Culture, Traditions and Art
The culture of Saudi Arabia is defined by
its Islamic heritage, its historical role as an
ancient trade center, and its Bedouin
Saudi society has evolved over the years,
their values and traditions – from customs,
hospitality to their style of dressing,
adapting with modernization.
Arab and Islamic Traditions
Saudi traditions are rooted in Islamic teachings and Arab customs, which
Saudis learn about at an early age from their families and in schools.
The highlights of the year are the holy month of Ramadan and the Hajj
(pilgrimage) season, and the national holidays that follow them. The holy month
of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, culminates with the
Eid-Al-Fitr holiday, in which it is a tradition go visiting and to give gifts to
• The Hajj season draws millions of Muslim pilgrims
from around the world come to Makkah every
year. It concludes with the Eid Al-Adha holiday
whereby families slaughter a sheep in memory of
Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son.
• Saudis’ valuable Arab traditions include
generosity and hospitality, which every Saudi
family. Arabic coffee (its preparation is also a form
of cultural tradition) is often served in small cups
along with dates and sweets as a hospitality
gesture offered to strangers, friends, or family.
The Saudis also burn incense to welcome guests.
Folk Music, Dance & Poetry
The nomadic Bedouins (indigenous people of Saudi Arabia) have great
influence on Saudi folk music. The music varies in every region, for instance,
in the Hijaz, the music of al-sihba combines poetry and songs of Arab
Andalusia, while the folk music of Makkah and Madinah incorporates both
local and music influences from other Islamic countries.
• The national dance, Ardha, is an ancient tradition with
its roots in the country’s central area known as the
Najd. The Ardha used to be performed before a battle
by soldiers and involves singing, dancing with swords
and poetry. This dance is one of the key performances
in Saudi Arabia’s most famous cultural event, the
Jenadriyah Heritage and Cultural Festival. Organized
each year by the National Guard, it is held over two
weeks every year, with its first one held in 1985. This
festival highlights the Kingdom’s commitment to
preserve and display the rich, traditional culture and
crafts of Saudi Arabia.
• Poetry is especially important to Arab cultural life, and
has long been considered one of the highest
expressions of literary art. It was primarily an oral
tradition during the nomadic days of Bedouins, a form
of preservation of history, traditions and social values.
People would gather around a storyteller, who would
spin tales of love, bravery, chivalry, war and historic
events. Poetry remains popular among Saudis today in
the form of media (e.g. televised poetry competition)
or traditional oral poetry. For instance, the annual
Jenadriyah National Culture and Heritage Festival,
features the reading of poetry by established poets.
Traditional Dress & Jewellery
• Saudis prefer traditional clothes to Western
styles of dress, and generally wear modern
adaptations of traditional designs. The loose,
flowing traditional garments are practical for
the Kingdom’s hot, windswept climate, while
symbolising the Islamic ideal of modesty.
Men wear an ankle-length shirt of wool/cotton
known as a thawb. On their heads, they wear a
large square of cotton (ghutra) that is folded
crossways over a skullcap (kufiyyah), and held in
place with a cord circlet (igaal). The flowing, full-
length outer cloak (bisht), generally made of
wool/camel hair, completes the outfit. In the
early days, the bisht was also used as a blanket
Women customarily wear a black outer cloak (abaya) over their
dress, which may well be modern in style even in today’s society.
Saudi women traditionally wear a shayla on their heads which is a
black, scarf that is wrapped around the head and secured with
circlets, hats or jewellery. Traditional dress is often richly decorated
with coins, sequins or brightly coloured fabric appliqués.
• Some Saudi women wear veils made of sheer material. The practice
of wearing a veil is dates back at least two millennium, before the
dawn of Islam. The veil is a cultural symbol which also has a
practical purpose. Besides being fashion symbol of modesty and
virtue, it provides protection from constant exposure to the sun in
the harsh desert environment. The Mutawwa'in (religious police),
ensures that both women and men do not violate any regulations
by dressing inappropriately as it is part of the conservative culture
of the Saudi Arabian society.
Traditional Sports & Recreation
• Some popular types of leisure programmes include horse/camel
racing and falconry. From these, we can tell that sports, adventure
and recreation in Saudi Arabia is an indispensable part of the day-
to-day lifestyles of the Saudi Arabians. Some of these sports are
included in Saudi Arabia’s famous festivals like the annual
Jenadriyah National Culture and Heritage Festival which includes
• Horse RacingOne of the most thrilling and invigorating recreational
sport in Saudi Arabia is the horse race. The race is a test of
endurance and stamina as these horses are carefully bred and
trained. Nowadays, horse racing is held at a stadium in Riyadh and
is very popular throughout the world.
• Camel Racing
• Camels from around the country are brought to the
sporting ground for the race. Camel racing is much more
than just a sporting event to the Saudis; it is a question of
honour. The winning camel is worth thousands of riyals and
also brings pride to both the trainer and its owner. Thus,
competition and rivalry among the camel owners is intense.
• Camel races are often held in the King Fahd International
Stadium during winters and King's Camel Race, the world's
largest camel race is held there too, attracting spectators
• Falconry sport
Falconry is yet another traditional sport which
originated centuries ago. The Art of Falconry is
a challenging feat and it is time consuming as
the falconer must tame the falcon.