The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia extends to approximately 2,250,000 square kilometers (868,730 square miles) between the Arabian Gulf on the east and the Red Sea on the west. With the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain to the east, Saudi Arabia shares borders with Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan in the north and Yemen and Oman in the south. The largest country in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia occupies four-fifths of the Arabian Peninsula and is similar in size to Western Europe.
As well as the desert and semidesert that characterize more than 95% of the country, on its Red Sea coastline Saudi Arabia has greener areas, with mountains and forests in its south-western corner.The last and greatest prophet of Islam, Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him), was born in Arabia (AD 570) and over the next 150 years Islam spread from Arabia throughout the world. Millions of pilgrims visit the holy cities of Makkah and Medinah (Mecca and Medina ) each year as part of their religious observance. The Islamic religion is the foundation of Saudi culture.
Saudi Arabia has played a significant role in international trade for centuries because of its strategic location near the sea trade routes which were used to transport goods between India, China and Europe. A flourishing trade in incense, spices and myrrh (used in medicine and cosmetic balms) also existed between ancient inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula (Egyptians and Phoenicians).
King Abdulaziz Al Saud, who by 1932 had succeeded in unifying the country into a Kingdom, founded modern Saudi Arabia. King Abdulaziz died in 1953, but his legacy lives on in his direct descendants who rule Saudi Arabia to this day. The country has made tremendous progress under their reign and today, travellers to Saudi Arabia can experience both new and old civilizations side by side.
Oil was first discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1936, and by 1950 the country had become a major oil producer. The Kingdom has at least 25% of the world’s oil reserves and is the undisputed leader of the international oil industry. Its oil revenues have been used to diversify the economy, reclaiming land from the desert and establishing the infrastructure (roads, telephone systems, modern cities, hospitals, power stations) needed for further development. In December 2005 Saudi Arabia became the 149th member of the World Trade Organization, beginning the process of opening up its economy to the outside world.
Kingdom National Day
The Saudi National Day is 23rd September. For Saudis and, indeed, for others in the region, the Saudi National Day celebrates one of the most important events of the 20th century, the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Flag of The Kingdom
Saudi Arabian Coat of Arms
The Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia consists of two crossed curved Arabian swords surmounted by a date palm tree. While the swords stand for strength and sacrifice rooted in faith. The date palm tree is a symbol of vitality, growth and prosperity.
The Kingdom’s currency is the Saudi Riyal, which equals 100 Halalah. The Saudi Riyal comes in different categories of bank notes (1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500). The metal coins, however, come in five categories (1Riyal, 50 Halalal, 25 Halalah, 10 Halalah and 5 Halalah). 1 US Dollar is currently the equivalent of 3,75 Saudi Riyals. The Kingdom’s financial laws permit foreign currency exchange as well as the unlimited transfer of profits from investments.
Measurements and Units in the Kingdom
A Royal script sets the kingdom’s measuring units, based on the decimal system, to be as follows:
- Length: Meter and its transcendences
- Weight: Kilo and its transcendences
- Volume: liter and its transcendences
- Area: Square meter and its transcendences
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia uses the Islamic Hijrah calendar, in reference to the migration ,i.e. Hijrah, of Prophet Muhammad PPBUH and his companions from Makkah to Madinah on Monday the 1st of Rabi Al-Awal, corresponding to 13 September 622 AD. The Hijrah year has 12 lunar months and consists of 354 days.
Working Hours and Vacations
- Government Office work from 7:30 AM until 2:30 PM every day except Fridays and Saturdays (weekend vacation)
- Private companies and establishments as well as banks often have two working periods as they remain open until 4:30 PM except Friday (the only day-off for such companies)
- Markets and shopping malls are open for business throughout the week.
During Ramadan the work day has two periods , the morning from 10:00 until 3:30 and the evening from 21:00 to 24:00. Friday is a day off but many shops do open in the evenings. Shops close their shutters for prayers three times daily for half an hour.
There are three recoginzed public holidays in the kingdom besides two weekend days, i.e. Friday and Saturday
- 1st of Shawwal (Eid ul-Fitr) which marks the Feast of the End of Ramadan
- 9th of Dhul-Hijjah (Eid ul-Adha) which marks the Feast of the End of Hajj
- 23rd of September which is the National Day (Unification of the Kingdom)
Underlying the judicial structure are the four schools of thought in Islamic law. They are: the Hanbali school; the Shafii school; the Hanafi school; and, finally, the Ma’liki school.
Before the unification of the Saudi judicial system, the courts, as well as individual judges, used to derive their legal judgments from these various schools. That is to say, in the Western Region there were two dominant schools of thought – the Hanafi, and the Shafii, whereas in the Central Region, the Hanbali school had been the only major source of legal guidance.
The Courts/Judiciary in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia now issues its rulings/judgments/decisions on the basis of what is stated in the Holy Qur’an and on the Sunna (practices/mode of life) of the Prophet, and is guided without being limited to the specific opinion of any one of the aforementioned schools of law.
Higher Education in Saudi Arabia*
The post secondary system of education in Saudi Arabia is, to a certain degree, similar to the educational system of the United States. The patterns and procedures of these educational systems have been adopted in accordance with Islamic systems, traditions and customs.
In 1975 a segment of the Ministry of Education became a separate entity, and was renamed the Ministry of Higher Education, with the purpose of dealing exclusively with higher education. Among its responsibilities were :
- Proposing the establishment of higher educational institutions and authorizing them to offer special programs in accordance with the country’s needs.
- Creating and administering universities and colleges in the Kingdom.
- Raising the level of communication and coordination between institutions of higher learning and coordinating with other governmental ministries and agencies in terms of their interests and needs in higher education.
- Representing the government abroad in all educational and cultural affairs, through various cultural and educational offices distributed over 32 countries.
The Higher Education Council is the supreme authority for post-secondary education affairs with the specific task of supervising and coordinating its institutions, with the sole exception of military education. Some of the Council’s responsibilities are: directing university education in accordance with policy, supervising the development of university education in all sectors, coordinating among universities especially in the field of scientific departments and degrees, encouraging research, formulating rules and regulations for compliance by all institutions of higher learning.
Higher education in Saudi Arabia has undergone a tremendous growth over the last five decades. The higher education system, which is based on diversification has expanded to include :
- 21 Government Universities
- 18 Primary Teacher’s Colleges for men
- 80 Primary Teacher’s Colleges for women
- 37 Colleges and Institutes for health
- 12 Technical Colleges
- 24 Private Universities and Colleges
The universities and colleges offer graduate studies programs which grant master’s and doctoral degrees in some fields. Like other elements of the educational system in the Kingdom, higher education is designed and evaluated in relation to the overall national development plan, and is considered essential for fulfilling the potential of the Kingdom’s greatest resource- its people.
* Content Courtesy of Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission To The USA