King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud became king of Saudi Arabia in 2005. The house of Saud has led the kingdom of Saudi Arabia since the founding of the modern nation in 1932.

Photograph by Cherie A. Thurlby, courtesy U.S. Department of Defense
  • Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud, late king of Saudi Arabia, was one of the most powerful monarchs in the world. King Abdullah, who died in 2015 at the age of 90, was an absolute monarch, meaning his power was not limited by a constitution, law, or other governing body.

    One of King Abdullah's most complex responsibilities was balancing Saudi Arabia's conservative traditions with modern culture.

    Saudi Arabia is a profoundly religious nation. Its official religion is Islam, and the Quran, the Muslim holy book, serves as the country's constitution. In fact, King Abdullah's only official title was Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, referring to mosques in the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam. Shariah, the Islamic moral code, is the legal code of Saudi Arabia.

    Saudi interpretation of Shariah includes strict limitations on the rights of women. All women must have a male guardian, for instance—usually her husband, brother, father, or son. These guardians control when and how women travel, work, and receive health care and education.

    King Abdullah slowly expanded women's rights. Saudi Arabia is becoming a modern, industrialized nation and about 18 percent of Saudi women work outside the home, mostly in urban areas. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is open to both men and women. Norah al-Faiz, Saudi Arabia's first female member of the Council of Ministers, represents the interests of women's education.

    In 2011, King Abdullah made the monumental decree that women would be allowed to vote and run for office in the next elections, scheduled for 2015.

    Women are still not allowed to drive, however, and the "right-to-drive" is often seen as a major symbol of independence. Just two days after being granted the right to vote, a woman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving without a chaperone.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    complex Adjective


    conservative Adjective

    traditional or reluctant to change.

    constitution Noun

    system of ideas and general laws that guide a nation, state, or other organization.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    decree Noun

    formal or legal order.

    election Noun

    selection of people to public office by vote.

    expand Verb

    to grow or get larger.

    govern Verb

    to make public-policy decisions for a group or individuals.

    guardian Noun

    someone who protects or takes legal responsibility for another person.

    health care Noun

    system for addressing the physical health of a population.

    industrialize Verb

    to develop large-scale factories and plants (industry).

    interpret Verb

    to explain or understand the meaning of something.

    Islam Noun

    religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

    king Noun

    male monarch.

    law Noun

    public rule.

    minister Noun

    the leader of an area of government. In the U.S., ministers are called secretaries.

    monarch Noun

    king or queen.

    monumental Adjective

    very large, serious, and important.

    mosque Noun

    place of worship in the Muslim or Islamic religion.

    municipal Adjective

    having to do with local government.

    Muslim Adjective

    having to do with Islam, the religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

    nation Noun

    political unit made of people who share a common territory.

    Encyclopedic Entry: nation
    profound Adjective

    powerful or insightful.

    Quran Noun

    holy book of the Islamic religion.

    religion Noun

    a system of spiritual or supernatural belief.

    right Noun

    specific freedom or opportunity granted to an individual or organization based on the law.

    Shariah Noun

    set of laws based on the Quran and other Islamic sources.

    strict Adjective

    always or almost always following limits, rules, or regulations.

    symbol Noun

    something used to represent something else.

    tradition Noun

    beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.