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Inside Saudi Arabia
Travel in Saudi
Photo gallery:
   A private society
Royalty & Religion
Inside Look at a Nation

Target: Westerners

Foreign workers:
   Modern-day slavery?

Putting more
Saudis to work

Hanging out at the
mall, Saudi style

Can a marriage born of oil continue?
Future rests on next Saudi leader


It is toward Islam's most sacred shrine, the Kaabah, located in the Holy Mosque in Mecca, that Muslims throughout the world turn in prayer five times a day. Islam also obliges all Muslims to make the hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca at least once if they are able. According to Muslim tradition, the Kaabah was built by Abraham and his son, Ishmael, as a place to worship God.

To say religion pervades every aspect of life in Saudi Arabia is an understatement. The mostly desert kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula was the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed and is home to the two holiest mosques in Islam.

Mohammed, the founder of Islam – which means "submission (to the will of God)” – was born in Mecca in 570 A.D. In about 610, he began to receive revelations from Allah (God) and in 613 he began to preach to the public there. These revelations were later written down to form the Koran. Mohammed and his disciples found safety in Medina, where Mohammed’s tomb is, after they were forced to flee from Mecca in 622. Mohammed recaptured Mecca in 629, and Islam began to spread as a religious and political force. Within a century of Mohammed’s death in 633, Islam had spread from Spain to India.

Saudi Arabia is governed by sharia, or Islamic law, which means its rules, regulations and laws are based on the Koran and the sunna, the spoken and acted example of Mohammed. Sharia governs all aspects of public and private, social and economic, religious and political life.

Almost all Saudis, 95 percent, belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. Many of the remainder, Shiite Muslims, consider themselves oppressed and are viewed with some suspicion by the government because of past violent protests and their suspected sympathy to predominately Shiite Iran.

The only non-Muslims are foreigners; and public worship by non-Muslims is prohibited.