Saudi Arabia is considered the heartland of people who practice the Islamic faith. Every year, millions of worshippers go on pilgrimages to the holiest sites of the religion. However, what do we really know about this Middle Eastern nation apart from its status as an economic and military powerhouse? The following bits of trivia and photos will surely clear up any misconceptions you might have had about the Sunni Muslim state.
Water And Oil
It is no secret that the Arabian Peninsula is an area rich in oil. Maybe this is why it’s no longer that big of a surprise to hear that in this part of the world, water costs more than oil. In Saudi Arabia, crude oil does not come from faucets – at least not in residences, that is.
Saudi Arabia recently made headlines when they finally made it legal for women to drive. It was the last country to do so, in fact! The abolished rule did not have anything to do with women’s driving skills. It was all about the religious law which banned women from obtaining a driver’s license and driving a car. It was only overturned in June 2018 and it sparked hope for the future advancement of women’s rights in the country.
Driving was just one of the many things that women were not allowed to do in Saudi Arabia. Here’s another one: women can’t travel or open their own bank account. If they want to go to school or find a job, they need to ask for special permission from their male guardians.
Limiting The Love
In accordance with the Sharia law in Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is considered to be a crime. No, the punishment is not limited to a slap on the wrist. You need to know that these punishments range from lashings to the death penalty. Yikes.
Aside from homosexuality, other offenders might also face the death penalty. Crimes eligible for the capital punishment are adultery, armed robbery, murder, and witchcraft. In 2006, reports showed that the government played out this punishment to 154 of these so-called criminals.
Regardless of what you might have been lead to believe, Jerusalem is not actually the holiest site in the Islam faith. For Muslims, Mecca and Medina take the top two holiest spots and Jerusalem comes in third. These holy sites are off-limits for non-Muslim visitors.
Of course, anyone would be shocked if they ever witnessed an automobile tipping over on the highway. However, it is not all that uncommon to see a car being driven on two wheels on the main highway here. It is a practice called “sidewalk skiing” and it is practically considered to be a sport. To make it even more exciting, passengers like to climb out the window and stand on top of these jeeps!
In this day and age, we are all used to taking photographs of just about anything using our smartphones. However, you should do this with caution when you are in Saudi Arabia. It is a taboo to take photographs of women and doing so could land you in hot water. When it comes to men, however, all you have to do is ask permission so that you would not be considered rude.
Heaps And Heaps Of Cash
The Saudi Royal Family has a ton of money in their bank accounts. How much? Well, it is believed that they are worth a total of $14 trillion! Wow. It’s hard to even comprehend that much money.
It seems like the act of creating walls is becoming a more popular idea all over the world. Saudi Arabia launched a project to erect a security fence on the border it shares with Iraq. This was an attempt to keep ISIS members out of the country. Considering the unrest in Yemen, the government also began constructing a wall there.
Tower Of Babel
The “Jeddah Tower” or the “Kingdom Tower” is set to become the tallest building in the whole world. The construction is projected to come to a conclusion by the time 2020 rolls in. It might not exactly be the “tower of Babel”, though at the very least it will reach literal new heights. If everything goes according to plan, it will go past the 1-kilometer mark!
Just like the rest of the Islamic states, Saudi Arabia banned the sale and consumption of alcohol. If anyone is caught buying or selling the illegal substance, they will be punished. In all likelihood, they will be subjected to whipping.
As we all know, meat staples vary from each country to the next. Americans appear to like their beef, chicken, and pork. Meanwhile, camel meat has a special place in the heart and the diet of Saudis. I suppose it all depends on the animals available around us, huh?
When you meet someone for the first time, custom dictates that you shake their right hand. Generally, you also use your right hand when accepting anything from another person. In Saudi Arabia, this is because the right hand is believed to be clean and the left hand is for less sanitary tasks.
Dunes And Dunes
Saudi Arabia is indeed a large country and it has desert for miles and miles. The desert lands, however, are un-farmable and extremely difficult to work on. Overall, only 2% of the country is considered to be arable land.
Saudi Arabia boasts a total of four UNESCO Heritage sites. These four sites are as follows: At-Turaif Distract in ad-Dir’iyah, Al-Hijr Archaeological Site, Rock Art of the Hail Region, and Historic Jeddah.
We all wonder what it would feel like to be the head of any kingdom, right? The king of Saudi Arabia is none other than the 82-year-old Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. He has been both king and prime minister ever since the year 2005. Officially, his title is “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and head of the House of Saud.”
Many Ways To Die
Saudi Arabia still carries its traditional form of execution. For a long time, beheading has been the choice of punishment for serious offenses. Recently, however, the authorities are considering changing it into execution via a firing squad. It’s not for any humanistic reason – it’s mostly because of the lack of swordsmen in the country nowadays.
Massive Land Mass
Saudi Arabia is huge, no doubt about it. In fact, it is the biggest country in the Middle East. It also ranks as the 13th biggest country on the planet. It has a total area of 83,000 square miles or 2,149,690 square km.
We all know that weddings can be extremely costly. If you find this to be the case, you probably should not finance two! In Saudi Arabia, tradition calls for two wedding ceremonies: one for the men and one for the women. After the festivities have ended, the couple can finally meet again.
Saudi Arabia is ranked high when you talk about the most dangerous driving exhibited on the roads. According to a 2000 report by the World Bank, Saudi Arabia is up there with Malaysia, Thailand, and South Africa when it comes to the most dangerous countries for drivers.
Saudi Arabia has one of the last remaining monarchies in the word. It is joined by countries like Brunei, Oman, Swaziland, and the Vatican City. The Al Saud family has held the throne ever since the inception of the absolute monarchy, September 23, 1932.
Not Just Smoking Camels
If you want to buy a camel for whatsoever reason (we won’t judge), just head on to the Riyadh camel market. It is the biggest camel market in the world. Around 100 camels are sold every day!
The law in Saudi Arabia dictates that it is illegal to use any form of birth control. Perhaps this is why a bit surprising to learn that their enemy country, Iran, has one of the few condom factories in the region.
All About Coffee
For us, a cup of joe is called ‘coffee’. For Arabs, however, it is ‘gahwa’ and it is Arabic for ‘that which prevents sleep’. The law actually forbids its consumption since coffee is basically a stimulant, though they are not very strict about enforcing it. As a matter of fact, you will find coffee shops in Saudi Arabia and worshippers even chew on coffee beans while praying!
Before the 90-year-old King Abdullah passed away in January 2015, he was considered to be the 8th most powerful person on the planet. According to Forbes, he was also the most powerful Muslim in the world.
What She Wears
The dress code that women in Saudi Arabia follow can be traced to biblical times. The black abaya is the traditional garb and it actually hails from a Judaic tradition.
What He Wears
For men, the traditional Saudi Arabian attire is thobes, a lightweight ankle-length cotton garment. The robe-like garment is often white in color. Saudis also wear bishts which look similar to a graduation gown as well as head scarves called ghutrahs.
What She Wears But He Sells
Before, men had to sell lingerie since women were forbidden from working outside the home. This made it distressing for women who were shopping for lingerie. Can you imagine buying intimate wear from men? King Abdullah overturned this law in 2012 and allowed women to work at lingerie shops and forbade men from doing the same.
Slavery was a rampant practice in the Arabian Peninsula until it was finally abolished. Saudi Arabia came in pretty late with the abolishment of slavery. It was only forbidden by the monarchy in the year 1962.
It took a long time before the Saudi Arabian head of state King Abdullah reviewed women’s suffrage. In 2015, however, he announced that women would be granted the right to vote. It was officially the last country to have allowed women to cast their votes.
Police And Police
We are all familiar with the police force who make sure criminals are apprehended. However, most people are unfamiliar with the presence of a religious police force. The “Committee for the Preservation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” is the one responsible for these duties. The “Mutaween” make sure that both residents and tourists dress and behave in the appropriate manner.
So what exactly does the name of the country mean? Saudi Arabia actually owes its name to King Abdul Aziz bin Rahman Al Saud AKA Ibn Saud. In 1932, the same man proclaimed the independence of Saudi and crowned himself. He took 17 different wives and fathered 45 sons, 35 of which survived his death back in 1953. The number of daughters he fathered remains unknown.
1985 proved to be an important time in Saudi Arabia. This was the year they sent Prince Sultan bin Salman to space on board the U.S. space shuttle called “Discovery”. He was the first Arab, first Muslim, and first Saudi to have ventured into space!
An old joke about the land mass of the country is often attributed to the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill. The joke goes that when he drew up the boundaries between Saudi Arabia and Jordan, he let out a hiccup from all the brandy he had been drinking. Allegedly, this then caused his hand to slip and allot several thousand miles to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!
No Harry Potter
The practice of witchcraft is banned in Saudi Arabia. However, the law actually extends to any form of scripture about it as well. Harry Potter fans might want to leave their collection at home if they plan on visiting the country!
Did you know that non-Muslims can never obtain citizenship in the country? Moreover, the law also forbids everyone in the country from constructing a place of worship for non-Islamic religions.
The Assassinated King
In 1975, King Faisal was murdered by his nephew after the younger man’s return from a holiday in America. That was the same year he was named the “Man of the Year” by the Time magazine. He was granted the title thanks to the way he saved the local economy and his push for secularism.
We are all familiar with the tragedy that happened on September 11, 2001. Saudi Arabia, sadly, was connected to the attacks. Fifteen out of nineteen hijackers involved on the acts of terrorism hailed from Saudi Arabia. Plenty of families who lost loved ones in the ordeal are suing the country for their supposed involvement in the terrorist attacks.
The Yom Kippur War
The October War is also called the Yom Kippur War of 1973. It was fought between Israel and its enemies: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria. When America sided with Israel in the conflict, Saudi Arabia backed the Arab nations. In an act of defiance, the Kingdom also imposed an oil embargo against the U.S.
Say what you will about the country, but it does seem to care about its citizens. Saudi Arabia offers free public health for all of its’ citizens! Moreover, the government provides free public schooling. However, their literacy rate is still below the 70% mark.
It is pretty incredible that 75% of the Saudi Arabian population is aged below 35 years old. The average age of its citizens is 18 years old. Unlike other countries, they do not impose a mandatory military draft so youngsters are not required to serve when they turn 18-years-old.
There are many things Saudis can be proud of and this gigantic water fountain is definitely one such thing. This is the tallest water fountain in the world and it was given by King Fahd. It is considered a huge tourist attraction and a lot of people enjoy watching the spurts of water shoot into the air as the colorful lights shine brightly against it.
Relations With America
Ever since World War Two concluded, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have several mutual interests. Most famously, they have a relationship that surrounds “oil for security”. The two countries also contribute to efforts about warding off radical terrorist groups such as ISIS and the Al Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia In America
Okay, are you ready? We’re sure this will blow your socks off. Saudi Arabia actually bought a huge parcel of land in the state of Arizona! It was meant as an area for growing hay. The harvested crops would then be shipped back to feed their dairy animals.
The Muslim Brotherhood
In more recent news, Saudi Arabia has tried out new methods to deal with terrorism. The government drafted and passed multiple anti-terror laws. The country also called the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, a move that was met with outcries from Arab states and organizations.
The Queen Of England
The Queen of the United Kingdom knighted King Ibn Saud into the Order of the Bath in the year 1935. It was considered a huge step and the monarch’s decision was respected by both the British and the Saudis.
Where There’s Smoke
In 2002, a terrible fire started in an all-girls’ school located in Mecca. The disaster ended up killing 15 girls. According to rumors, the deaths should be blamed on the mutaween. Allegedly, the religious police prevented the students from escaping the building since they were not following the Islamic dress code.
On The Cross
Saudi Arabia might have started to lean towards execution squads instead of beheading, though there is another thing that criminals need to be scared of. In the country, perpetrators are occasionally subjected to crucifixion.
Saudi Arabia is largely composed of desert land with zero access to rivers. However, the country seems to have found a solution to their water problem. It boasts the biggest desalination plant in the world! Located in the city of Jubail, it processes water from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Saudi Arabia suffered another tragic event on September 24, 2015. The “2015 Mina Stampede” caused the deaths of more than 2,000 worshippers. It happened when hordes of people went to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj. People continue to debate the reasons the stampede occurred, though most believe it was the result of overcrowding.
Stoning of the Devil
In Mecca, pilgrims can throw seven stones at three walls in the same way they would throw it at the devil. This practice happens on the holiest city in the day of Eid al-Adha. It also happens to be on the 10th day of the Dhu al-Hijah month.
Getting An Atomic Bomb
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also has a long military history with the Republic of Pakistan. It might not be clear, though a lot of people speculate that the Saudi government helped fund the latter’s atomic bomb project. According to the same people, aid was offered since they plan to buy atomic bombs from Pakistan in the future.
A lot of undocumented workers in the country includes migrants from Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen. It goes without saying that they do not have an easy time in Saudi Arabia. Since 2013, the kingdom deported and detained over half a million of these migrants.
Time For Praying
The schedule of the day is affected by the prayer times. Businesses generally close shop for 30 to 45 minutes about 3 or 4 times every day in order to pray. Employees and customers alike observe these breaks.
World War II
Before World War Two broke out, King Abd al Aziz had a pretty good relationship with the countries that made up the Axis powers. For the majority of the war, the country tried to be as neutral as they possibly could. As the war was drawing to a close, however, it leaned more towards the side of the Allies.
Sticks And Stones
The monarchy can be expensive to keep in place, no doubt about it. For some people, they have to pay the price with their life! In 2014, the writer and activist Raif Badawi was arrested for “insulting Islam” and he was sentenced to 10 years in jail in addition to 1,000 lashes.
The Exchange Rate
In Saudi Arabia, the local currency is called the riyal. It is weaker in comparison to the U.S. dollar. The conversation rate is about 3.75 Saudi riyal for every U.S. dollar.
Saudi Arabia is obviously serious about its military power. Over 10% of the country’s GDP is spent on the military. Overall, it ranks fourth in terms of military expenditure with its yearly spending of $63.7 billion.
It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia has some interesting neighbors. In the north, it is bordered by Iraq and Jordan. In the northeast, there is Kuwait. On the east, you will find neighbors Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. In the southeast and the south, it has Oman and Yemen respectively.
Before 2016, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not follow the Gregorian calendar. Most people still refer to the lunar Islamic calendar, though they now use the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes.
Violence Against Women
In August 2013, Saudi Arabia finally passed a law that criminalizes and penalizes domestic violence against women. Better late than never, we suppose. The perpetrators of abuse against women are given a 12-month sentence in jail and given fines of up to 50,000 riyals or $13,000.
Considering the fact that Saudi Arabia has some great coastlines, it is not surprising to hear how popular water sports are. Sailing, scuba diving, and windsurfing are all popular activities there. Meanwhile, basketball and soccer are the preferred sports played on dry land.
Soccer has been the source of glory for Saudi Arabia on several occasions. Saudi Arabia made it to the finals of the 1992 FIFA Confederations Cup! They squared off with the South American powerhouse Argentina, though ultimately lost with a score of 3-1.
The King’s Camel Race begun in 1974 and the annual event is still alive. The event brings in visitors from all over the world! A lot of people are interested in watching and participating in the events.
Under The Sea
Are you interested in diving in the Red Sea? We sure would be jealous if you get to do it! After all, the Red Sea boats of a large diversity of marine life. As a matter of fact, the brilliant ecosystem houses over 1,200 species of fish. About 10% of these creatures can only be found in this area and nowhere else in the world!