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.

complex
Adjective

complicated.

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.

Noun

political unit made of people who share a common territory.

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.