Religion in Saudi Arabia

Religion in Saudi Arabia Last updated on Sunday 25th April 2010

Islam along with Judaism and Christianity is one of the world's three great monotheistic religions. Islam is the official religion of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its tenets are enshrined as law. The public practice of any religion other than Islam is not allowed in Saudi Arabia.

About 85% of the population are Sunni Muslims and the remaining 15%, primarily on the east coast, are Shiite Muslims. The sexes are strictly segregated in public although educational and job opportunities for women are increasing.

The followers of Islam, called Muslims, believe in one God -- Allah in Arabic -- and that Mohammed (peace be upon him) was His last prophet.

Today there are over one billion Muslims in the world and they include many races and cultures on every continent. Saudi Arabia occupies a special place in the Islamic world as the birthplace and heartland of Islam.

It is toward the sacred Ka'abah -- a black cube-shaped stone in the square of the Holy Mosque in Makkah -- that Muslims turn in prayer five times a day. Every Muslim must pray these five prayers and, in Saudi Arabia, offices and shops are obliged to close during those times. Exact prayer times are published in daily newspapers and occur at dawn (fajr), midday (dhuhr), mid-afternoon (asir), sunset (maghreb) and evening (isha).

The Holy Quran is the sacred scripture of Islam, revealed by Allah to His Prophet Mohammed. Islam consists of adherence to the Quran and the duty to believe and follow what are called the Five Pillars of Islam:

The First Pillar is the profession of faith -- shahada: There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah.

The Second Pillar is prayer -- salah. Prayer is to be performed according to prescribed rituals at appointed times each day. At the time of prayer, the individual must face the Holy Ka'abah in Makkah.

The Third Pillar is almsgiving -- zakat. This mandates payment of a fixed proportion of a Muslim's possessions for the welfare of the entire community and especially for its neediest members.

The Fourth Pillar is fasting -- sawm. During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan, Muslims must abstain from all food, drink and sexual activity from dawn to sunset.

The Fifth Pillar is the pilgrimage to Makkah -- hajj. At least once in a lifetime, Muslims should make the journey to Makkah. In fact large numbers of Muslims from all over the world come to Makkah each year in the performance of Hajj. Saudi Arabia dedicates considerable resources, both human and financial, to enable these Muslims to perform their Hajj in comfort and safety.

To the people of Saudi Arabia, Makkah, the birthplace of Islam and the prophet Mohammed, as well as Madina, where the Prophet's Mosque and his burial place are located, are holy cities. And because of this, none except Muslims may enter these two cities.

Recognizing the unique and historic traditions represented by these two holy sites, King Fahad has adopted the official title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques as an expression of his deep sense of responsibility to Islam and to all Muslims.

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