The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), has had its fair share of controversy over the years both at a civil and international level. Their constitution revolves around the Islamic religious text—the Quran—and because of this, there are many rules they adhere to that leave many in the Western world baffled.
1. Red in the Face about Valentine’s Day
As countries across the globe celebrate Valentine’s Day with those they love, and a of sea red and white is everywhere you look, February 14 becomes a very different experience in KSA. It’s not an Islamic tradition and is considered an event that would lead people to date or have contact outside of marriage. To combat this, individuals and businesses are forbidden to highlight Valentine’s Day in any way. The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (the Religious Police) keep an eye out for any stores selling red, or heart-shaped items, and red roses even. Youngsters aren’t exempt either, and schoolgirls are sent home to change if there’s even a slither of red on their person. In nearby Dubai, Valentines Day is celebrated in a big way, but Saudi Arabia wants no part of this “decadent” symbol of Western culture.
2. Footloose Denied
Popping your ear-buds in between classes to listen to the latest Rihanna song might be no big deal to you, but music is not allowed in schools and by extension, there are no schools for teaching music. Even stores and malls don’t play music through speakers, to avoid offending religious traditionalists who see music as a pathway to moral destruction. This is so even though the country’s music industry is thriving, and the medium is not illegal. Like in every great “banned music story” however, there is an underground music community that is hidden from the view of prying traditionalists eyes, and down there every foot is definitely loose.
3. No Car for You
As a woman in KSA, driving happens in these two scenarios: within private compounds, or if you’re driving in the desert. It’s seen as a disgrace if a woman leaves her home more often than she needs to, and this has been a strong argument against women being allowed to drive. The need to uncover her face while driving, and the opportunity to interact with males outside of family members are other reasons cited. If a man from their household can’t take them where they need to go, then a private driver is hired instead.
4. Say No to Hollywood
A recurring theme with Saudi laws is for citizens to remain chaste. With so many scenes from movies where the drive-in or cinema is where everything naughty goes down, it’s no surprise that IMAX won’t be turning up there anytime soon. Cinemas are prohibited, as is drinking, so if Saudis wish to watch the latest instalment of The Fast and the Furious with a few beers, they have to do so over in Bahrain. Sadly for movie-lovers, this is a fix mainly for those who live close to the island nation.
5. Fitness Girls Denied
Hate going to the gym? What if you couldn’t . . . ever? Saudi women who want to work-out in a gym can’t do so as even in girls’ schools and universities, sports teams and gym classes are prohibited. The Religious Police has shut down most of the private female gyms that were in operation, but a few sneaky ones operate in legal limbo as spas or women’s clubs.
6. Gender-ly Speaking
It’s weird to imagine heading to a restaurant or mall and being segregated by gender. In KSA restaurants, two separate sections exist for families and singles. Even standing in a fast food line is done with clear separation, though in some places, women and men see each other, but use different queues. It is the same way with malls, as the majority of them only allow “families”—either a group of women, or women with male companions. These rules are different for non-Saudi individuals.
7. No Skirts in the Suitcase
When a woman in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia turns 45, something “special” happens—she’s finally allowed to travel alone. Women under this age have to travel with the physical or electronic signed permission of a male guardian, or travel with their father or husband. The reason behind it? Wouldn’t want them becoming immoral because they get to see the Eiffel Tower or something…
8. Religious Diversity Is Not Respected Here
Whereas many countries in the Western world have made all religions feel inclusive, this is not the case in KSA, and traditionalist have no problem shouting this from the rooftops. If you’re non-Muslim, don’t expect to worship in public, and while you’re at it, don’t try to find a house of worship that’s non-Muslim either, as there are none. One more thing, citizens thinking of hanging up the Islam coat do so at great peril, as they can face the death penalty.
9. Halal or Nothing
If having pork inside the country is considered sacrilege, imagine what eating it, or its by-products must be like. KSA law doesn’t allow the chance for a bacon-slip, as only halal food is allowed into the country. Even if you’re a non-Muslim expat, you might as well get used to it, as this rule applies to you too.
10. No Feminist Reach
Think about the job you’re doing right now as you read this. Whether you hate or love it, women in KSA seldom have the choice to even try. Women who are allowed to work either end up in the medical or education fields and, just recently, store clerk jobs have become available. The bottom-line is that the majority of jobs men can do, women aren’t allowed to.
11. Dog Park? Nope.
Who wants to walk their dog and end up interacting with someone of the opposite sex? The horror! In KSA, it’s prohibited to sell cats or dogs, and to walk them in Riyadh’s public parks (the capital). Morals are of the utmost importance to Saudi religious traditionalists, and anything that raises a red flag doesn’t make the cut.
12. No Cat Selfies?!
Social media is a big deal in Saudi Arabia, but not surprisingly, it is strictly controlled. For example, you’re not allowed to bad-mouth the royal family or question Islam. Saleh Bin Fawzan Al-Fazwan, a prominent cleric, made a television appearance during which he prohibited people from taking selfies with cats. He believes the technology contributes to loose morals and leads people away from Islam. You’re also not allowed to take random snapshots of people on the streets or any government buildings, military installations, and palaces.