The Role of Islam in Saudi Arabia


This essay is concerned with the role of Islam in the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia. The essay examines the important aspects concerning the Islamic beliefs that exist in Saudi Arabia and the historical examination of the Saudi Arabia conduct with respect to foreign relations. In the modern society, the Islamic as a religion has become increasingly imporant.Saudi Arabia follows closely the Sharia law despite the fact that it’s under monarchy. The country is a home of many Muslims and the holy sites Medina and Mecca and this forms the pride of Saudi Arabia. The country thus follows strict interpretations with regards to Quran.The Islamic factor has made Saudi Arabia to become an agenda as foreign policy is concerned and the at attention have been geared towards preventing the regime so as to cater to the national interests. Saudi Arabia is unconsidered to have a military that is weak as compared with other countries that it borders. Despite these the powers that the Saudi enjoys are unconventional. One quarter of the population of Saudi is usually foreigners from Turkey, Egypt and Iran. Its population is also relatively small as compared to the regional neighbors. However, Saudi has pride in being the greatest economy as far as the GDP of the Arab countries is concerned. It’s the largest producer as well as exporter of energy and oil. Being home to Medina and Mecca which are the holiest cities with regards to Islam, Saudi thus claims special leadership roles as far as the Islamic world is concerned. The foreign policy of Saudi are mainly aimed at protecting it against foreign dominion as well as safeguarding domestic stability The foreign policy of Saudi thus remains among the many tools used for securing the ruling elite as well as building the state of Saudi. The mere pursuit of these goals however is clear cut and rarely direct as the foreign policy is deemed to operate on different levels simultaneously i.e. the international stage is usually dominated by Saudi alliance with western countries such as United States with oil forming the basis of Saudi power, the regional level with Middle East countries where Saudi plays the role of balancing the most powerful and larger neighbors and finally at the level that involves Arabian and Peninsula whereby Saudi asserts a role that is considered as hegemonic with regards to Yemen and other smaller monarchies (Honeybunch & Ehteshami 153).

Islam in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia was characterized by significant evolutions by the year 1000 B.C due to the steady contact it had developed with other nations of the world. This period was commonly referred to as the pre-Islamic Period. There were multiple religions that existed in Saudi Arabia during this period such as Judaism, Christianity among others. The period that succeeded the pre-Islamic period was the Early Islam in the year 570 A.D. It was during this time that Prophet Muhammad was born and this marked as a turning point as far as the Republic of Saudi Arabia is concerned. Islam thus became Saudi Arabia’s official religion and so the Islamic law formed the centre for Saudi Arabia’s legal code. All citizens are deemed to be Muslim.However,there are other religions that are present nowadays as a result of the foreign nationals with Hindus as well as Christianity increasingly being practiced.The government has thus allowed foreigners who are non-Muslim to practice privately their religion. It is an offence in accordance with the law of Islam for one to publicly worship other religions like Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity. The Islamic law prohibits the worship of the other religions such as Christianity and Hinduism publicly. Conversing from the Islam into another religion is considered as a crime. The government has the role of controlling all the country’s mosques and it also have responsibility of employing the Imams. It also assists those foreigners who wish to convert to Islam. The presence of many Muslims in the country has the effect of discriminating the non-Muslims against educational and employment opportunities (Korany & Dessouki 198).

The Role of Islam in foreign policy

Saudi Arabia’s international relations as a Muslim dominated nation have been based historically determined by such dynamics such as economic needs, security, interests of ruling elites and the pursuit for prestige as well as influence. Islam commitment has not formed sufficient bonds for the Muslims to create a front that is united against the foreign world. In other words, Saudi Arabia has not helped to combat conflicts that have pitted most Muslim states. Both domestic as well as external security of the Saudi Arabia has been a major consideration as far as the foreign policy direction is concerned. The security concerns of Saudi have interacted at close ranges with conditioning policy and impinging on elements i.e. the relationship that the Saudi Arabia have with the U.S and subsequently, the impact of the Islamic ideology of Saudi and its role in foreign countries. The Islam principle in Saudi Arabia was behind the motivation for the staunch anticommunist stand that Saudi adopted throughout the ear of cold war. Riyadh opposed atheism as policy which was adopted by many communist regimes. The Saudi for instance closed Saudi task force that was based in Russia’s capital, Moscow and later refused to resume the diplomatic ties with Soviet Union (Anoushiravan & Wright 913-932).

The government of Saudi have been faced with certain dilemmas with regards to the foreign policy and they includes the international terrorism, fostering stability and security in Gulf region, playing its leadership role with regards to the Arab world as well, upholding the domestic freedoms and dealing with the coherence pressures that the international human rights conventions sets. However, the interaction of the US and Saudi Arabia informal alliance, external and internal security threats, the nations’ ideology as well as religious structures dynamics has continued to undermine the foreign policy coherence. The relationship between the Government of Saudi and United States goes back to 1931 when the oil exploration commenced. The United States began having some interests withy regards to the oil of Saudi Arabia in 1943 and until this time, the U.S didn’t have an envoy in Saudi. From this period henceforth, the U.S maintained good relationship with the government of Saud.However,the relationship between the two were strained following the attacks of September 11 after 19 men who were affiliated with the Al-Qaeda among them 15 from Saudi killed 2,973 people in New York city. The government of Saudi issued statement concerning the terrorist attacks on the very day of the attacks and in the statement; they termed the actions as regrettable as well as in humane. The government of the day i.e. the Bush administration however praised Saudi for the support on the war against terrorism. The U.S has been in the frontline calling the Saudi to come together and repair the relations that have deteriorated over the years between the two nations.

The Islamic ideology in Saudi Arabia has enabled the country’s regime mobilize its population against the external threats. This has been as a result of the hostility of the foreign countries to Islam. The religious legitimacy emphasis has thus weakened the flexibility and the coherence of Saudi Arabia foreign policy. On the other hand, the role of Islam with regards to foreign policy is to safeguard colonial interests concerning alien powers. The reasons as to why the Saudis’ Islamic ideology fails to come into terms with the United States is to preserve Saudi from dependency to foreign countries and West in particular, prevent the regional cooperation that exists with Iran and other nations as well as keeping the nation off from freedom and real progress. The Islamic ideology also protects the American interests by flooding the global market with oil and in order to purchase expensive weapons such as ammunitions from the USA.

At the global political scene, Saudi is being regarded as moderate allies with regards to the western democracies but when it comes to religious and cultural scene, the country is being regarded as a true representative of the Islamic traditions. The western nation however tries all that they can in order to get Moslems and mosques under the control of the Saudi. This has however caused some protests in Egypt and Lebanon. Following the death of the peace process between Israel and Arab and the Taliban’s failure to control Afghanistan, the situation seems to be getting worse for both the Arab states and Israelis. Iran is being deemed as the hope with regards to freedom and democracy following its emergence. As the government of Israel plans a military attack to Lebanon and Syria, some of the centers for Saudi power are considering declaring an economic welfare aimed at destroying the economy of the Islamic world (Anoushiravan & Wright 913-932).

Being considered as the leader of the Islamic world today, Saudi Arabia has been criticized by some foreign nations. The Saudi has been viewed as not protecting the Muslims it serves with thousands of defenseless and innocent being killed western terrorists in collaboration with Asian terror supporters such as India and Israel. Terrorists linked to NATO have continued to tear apart the Afghanistan for more than 10 years and in turn killing many Afghan Muslims. What is amusing with the Saudi is the fact that its part and parcel of GST/IST which is a network that denotes terrorism gang operating on international level. The terror gang has been killing innocent Muslims for reasons known to them only. Saudi Arabia also led other Arab nations with regards to supporting the NATO in its efforts to arrest and kills one Saddam Husein.This plan was however devised neatly for many years.

The Saudi kingdom has been considered to have ignored its historical role of preserving unity as far as Islamic world is concerned. It has thus behaved like the Sunni nations sole leader. Saudi has been having close ties with United States as well as the United Kingdom and has been exchanging its oil with weapons from U.S and U.K.The western nations usually tries to eliminate the terrors of the gulf nations who poses a major threat as far as routes and energy resources are concerned. The Saudi thus joins them in this efforts and the criticism are based on the fact that though the country is vested with the role of defending the entire Muslim populations in the whole world, the Saudi plays a shameless role of terrorizing defenseless Muslims across the globe. Being the world’s top produces and exporter of oil, the Saudi’s main concern is top do trade with the world especially the western countries.However,Saudi Arabia has to carry out its vital role of producing Islam due to the fact that it’s Islam’s traditional leader. This has been on contrary as the politics of the day has indeed made Saudi to relinguish its responsibility as being the Islam protector and the Muslims in a manner that is positive. The oil and energy resources have made Saudi Arabia to be rich beyond its imaginations and expectations. The Saudi believes that the western countries are the main markets and this makes Saudi to dance to every tune of the western music (Brown 187).

The Saudi have gone to an extent that it has announced the plans that its conducting some tests that could allow the USA and Israel to use the Saudi territory to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities. Many people have criticized these plans due to the fact that the USA Israel jets will pass through the airspace of Saudi to conduct the raids. Both the USA and Israel have been deemed to benefit much as compared to Saudi with regards to the accomplishments of their missions. USA don’t have capabilities as far as the operations regarding long –distance are concerned especially against such countries as Iran that are widely spread and seeks the assistance of Saudi to conduct the terror attacks.

Saudi is also deemed to be fuelling the crisis concerning Sunni-Shiite. With the 2005 Iranian presidential elections, the foreign policy concerning Iran became assertive and there were also strong support for Shiite-based movement that is found in Lebanon. The United sates and Israel are thus pushing the Saudi president to confront the Iranian government. Saudi should not be led into this and should instead come forward and develop strong ties with other Islamic nations such as Iran so as to enhance the Islamic faith. The past few months have been characterized with tensions between Tehran and Riyadh with the Arab regimes pressing the western countries such as the United States to adopt some stronger stances as far as the nuclear program of Iran is concerned. Saudi and the UAE have played a big role in involving the china populace to the United Nations sanctions against the republic of Iran. This role is achieved through promising an increase in the oil export to china.

The intelligence of Saudi has vast knowledge about Iranian government opposition because of the advantage they have by having trained in the US and Britain. The history between the Saudi and Washington with regards to Middle East operations dates back to 1991 during the Gulf War that was against Iraq. Saudi has thus behaved in a ridiculous manner following the threats of war by the United States and Israel and sanctions against Iran.

The Islamic factor in Saudi Arabia has enabled Saudi to form close allies as it continues to provide the required leadership to the entire Islamic world. Saudi has thus been involved in the leadership of most Islamic nations not only in Asia but also in Africa. For instance, Saudi has been supporting Somalia with regards to the economic aid. Somalia and Saudi has continued to be close partners and the relationships between the two have been considerably good. The Saudi has facilitated its young males to volunteer in giving relief aid to Somalia and other war torn nations such as Bosnia and Chechnya. The move by Saudi to engage its young men in the fight process and foreign aid in these war torn countries provided some advantages and disadvantages as well. Sending these young men abroad provided them with job opportunities where they could exercise their knowledge that they had gained in Saudi universities in a real challenging environment.However, there are those young volunteers from the Saudi who died while fighting and others opted to return home.

Both bilateral and multilateral relationships between Saudi and the rest of the world have been enhanced by its foreign policy and have been strengthening overtime. The Saudi Arabia foreign policy was however complicated following the Iraq invasion by the United States in the year 2003.The perception of the American public also changed sharply following the attacks of September 11. After the attacks, it was discovered that the attacks were carried out by the al-Qaeda who are led by one Osama Bin Laden who is a national of Saudi Arabia. It was also learned soon that among the 19 hijackers, 15 were Saudis. Saudi Arabia thus was being viewed in a sinister light by most Americans. It is believed that if the United States government decided to invade Saudi Arabia instead of the Afghanistan in response to the bombing attacks, then this would have drawn support from many people (Freedman 46).

Despite the attacks, the response between the United States and the Saudi Arabia government have been somehow strikingly as compared to the response of Iraq’s sad dam Hussein and Taliban in the Afghanistan which indeed had no connections whatsoever with the September 11 attacks or the al-Qaeda. According to Islam, the government of Saudi Arabia could even maintain diplomatic relations with the non-Muslim in order to enhance peacekeeping in the region. Saudi Arabia has maintained relations with both non-Muslim as well as non-Arab states so as to enhance its commercial ties with these nations. Thus it maintained these commercial ties with such countries as Japan, South Asia as well as Western Europe. As far as the economy of Saudi is concerned, all these nations were vital as they provided market for the Saudi oil. Consumer commodities to Saudi Arabia were also bought from other countries Germany, Japan, and Britain among others. The republic of Saudi Arabia also obtained labor from foreign countries like Philiphines, India, South Korea among others in the region.

With respect to the United States, the government of the Saudi Arabia has no option however but support and maintain good relations. This is for the reason that the U.S has been the superpower in the entire world.The United States also trades and invests in Saudi and this in turn enhances the living standards of the Saudi nationals. The United state benefits as a result of the international relations it has developed with the republic of Saudi because it has been able to implement most of its foreign agendas regarding the Middle East nations. The Islamic countries are however unresponsive as far as democracy and human rights are concerned and so the Saudi Arabia provides a platform whereby the United States is able to carry out its foreign objectives to the Islamic nations in the Middle East.

The foreign policy of the Saudi Arabia kingdom is thus based on the principles of religion,historical,geographical,politics as well as economic. The foreign policy of Saudi is based on the major structures of good neighborhood, framework It is based on the major frameworks of good neighborhood, non intervention with regards to the in-house matters pertaining other countries, to enforce the associations that exists between the Gulf states as well as Arabian Peninsula nations, to implement a strategy which is acceptable by all the nations and also to enhance the cooperation with the friendly countries. The foreign policy of the Saudi Arabia is stimulated through such aspects as the Arab, the Islam, the Gulf and other international aspects. The Saudi Kingdom is however respected by many people across the globe due to the foreign policy that it has adopted. It is considered as a true example of what Islamic society is ought to be (Madawi 286).


The interests that Saudi has with regards to the rest of the Islamic world usually contradicts the long relationship that it has with the U.S.A.In order for the Saudi to continue being the leader as far as the Islamic world is concerned, it sends aids to the Islam community around the world. Some of the aid usually goes to channels that are regarded as non-official while some goes to the Islamic charities that are connected with the government of Saudi. Saudi Arabia also builds mosques for its Muslims across the globe.However, both the official as well as non-official channels has been associated with the Islamic terrorism and al-Qaeda. While the al-Qaeda represents some threats to ye royal family of Saudi, the government of Saudi prefers to apply co-option as well as compromise so as to deal with the threats. This has been deemed to have the effect of re-directing the terrorism of Islam to the western countries such as the United States. Wit regards to the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia, Islam thus remains as the key determinant. As far as the regional security is concerned, the Saudi has been the central behind it. The Islam has thus provided the Saudi with the basis upon which it can seek for close allies and provide the required leadership to the entire Islamic world. The Islam was thus the main factor that manipulated the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia. The cohesion that the Saudi has formed with other Muslim nations in Africa and Asia is ideal. The existence of high religious relationships between Saudi Arabia and countries like Pakistan, Somalia among others that existed in the 1970s put these countries on the vanguard in receiving aid from foreign countries. However, the policies that Saudi has developed in relations with the foreign countries have presented problems. The Saudi alliance with the western countries such as United States has benefited Saudi economically and military but the relationship has exposed Saudi to domestic criticism and regional attack. The Saudi’s leading role in world oil has indeed brought international status and wealth but has subjected the nation to intense international and regional pressures. The self-conscious of Saudi that it’s the home of Islamic religion has exposed it to criticisms (Levitt 36-41).

Works Cited

Anoushiravan, Ehteshami & Wright, Steven. Political Change in the Arab Oil Monarchies: from liberalization to Enfranchisement International Affairs. London: Wiley Publishers, 2007.

Brown, Carl. Diplomacy in the Middle East. London: Wiley publishers, 2002 Freedman, Robert. The Middle East after the Israel invasion of Lebanon. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1986.

Hinnebusch & Ehteshami. The foreign policies of Middle East states. Boulder: Rienner Publishers, 2002.

Korany & Dessouki. The Foreign Policies of Arab States. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2010.

Levitt, Mathew. Combating Terrorist financing, Despite the Saudis’. Washington: The Washington Institute for near east Policy, 2002.

Madawi, Al-Rasheed A History of Saudi Arabia. London: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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