10 Things Banned in Saudi Arabia

by Kristine Ibanez

Saudi Arabia, considered to be the World’s Last Forbidden Kingdom, has minimal specific laws to govern its people. Instead, many actions that are considered as illegal don’t actually have written laws to ban them. The basis for the country’s constitution is their religion Islam and the Holy Book Quran. Individuals decide the legality of actions based on the Islamic law or on the basis of whether or not it will lead people away from Islam. The strictness of Saudi Arabia’s laws is also dependent on gender.

Saudi Arabia market

To successfully teach abroad in Saudi Arabia, you'll need to learn to read between the lines and pay attention to local customs everywhere you go. Here are a few of the top things banned in Saudi Arabia you should definitely be aware of before arrival:

1. Independent Women.

Women of Saudi Arabia are not allowed to travel alone or without an electronic authorization, until they reach the age of 45. However, many male family members have become more understanding recently, and they have been allowing the women of their families to travel alone. Although, most males still forbid women from independently traveling because they believe the freedom can lead to immorality.

2. Women behind the Wheel.

Females are also not allowed to drive; one of the most notorious bans there are for women. This law attempts to further prevent women from leaving their houses without the accompaniment of their spouse or male family member, to discourage them from meeting up with unrelated males or getting into situations where they would have to uncover their face. Women who try to apply for driver’s licenses find that the databases include only men. Women are only permitted to drive in the deserts or in private compounds.

3. Women At Work.

Women are not permitted to work in specific jobs, especially those that men can do. Education or medical fields are the most common fields that permit women employees. Although, more recently, women have begun working as store clerks in department stores or checkout counters. Regardless of employment, however, companies require women to cover their faces throughout all working hours.

Mecca, Saudi Arabia

4. Every Other God.

Non-Muslims are not allowed to worship their own God in public and there is not a single non-Muslim place of worship in the whole country. This ban also includes bringing of personal religious items, like religious books and symbols (i.e. the crucifix). The ban attempts to prevent non-Muslims from trying to convert or share religious ideas with Muslims. Consequently, muslims who wish to convert to other religions are punished with the death penalty.

5. Gyms for Girls.

Private gyms accepting women have been closed down and schools for girls have removed gym classes or physical education activities. When the International Olympic Committee tried to ban and remove Saudi Arabia from the competitions because they did not send any female competitors, the Saudi Olympic Committee sent an Arab girl, born, raised, and trained in the United States. Women are not permitted to carry out physical education and sports, which is believed to be reserved solely for men.

6. Music School.

Saudi Arabia has an active music industry but you won’t hear any music played in malls, department stores, and grocery stores. Music classes are not allowed in public schools, because music is considered forbidden and school curricula must follow the rules of Islam. Despite all this, rock bands and music enthusiasts still find ways to express their passion for music, away from the prying eyes of religious officials.

7. Bacon!

All Muslims, under Islamic law, are not allowed to eat pork and Saudi’s expect non-Muslim foreigners to abide by this law too. It is also strictly imposed that only “Halal” foods can enter the country.

8. The Movies.

Unfortunately for movie lovers, movie theaters are not allowed in Saudi Arabia, except in private residential camps. This ban is imposed to avoid the unsupervised mingling of men and women that may lead to immoral actions outside marriage. With this in mind, many Saudis who live close to the island of Bahrain drive to the island on weekends to enjoy a movie or even an alcohol spree.

Medina, Saudi Arabia

9. Social Mixing.

Males and females are not allowed to mingle at malls or restaurants, unless they are family. A lone man or a group of guys will not be allowed to enter the mall unless a woman is with them. Some restaurants are even divided into two sections, one for the singles and the other for families. Non-Muslim expats or westerners are excluded from this practice, however, and are allowed to mix without any problems.

10. Don’t Be Mine.

Valentine’s day is not celebrated and individuals are prohibited from wearing or selling anything red on the 14th of February. Flower shops and gift shops are not allowed to sell roses or heart-shaped novelties either. Stores that won’t abide by the law can be closed down and anyone seen wearing something with a hint of red is usually sent home to change clothes. This custom is in place to discourage dating and relationships outside of marriage.

If all of the above sound like things you can accept and respect, and maybe even learn to appreciate, then it is time to start searching for teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia!