A Most Religious State


Image: Wikimedia

According to Gallup Poll, Saudi Arabia is one of the most religious countries in the world (shown in dark red in the image above). This study also identifies a list of the top 11 religious countries. Surprisingly, Saudi Arabia did not make the list. This might be contributed to how the study was designed. It was based on the question: “Is religion an important part of your daily lif?”. Such a question has two fallacies; first, it investigates conciouse behavior and second it investigates individuals and not groups, regulated by religious cultures or states.

Subconcious Religious Behavior

The question in Gallup’s study investigates the number of individuals practicing religion, more likely in a conscious manner. Whereas it is possible that individuals subconsciously acount for their religious values in many aspects of their daily lives. Moreover, even those who discard their faith, are suceptable to holding religious values of their communities and past religious experiences if they had any. Author of “The Atheist Muslim“, explains how religion is infused within cultures and societal values and how it shapes people’s identity even after they lose their religious beliefs. As such, to measure how important religion is we need to consider these factors and not only concious behavior.

For the country of our concern here, Saudi Arabia, a suprising finding of another Gallup study states that atheists consitute 5% of Saudis. However, it is still possible that those individuals are experiencing the mixed identity as in “The Atheist Muslim“. This is particularly more likely to happen in highly religious states such as Saudi Arabia as clarified in the next section.



Religious Regulations

The question in Gallup’s study targetted individuals not states or regulations. For a country to be listed as a religous one, it is essential that both its  culture and governance system are based, fully or partially, on religious provisions. As such, if we were to investigate religious regulations, Saudi Arabia would certainly make the top ten list, if not the top five one.

The tribal system in Saudi Arabia is profoundly infused with religion. To the point that many of the common traditions now are under debate in terms of whether they are Islamic or just tribal traditions. As such, even for someone who is not particularly religious, they are expected to conform with their tribe’s traditions, which are mostly religious.

The governance system in Saudi Arabia derives its authority from Islamic (Sahria) law. According to the Saudi Basic Law of GovernanceIslamic provisions regulate, and are infused with, almost everything from eduacation, eonomy and judiciary, to media, national identity and social norms. In addition to being represnted in regulations, the Islamic identity of the state is represented in its mundane system such as public holidays, Hijri (Islamic) calendar and the expression of Islamic faith on the saudi flag. Consequently, these regulations made it certain that religion is entrenched in all aspects of Saudis’ lives.

Image: Pixbay. The Saudi flag holds the expression of faith “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”

Furthur more, in recent Saudi regulations, calling for atheist thought has become considered a terrorist offense:

“Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

This might be due to the recent increase of Saudi social media users who have announced their apostasy. However, it is notable that the article above specified “calling for atheist thought” as an act of violating public order especially when associated with “question[ing] the fundamentals of the Islamic religion”. Whereas, apostasy per se, declairing oneself as an atheist, or converting to another faith, are not directly addressed in this article nor in the articles of the Basic Law.


To measure to what extent a contex is religious we need to understand both concious and subconcious religious behavior. Also, we need to understand the role of cultural and legal regulations in enforcing religious values as these factors although crucial seemed to be easily overlookedin Gallup’s study.

Designer’s Take on This Context

  • Understand whether your users are conciousely or unconciousely religious, or not.
  • Understand what ‘religious’ values they would always hold regardless of how religious they consider themselves.
  • When designing for social change, it is crucial to align the new change with religious values and not against them.


I am Tag. A global citizen, lifelong learner and a free thinker. As a PhD student in HCI , my main interests fall in the intersection of cross cultural design and social change. Thus, my blog is focused on -but not limited to- this area. I have been writing in blogs, social media and newspapers for a while but that was in Arabic (my native language). However, being in the UK now and doing my PhD in English, made me consider starting to write and blog in English.

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