Religion and national identity in Saudi Arabia

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Relations between state and Islam in Saudi Arabia have been intensively discussed in numerous books and articles. The role of religion as a source of legitimacy for the Saudi regime has also been investigated by various scholars. This article focuses on another aspect related to these issues: the use of religion by the royal family to consolidate a Saudi national identity, which in turn will constitute an additional attribute for the legitimacy of the ruling dynasty. In the absence of political participation in the secular Western sense, religion has provided a major and almost exclusive source of legitimacy for the rule of the Saudi royal family (the other, secondary one is tribal allegiance). For this reason the regime has considered it essential to elicit additional sources. The article argues that the promotion of national identity has been an official as well as a practical policy, reflecting the regime's endeavour to enhance its position and legitimacy. This sought identity is based primarily on strict observance of Islam and, of course, on loyalty to the House of Saud. The painstaking effort to expand its basis of legitimacy is the Saudi way of coping with whatever threatens the ruling dynasty, be it ambitious neighbours or radical ideologies from the outside, or domestic oppositions: 'revolutionary', anti-royalist, or religious fundamentalist. By employing religion for this purpose, the Saudi monarchy has actually availed itself of Islam to change the situation in which religion constitutes the predominant provider of the regime's legitimacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-53
Number of pages20
JournalMiddle Eastern Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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