In the desert country of Saudi Arabia, the capital is Riyadh. There are approximately 30,000,000 people living here. The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic. The majority of the population practices Islam.
Known for its religious reference and Islamic architecture, people of the Muslim faith visiting Saudi Arabia would enjoy Medina. Al Masjid an-Nabawi is a mosque originally built by the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The Quba Mosque, located just outside of Medina, is one of the oldest mosques in the world. Also of interest, is the holy city of Mecca, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. Each year, millions of Muslims seek hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Non-Muslims may not visit.
One fun fact about Saudi Arabia is that it is 83,000 square miles, making it the largest country in the Middle East.
One of the things that stuck out to me was people getting on their knees on the flight to Riyadh in 2012. On my flight into the capital of Saudi Arabia there were no women in First Class, just men. In the airplane, both men and women changed from their modern attire into their traditional abayas and dishdashes. It was unusual to see people praying in the airplane, men bowing and getting on their knees on the flight.
I arrived at my hotel at 11pm, and was too tired to sleep so decided to go for a walk around the city. The temperature sign adjacent to the hotel said it was 93 degrees F. Yikes!
Here were the things that took getting used to: This is a male-centric culture. When walking around, only men socialize in public. At coffee shops, malls, souks – – there are no women – – only men. Women can only gather in public with a family member or female friend. There are “social police” in public areas, encouraging women to cover their faces and preventing them from inappropriate behavior.
This is a society of contradictions. They have the finest shops containing Massimo, Aldo, Juicy, Zara, Versace, etc. and the mall is full of people buying luxury goods. Yet all women are wearing stark black galabayas, covered from head to toe. However, underneath, women wear these items at home in front of their friends and husbands.
Enjoyed my visit to the old city, camel market, souk and museum
Here are some other country facts:
- Most women in Riyadh cover their faces, and stand subserviently behind men in elevators. Women cannot drive, nor can they vote. However, women’s rights have improved recently, particularly in education. However, there are still few women in the work place, excluding the medical profession. Women have drivers, and many have maids or cooks, mostly from Bangladesh and India.
- Most marriages are still arranged, primarily by the moms who know their sons well.
- There are many Asian workers in the hotels and restaurants performing the menial labor that Saudis don’t want to do.
- Men constantly toy with their head dresses, much like women do with their hair in the US. And they obviously don’t exercise. It is reported that approximately 72.4% of Saudis over the age of 40 suffer from obesity.
- The daily newspaper reads like the old Soviet “Pravda”, with the government’s positive spin on everything.
- Drinking, drugs and serious crimes like rape are punishable by death here. However, there is a huge underground party scene.
- The fog in Riyadh is not from moisture … it’s from blowing sand.
- The Hajj attracts 2.2 million people annually who come to participate, and 10 million come to just visit. Interestingly, the Hajj preceded Mohammed, in 1200BC, and started with Abraham.
- The British searched for oil in Saudi Arabia and said there was none. However, the Americans discovered oil in 1933, and #7 was the lucky oil well that found the black gold.