how you have the different ways that Arab people act away from there home land. Thought I would like to know more about how there different from the American people and there points of views about Americans and how they act different from the American people.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Oct 19, 2010 @ 3:15 pm
100% of Saudi Arabians are Muslims!!!
i am an Atheist,so i think 99.999% are Muslims
but i cant change tell that on the street, i cant change it in my ID card ,so you are right
(as recording 100% of saudis are muslims).
Report this comment as inappropriate
Apr 27, 2011 @ 3:15 pm
Thanks for the information on literacy. I see that with the passage of time, women are gaining power in Saudi. Well done. Soon they will be driving cars! Excellent.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 19, 2012 @ 10:22 pm
First of all I would thank you a lot for that information that I have read it carefully. I see it really helpful for me as a Saudi student in U.S.

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: