Saudi Etiquette

Points of Etiquette in Saudi Arabia

Many matters of etiquette in Saudi Arabia are connected to Islam as it is written in the Qur'an and how it has been traditionally understood and practiced throughout the centuries. Prescribed Islamic etiquette is referred to as "Adab", and described as "refinement, good manners, morals, ethics, decorum, decency, humaneness and righteousness". Visitors of Saudi Arabia are required to respect these local conventions.


Islam is the state religion of Saudi Arabia. It is based on five pillars: Profession of faith, Prayer, Fasting, Charity and Pilgrimage.

  • Muslims pray five times a day: dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and night. Muslims may pray in public places In the workplace, a room or space is usually designated for prayer. BISR makes a prayer room available for Muslim students.
  • Muslims observe a full month of fasting and festivities, called Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset. When visiting during Ramadan, refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public or in front of staff or business associates. Do extend the traditional greetings of Ramadan, “Ramadan Kareem” (“Happy – or blessed - Ramadan”).
  • During Ramadan, families and friends break their fasts together at a huge meal called iftar.

Do accept an invitation to iftar if you are lucky enough to get one It is a wonderful experience and great introduction to family life in the Saudi Arabia.


Men shake hands. Women should wait until the man extends his hand. Pious Muslim men may not shake hands with women. Pious Muslim women do not shake the hands or touch men who are not in their families. Rather, they might simply put their hand over their hearts to show their sincerity in welcoming the visitor.

When people in Saudi Arabia greet each other, they say "Salam alaykum" ("Peace be upon you" ), to which the reply is "Wa alaykum as-salam" ("And upon you be peace" ). Middle Easterners often greet each other with a number of ritual phrases and fixed responses. A casual exchange should include an inquiry about a person's family, children, and health. These quick-fire conversations are ended when one or both parties says "Alhamdulillah" which basically means "praise God".

Cheek kissing in the Arab world is relatively common, between friends and relatives. Cheek kissing between males is very common. However, cheek kissing between a male and female is usually considered inappropriate, unless within the same family; e.g. brother and sister, or if they are a married couple. Women normally exchange kisses on alternate cheeks, usually three times.

Hospitality / Eating

Hospitality is held in high regard throughout Saudi Arabia and Saudis take great pride in shows of hospitality, never failing to at least serve tea, coffee and a snack such as dates. A gracious guest will accept the gesture.

The act of communal eating is a highly recognized outward expression of friendship in the Middle East.

Do not eat with your left hand, which is considered unclean. Also, in many places, it is considered polite to leave a bit of food on one’s plate.

In some areas in the Middle East, it is common for people to take their food from a common plate in the center of the table. Rather than employing forks or spoons, people may scoop up hummus and other foodstuff with Arabic bread.