Tribalism is alive and deeply rooted in the Saudi culture. Read more about what tribalism actually means here.
Tribalism can have some positive aspects to it. It creates close family ties and high respect of elders. Knowing ones roots and the names of ancestors hundreds or even thousands of years back can be educational and inspiring.
However tribalism should NOT create such pride and arrogance in people that they begin feeling supreme to others based solely on lineage. It should NOT cause the society to become racist and hateful. Tribe should NOT determine marriage suitability. Tribalism should NOT effect negatively the health of a whole nation.
But in Saudi-Arabia, unfortunately it does.
Islam does not support tribal mentality
Ironic perhaps that tribalism is against the teachings of Islam, yet it seems to be what the national identity is based on.
Islam teaches that all human beings are equal in the eyes of the Creator as far as their status of human beings is considered.
“O Mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you” (Quran 49:13).
Prophet Muhammed despised tribalism
Tribalism was practiced before and during the times of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh). Interestingly he belonged to a very prominent tribal family called Quraysh which at the time ruled Mecca.
Despite his high status Prophet Muhammed tried to eradicate this backward and racist practice.
The Prophet used to say about tribalism (Asabiyah): “Leave it. It is Rotten ” narrated by Bukhari and Muslim.
He said on pride and boasting of lineage:
“There are indeed people who boast of their dead ancestors; but in the sight of God they are more contemptible than the black beetle that rolls a piece of dung with its nose. Behold, God has removed from you the arrogance of the Time of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance) with its boast of ancestral glories. Man is but an God-fearing believer or an unfortunate sinner. All people are the children of Adam, and Adam was created out of dust.” narrated by At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud.
So according to this Hadith, these proud tribalists are worse than dung beetles in the eyes of God? Interesting.
In his final sermon the Prophet stressed the importance of equality among all humans which in modern day Saudi-Arabia has been long forgotten:
“O people, Remember that your Lord is One. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a black has no superiority over white, nor a white has any superiority over black, except by piety and good action (Taqwa). Indeed the best among you is the one with the best character.”
Ignoring and ignorance
Many more examples of anti-racist and anti-tribal Hadith exist.
So why do the Saudis continue this practice and choose ignore such teachings? I guess you can call it pride, keeping the “goods” in the family, racism, prejudice, closed-mindedness, ignorance.
Somehow I can understand the uneducated Bedouins being tribal since they know of nothing else let alone ever heard of genetics. That said I’ve never met a single proud or arrogant Bedouin, on the contrary they seem humble and never discriminate or look down upon others of different races.
However the educated, rich Saudis including the Royal family are very engaged in tribalism, despite surely being aware of the above Hadith, as well as the consequences of inbreeding and impact of hereditary diseases. Generally speaking (but not generalizing) I’ve noted the richer the Saudi family is, the more they will have a sense of supremacy toward others.
Consanguinity has dire consequences
In tribal families marriages between cousins are very common. I was aware it’s common to marry first cousins, but after recently attending a “Hereditary Diseases Workshop” I learned the rate is a staggering 60%. Inbreeding like this causes alarming rates of hereditary diseases. Some disorders are 20 times more common in Saudi-Arabia compared to the rest of the world. There are tribes that have distinctive malformations that are recognizable from their appearance:
So what is the impact of this disease “tribalismitis” on the nation? In short, it is making Saudis more sick by every generation and slowly weakening the their gene pool. Previously those born with metabolic diseases and blood disorders would die soon after birth, or never reach reproductive age. Modern medicine has enabled most of them making it to adulthood, only to be married off to a cousin and producing a new even sicker generation.
Saudis infected with “tribalismitis” present with congenital disorders, malformed babies, high infant mortality rates, high prevalence of mental retardation and hereditary diseases that significantly lessen the quality of life and are a huge financial burden for the government to treat.
Everyday in my work I encounter patients that are admitted to the hospital either directly or indirectly because of an inherited condition. Some of them need expensive medical care frequently, not being able to live normal lives. Many patients require blood transfusions every month to survive. Some face death without a set of new lungs.
The innocent children
Innocent babies are born malformed and diseased and suffer immensely.There is unfortunately a very high prevalence of babies born with congenital malformations in Saudi-Arabia. These innocent children suffer because of the ignorance of their parents. It is absolutely heart breaking to see these children in the hospital.
There are couples I encountered that had seven sick children in a row. When the child reached a certain age, they would pass away. Regardless of the tragedy the woman was pregnant again. Another family had nine children that were all affected and died before they reached 10 years of age.
Strong roots are hard to weed
Tribalism is so deeply rooted that some families have even taken things into their own hands and turned to the courts. Here’s an example of a Saudi tribal marriage that was nullified by a judge based on tribal incompatibility.
After 4 yrs of legal battles the Supreme Judiciary Council in Riyadh overruled the decision and ordered that the couple be reunited in matrimony.
Hope for the future
Not all Saudis are brainwashed and fall into trap of tribalism. Here’s an inspiring article from Saudi Gazette about two very brave Saudi men Hussein Abdullah Al-Mansour and Ali Hadi Al-Hamzan, who embarked on an extraordinary road trip throughout the Kingdom to promote the message “No to racism. No to tribalism.”
May God reward them and may their mission be a success.
Prevention is the cure
Saudi health officials have become more concerned about high rates of consanguinity and a few years ago launched a premarital screening programme for the most common hereditary diseases (thalassemia and sickle cell anemia). Couples wanting to get married have to go through mandatory screening.
While this might sounds promising, tribalism still effects peoples minds so much that 90 % of the screened high risk couples get married anyway. The rate is astounding.
The workshop for Hereditary diseases wisely concluded that prevention is the only cure for hereditary diseases.
Signs from God?
Perhaps hereditary diseases and genetic disorders are a sign from God to stop this nonsense. Maybe they are punishments for arrogance and pride and going against what God teaches humans.
Hopefully in the future Saudis will be more aware of the dangers of tribalism.
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Hello there, I’m Laura, the founder, author and manager of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 69 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Having visited all corners of the Kingdom with over a decade of experience, I have a vast knowledge base about travel and tourism in Saudi Arabia.