Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state that is governed by a monarchy, with Sunni Islam as the official religion. Saudi Arabia is the site of the holiest cities in Islam and is home to the Hijaz region, the birthplace of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam. With all of the country's laws based on the government's official interpretation of Sunni Islam, religious freedom continues to be a point of contention in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is dominated by a certain sect of Sunni Islam called Wahhabi Islam, a very strict form of Islam that believes in a literal interpretation of the Quran. Certain extremist Wahhabists view Muslim believers outside of the Wahhabi sect as outsiders and even enemies. Wahhabism has proven to have a major social and political impact in the world because of its efforts to build mosques and Wahhabi schools, called madrassas, all over the world.
Saudi Arabia is considered the guardian of Islam's most important holy sites. Makkah is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and Madinah is his burial spot. In Islam, the maintenance of these holy sites is a very important task because Muslims go to them to perform the Hajj, a holy pilgrimage in Islam. The government of Saudi Arabia has a specially designated agency dedicated to the Hajj, called the Ministry of Pilgrimage.
Fusion of Religious and Secular
The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington D.C. says that Muslims in Saudi Arabia do not make a sharp distinction between the sacred and the secular. Muslims in Saudi Arabia follow Divine Law, called Shari'a Law, rather than a form of secular law. According to The Royal Embassy, Muslims in Saudi Arabia “have religion always uppermost in their minds.”
According to the U.S. Department of State, freedom of religion is not protected in Saudi Arabia and it is “severely restricted in practice.” It said that citizens in the country face pressure from the royal family and the religious establishment to conform to the “official government interpretation of Islam.” Non-conformists to the official Sunni religion of the government, such as Shi'a Muslims, face discrimination in employment, education and from government institutions.
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