Governance of Sectarian Diversity in Saudi Arabia

Religious diversity has been an issue in Saudi Arabia since the establishment of state, given the country’s sectarian diversity with up to seven Islamic confessional and doctrinal schools present in its territory.  However, the management of the country’s diversity has been beset by a series of complexities; as this very diversity was supposed, had it encountered a proper intellectual and cultural environment, to contribute to interaction, harmony, and intellectual diversity among different sects. This has never happened, however. What happened was that this very diversity has strengthened an exclusivist religious culture manifested in hard-line attitudes, alienation and accusations of apostasy that reflected itself very negatively on relations among the sects’ followers.

This paper aims to review the issue of sectarian diversity in the Kingdom from the social and historical points of view, the manner in which it was dealt with politically and administratively, developments in the relationship among the followers of different Muslim sects, and the various projects and initiatives that ensued from the challenges they faced. The paper will also discuss the outcome and impact of these initiatives, and offer a list of recommendations for a better diversity management system in the Kingdom.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.