In 2008, National Day in Saudi Arabia was a muted celebration. It coincided with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, one of the most auspicious times of the year. And in Saudi Arabia, when it comes between the state and Islam, Islam has the first, last, and every word in between.
Islam is not just the official religion of Saudi Arabia, it’s the only religion. The law of the land is Shari’a–Islamic religious law based on the teachings of the Qur’an.
Shari’a covers everything from banking to hygiene. According to “Islamic Finance: Law, Economics, and Practice”:
…we do not mean that the Holy Quran and Sunna of the Holy Prophet or the rulings of Islamic scholars provide a specific answer to each and every minute detail of our socioeconomic life. What we mean is that the Holy Quran and the Holy Sunna of the Prophet have laid down the broad principles in the light of which the scholars of every time have deduced specific answers to the new situations arising in their age.
Saudi Arabia is one of the last true monarchies, where the king is also the head of state. The Saud royal family has ruled the bulk of the Arabian peninsula off and on since the 18th century. September 23 commemorates the creation of the modern Saudi Arabian state in 1932, but the date has only been celebrated as a holiday since 2005.
1932 was also the year that the discovery of oil in nearby Bahrain set off a wave of Western speculation. The following year Standard Oil of California struck a deal with the Saudi government to explore for oil. Pay dirt came in 1938 when the first of numerous massive oil reservoirs were discovered. Today Saudi Arabia is the largest oil exporter in the world.
In 2006, Forbes Magazine ranked Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud the 8th richest man in the world, the youngest of the top ten. And the national oil company, Saudi Aramco, is believed to be the world’s most profitable company; however, their finances are not made public.
The country’s most invaluable treasures however–as any Saudi Arabian will tell you–are Al-Masjid al-Harām (“the Sacred Mosque”) at Mecca and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (“Mosque of the Prophet”) in Medina.
The Sacred Mosque can accommodate over 800,000 worshippers, and over two million Muslims gather there each year during the Hajj, the great pilgrimage of Islam. At its center is the Kabba, where Ibrahim (or Abraham) is believed to have offered to sacrifice his son for God. Muslims around the world face this spot in Mecca when they pray.
The original Mosque in Medina was built by the Prophet Mohammad, who is buried at the site.
Recent National Day celebrations have been more jubilant (Saudi Arabia Celebrates National Day – AFP), but they don’t get going until nightfall. Temperatures in the 100’s (F) keep tend to keep celebrants inside during the day.