Many researchers and authors writing about Saudi Arabia consider it as a homogeneous state; based on information given as a fundamental foundation for their viewpoints. However, throughout its history, the real look of the Kingdom, rather the Arabian Peninsula, tells another story. In fact, the Kingdom is a heterogeneous state consisting of various cultures, sects, races, climates, dialects, terrains and political history. This heterogeneity is not considered a drawback and does not necessarily mean that these diverse components can not be integrated.
Government’s policy to present Saudi Arabia as a one harmonized race denominated by “Salafi” sect misled many writers and does not reflect the Kingdom’s internal reality of cultural and religious diversity. In addition, the shortage or insufficient information about the Kingdom and its internal conditions results in generalizing a totally wrong picture.
Throughout history, the Arabian Peninsula, in general, and Saudi Arabia, in particular, had never been assumed homogeneous since the rise of Islam till its recent establishment as a modern state.
Since the last decade, Saudi Arabia is being rediscovered by its own people. The Kingdom has far distances between its regions in which population is dense and the misconnection between these regions, in spite of informational revolution, caused misunderstanding of one region’s population to another. Also, Sectarian and political pressures played a major role in the absence of realizing the diversity of the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia includes a variety of population who are different in their sects, regions and tribes.
The denominational map of Saudi Arabia coincides with its regional political map; therefore, one can consider Saudi society as a "society of minorities”. Saudi Arabia is consisted of four main regions:
1. The Central Region (Najd); in which the Hanbali sect of a “Wahabism form” is prevailing. Their scholars control all official religious foundations and they dominate most fields of religion, judiciary, education, religious guidance. The population of this region, based on the official published statistics is 32.12% of total population living on 36.20% of the Kingdom’s total size.
2. The Western Region (Hejaz); in which “Maliki" and "Shafi’i" are the two main sects in this region. In addition, there are some small Shiites groups such as Zaidis and Twelvers in Madinah, Kaisanis in Yanbu and Sufis groups. Based on the official statistics, the population of Hejaz is 32.87% of total population and living on 20.99% of the Kingdom’s total size. Hejazi people have their religious authorities and figures like the late Mohammad Alawi AlMaliki, and they usually refer to AlAzhar University, besides their strong relations with religious figures in GCC, Syria and other countries. However, the local religious control in this area almost disappeared lately and gradually was influenced by the Wahabis of central region.
3. The Southern Region (Asir, Jaizan & Najran)
This region includes a variety of Islamic sects and tribal roots. There are, the Shafi’i, Maliki and Zaidi sects, as well as the Ismaili sect which is followed by the majority of Najran’s people who have their own local religious authority; AlMakarimah, and they are estimated about 1.5 million people in Saudi Arabia.
4. The Eastern Region (Qatif and AlAhssa); the majority of its people are Shiites who represent 14.67% of the total population and living on 31.28% of the Kingdom’s total size based on the official statistics. This region includes many religious schools like Maliki represented by AlMubarak family, Shafi’I represented by AbdulQader family and Hanafi represented by AlMolla family.
Through this review, one can find that Saudi Arabia is not dominated by a specific Islamic sect majority, however, the Wahabi-Salafi duality controls and influences all dimensions of politics and social life.
In fact, the history of the Arabian Peninsula reveals that there is cultural and religious diversity and migration. There were some Sunni states were established on Shiite areas such as AlJaboor, AlKhawalid and others in the Eastern Province. On the other hand, some Shiite states were established in Sunni areas such as AlAkhaydereen in Najd and Madinah. Moreover, there was a minority of Jewish Arabs lived in the south of Arabian Peninsula and they left since the establishment of Israel.