Today we are going to discuss the similarities and differences between two societies, Turkish and Saudi Arabian, from the cultural and moral point of view. Firstly it is important to get familiar with these definitions.
Culture is the way of life, shared beliefs, values, customs and behaviours, that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning.
Norms specify the type of behaviour that is considered appropriate and normal in a society. For example, norms of dress give guidelines on what to wear. Norms are set of rules that vary from society to society. A change in society leads to new ways of behaving and therefore culture and norms are always changing.
Values are general rules and principles that tell us what is good, important and worth striving for in our society. Values lay down general principles and guidelines.
Inequality concerns differences in access to scarce resources when one group is better positioned than the other in society. Social inequality involves voting rights, freedom of speech, education and many more. Inequality is present in every society, even if it is said that all members in society are equal.
Both countries share similar history, culture and values. Religion in particular plays a big part in people’s lives. The major religion is Islam, the second largest religion in the world. In Saudi Arabia, Islam is the only officially recognized religion and other religions in the country are not tolerated. Turkey is more democratic in this way. While in Turkey state and church are separated, religion in Saudi Arabia influences every aspect of social and political life. Even the legal system is based on sharia (Islamic) law. The forms of punishment in this country are, according to some organizations, against human rights. For example, theft is punishable by amputation of the right hand. Flogging is way of punishment for offenses against religion, drunkenness and gambling. The death penalty is the highest form of punishment in the country and is used for a range of convictions including the distribution of drugs from abroad. The death sentence was also practiced in Turkey, but it has since been reduced to thirty years imprisonment. Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in both societies (a view strongly linked to religious beliefs), and is punishable by lashing, prison or death.
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Inequality, in both societies, is most distinguished between men and women. Saudi women suffer discrimination in a range of areas within their daily lives. For example, women are not allowed to drive cars or ride bicycles on public roads and the driving age of 25 is one of the highest in the world. Saudi Arabia is also one of the four remaining countries that have not granted women the right to vote. Women cannot travel abroad without the permission or presence of a male guardian (mahram), and also have to be accompanied by a close male from the family (father or brothers) when outside of house. As chastity and sexual modesty are very highly valued, women can be arrested for socializing with a man who is not a relative and may be charged with prostitution. In public, dancing, playing music and showing movies is forbidden. Women make up just 5% of the workforce in Saudi Arabia, which is the lowest proportion in the world. A woman’s status within the family is high, especially in the roles of mother and sister. However, their rights may continue to be restricted, for example, it is believed that women should stay at home, caring for their husbands and children. Most marriages are arranged and polygamy is permitted up to four wives.
Similar attitudes towards women had existed in Turkey, but in 1926 new reforms brought changes to the position of women in society. Polygamy was abolished and it is very rare nowadays. Along with religious marriages and divorce, child custody became the right of both women and men. Education levels of women have increased since the reforms and many Turkish women are able to access education, have jobs and careers. The right to vote was granted in 1930.
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Although the position of women outside of family has changed significantly, inside it remains more or less the same. Husbands remain at the head of family and woman must have their permission to work or their approval if going out. Both Saudi Arabian and Turkish societies place huge value on the family and take their responsibilities seriously. Families tend to be large and the extended family remains close.
Significant inequality also exists between women from different sectors of societies. Women in these two states have different life styles and rights. For example, abortion in Turkey is legal up to ten weeks, while in Saudi Arabia it remains illegal, except in situations where the mother’s life may be at risk.
The norms for public behaviour in Saudi Arabia are extremely conservative. To ensure that these standards of conduct are observed, the Saudi religious police can arrest foreigners for improper dress and other alleged infractions, such as consumption of alcohol. Turkish women no longer have to wear the veils and long garments, whereas in Saudi Arabia it is still required by the old religious beliefs. While alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia, it is allowed in Turkey. In Turkey, Friday is considered a normal working day, regardless of the fact that to Muslims it is considered a holy day. Saudi Arabian’s continue to acknowledge this tradition – most shops and other public places are closed on Friday and individuals practice their prayers. All Muslims pray five times a day and during the holy month of Ramadan they must fast from dawn to dusk (this includes eating, drinking and smoking). According to Islam, the left hand is considered unclean and reserved for personal hygiene.
To conclude, Turkey is now considered a secular state, the first ever Islamic society to be considered as such. In contrast, Saudi Arabia’s unique culture makes marks it as a distinguished Islamic country. People in these countries are extremely proud of their culture, heritage and nationality.
- M. Haralambos and M. Holborn (2008) Sociology , Themes and Perspectives
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