Saudi-Arabia’s Epidemic: Tribalism

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 often 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..

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.


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:

Tribal Infection

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. An inspiring article from Saudi Gazette tells 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.”

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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  • AliceJuly 15, 2010 - 4:15 pm

    Assalam alaikum

    I agree with you. Unfortunately some negative effects of it can be found in other Gulf countries and, I guess, other Middle Eastern countries. Arrogance and pride exist in some families or particular persons more than in others. I believe it's not as widespread as in KSA. Yet it's definitely present. There are potential suitors turned down because their lineageReplyCancel

  • The Burdened MaryJuly 15, 2010 - 4:51 pm

    Salaam! Very interesting, indeed! I have definitely heard of tribalism as racism but to me, I don't know why but I never thought about the high rate of cousins marrying in Saudi! It all makes so much sense now. Thank you for the very well thought out article. You have given me much reading material and things to research! :)ReplyCancel

  • CATGIRLJuly 17, 2010 - 6:39 pm

    Hey dear! I am a female MBA from Karachi, Pakistan. Honestly just browsing through good blogs and finding literate & intelligent writers like you to talk to me on various issues. Nice blog outlook and awesome thoughts. I write on issues related to society, religion as well as some funny stuff. Best of Luck for ur blogging. I hope u can be a follower- if u like my blog? And don’t forget toReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 19, 2010 - 2:40 am

    @ Alice
    thanks for your comment!
    Yes I agree tribalism is a phenomenon spread throughout the arabian peninsula.
    Its very unfortunate for these innocent children to be suffering because of their parents ignorance :(ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 19, 2010 - 2:43 am

    @ The Burdened Mary

    I only recently started to look into tribalism more deeply and found these very disturbing things to be going on. What I dont understand is why some of the well educated families would take such risks by marrying from cousins just to “keep the goods in the family”..ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 25, 2010 - 10:11 am

    @ Catgirl

    Hi and thanks for visiting my blog !
    I’m sorry it took me so long to go check out yours, I’ve been very busy and am in Finland on summer holiday at the moment :)
    your blog is really nice and well written and I love your attitude ;)ReplyCancel

  • E.H AhmadApril 10, 2011 - 10:19 pm

    As salam… Dear Laylah thanks for the inspiring blog n writing… really enjoy reading it… actually now I'm writing on this sort of contemporary issues in KSA…I'm totally agreed the fact of tribalism that have influences a lot on consanguineous marriage in Saudi.I wish someday this issues will be improve and the gov shall make more public health measures in strengthening theReplyCancel

  • AnonymousNovember 21, 2011 - 2:36 pm

    Thanks Laylah for this insight info, tribalism is much alive in most of Muslim country. I belong the hellhole of Somalia where tribalism put all the nation where it is now. At Saudis living in peace their tribalism, this can be eradicated if the social taboos are discussed openly, not in front of TV but unis, colleges, tents etc.


  • […] In a previous post I wrote about Saudi-Arabia and its raging epidemic of tribalism. Read more about it here. […]ReplyCancel

  • […] The problems that arise from tribalism are numerous and seemingly only negatively effect the Saudi woman. In reality the strong tribal practices in Saudi-Arabia today have negative effects on everyone on all levels of society. Read more about tribalism in Saudi-Arabia here. […]ReplyCancel

  • […] The problems that arise from tribalism are numerous and seemingly only negatively effect the Saudi woman. In reality the strong tribal practices in Saudi-Arabia today have negative effects on everyone on all levels of society. Read more about tribalism in Saudi-Arabia here. […]ReplyCancel

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