CHAPTER 5
Society

Religion and Law

The official religion of Saudi Arabia is Islam. The majority of Muslims in the kingdom belong to the Sunni division of Islam. Ten to fifteen percent are Shi‘a Muslims, primarily of the Ja‘fari legal tradition, while a smaller minority of somewhere between 300,000 and 700,000 are indigenous Isma‘ili Muslims, a different variety of Shi’ism. An unknown but small number of Sunni Muslims follow philosophical, theological, or legal traditions other than the majority Hanbali Sunni group, including followers of the legal tradition of Anas ibn Malik, known as the Maliki school (madhhab), and Sufi Muslim traditions. Non–Saudi Arabian Muslims may also follow the Shafi‘i or Hanafilegal traditions.

Shi‘a Islam developed from a dispute over political leadership. Following ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib’s assassination (see Chapter 2, History), his son Husayn disputed the caliph Mu‘awiyya’s leadership and the right of his son, Yazid, to succeed him when Mu‘awiyya died. Mu‘awiyya’s Ummayyad troops killed Husayn at Karbala, but his followers, the Party of ‘Ali (Shi‘at ‘Ali), even in defeat, rejected the legitimacy of the Ummayyads, and a serious revolt against Yazid broke out in Medina. Over time, the Shi‘a Muslims came to hold distinct beliefs about leadership, such as the authority of the imamate (a’ima); imams are leaders with charismatic power who designated their successors. One branch of the Shi‘a believe that their Twelfth Imam (who disappeared into occultation) will return, while others recognize a different descent order of imams. The Twelver Shi‘a in Saudi Arabia commemorate the death of Husayn at Karbala on ‘Ashura, but they have been forbidden to publicly celebrate the holiday and follow a different school of shari‘ah than their Sunni compatriots. Many of the

-175-

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Saudi Arabia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • About the Author xi
  • Preface xiii
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Chapter 1 - Geography 1
  • Chapter 2 - History 17
  • Chapter 3 - Government and Politics 79
  • Chapter 4 - Economy 137
  • Chapter 5 - Society 175
  • Chapter 6 - Culture 245
  • Chapter 7 - Contemporary Issues 355
  • Glossary 385
  • Facts and Figures 399
  • Major Saudi Arabian Holidays 415
  • Country-Related Organizations 419
  • Annotated Bibliography 445
  • Thematic Index 495
  • Index 519
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