A primer for non-Muslims

Religion in Saudi: A guide to Islam

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Islam, practiced by 1.8 billion Muslims globally, is the second-largest of the world’s religions. The word Muslim means “submission” (to the will of God), and Islam is derived from the Arabic word “salam,” which means peace. The term Islam really reflects not only a religion but also a way of life and a global community (ummah) of believers bound together by a common faith in God and his prophets. “From daily rituals of prayer five times a day to fasting in Ramadan, a Muslim’s religious life is embedded in a 24-hour cycle. These rituals, and many other moral obligations, are part of a Muslim’s life — just as care and joy for one’s family and friends are part of that religious way of life,” says Ebrahim Moosa, professor of Islamic thought and Muslim societies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.


How Does Islam Impact Daily Life in Saudi?


Tourists will, no doubt, learn about Islam during their time in the kingdom, as it is part of Saudi life. For example, many shops are closed several times a day to allow for prayer. Also, alcohol, pork, and drugs are prohibited in the country.

Pilgrims praying in congregation in front of the green dome of Masjid al Nabawi in Madinah Saudi Arabia.

What Are the Five Pillars of Islam?


Although there are different branches of Islam, all Muslims believe in the five pillars of Islam: the profession or declaration of faith (shahada); prayer or worship (salat), which is conducted five times each day and consists of the recitation of verses from the Quran; almsgiving (zakat), or giving money or food to the less fortunate; fasting (sawm) once a year during the month of Ramadan; and pilgrimage (hajj) to Makkah.


Can Non-Muslims Go to Mosques?


“Tourists can go to mosques and even observe prayers. But proper attire would be required,” Moosa says. It is best to arrange with mosque organizers to let them know that visitors will attend, so they can provide chairs for the observers. The only mosques non-Muslims are not allowed to visit are those in Makkah and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities.


Procession around Holy Kaaba for Tawaf during Hajj

Journey to Makkah: The Customs of the Hajj


Each year, more than 2 million Muslims from all over the world congregate in Makkah to perform the hajj. Whatever their backgrounds and social classes, all are equal before God. Fine clothes, jewelry and perfume are set aside. All don the simple garments of the pilgrim as a symbol of the unity and equality of the Muslim community. Every Muslim who has the health and financial ability is obliged to make the pilgrimage once in his or her lifetime.


Where can I learn more about Saudi culture?


Read up on the language and dress code of the kingdom, and check out these tips on etiquette before your visit.