Ahmed Al Ghamdi, a former official with Saudi Arabia's religious police, publicly questioned the need for strict gender segregation in public places, a hallmark of Saudi society. He asserted that Islamic scriptures did not require such segregation. Image by Caryle Murphy. Jeddah, 2011.
Gender segregation, however, is still the rule rather than the exception. Especially in more conservative Riyadh, where all cafes and restaurants have separate sections for men on their own, without a female relative. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2009.
At the Riyadh International Book Fair 2014, a Saudi man ignores the "Wemen Only" sign to buy a snack. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2014.
Valentine's Day is rejected by most Saudi religious authorities as an unIslamic Western import. But many young Saudis privately celebrate it. Here, a store employee wraps a gift purchased by a Saudi woman for her [secret] boyfriend. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2009.
Two young Saudis who support the right of women to drive use online social media at a friend's kitchen table to lobby for lifting the kingdom's ban on female drivers. The Internet and new communications technology, including mobile phones, have made it much easier for Saudis to easily express their opinions. Although Saudi authorities used to justify the ban on Islamic grounds, today no one cites religion as a reason why women should not drive. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2014.
Saudis from every sector of society use Twitter, which has been called the Saudi 'parliament.' Saudi clerics are among the most active tweeters. Here, the Imam of Mecca's Grand Mosque, Saud ibn Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Shuraim, tweets his disagreement with another cleric's public statements. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2014.
Al Rajhi Mosque, one of Riyadh's largest. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2011.
Worshipers Walk to Friday prayers at Al Rajhi Mosque, one of Riyadh's largest. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2014.
Pioneer female supermarket cashiers. Despite widespread objections from some religious clerics and a significant part of Saudi society, the government is supporting women working. Retail is a big opportunity and it is now common to see women working as store clerks and cashiers. However, only women or men accompanied by a female relative, can use the check-outs staffed by women. Image by Caryle Murphy. Jeddah, 2010.
Sign in a Jeddah supermarket reminding men that they must be accompanied by a female relative to use the checkout that is staffed by female cashiers. Image by Caryle Murphy. Jeddah, 2010.
Mohammad Al Qahtani, with two of his sons, is a human rights and political activist. He disputes the religious interpretation of Islam that is used to support the Saudi absolute monarchy. In 2013, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison because of his dissident activities. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2009.
Mohsen Al Awajy, a prominent Islamist critic of the Saudi government who also disputes the monarchy's religious claims. In 2013, he organized an online petition condemning Egypt's military coup which deposed Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohammed Morsi. The Saudi government, which welcomed the coup, forced Awajy to take the petition offline after three days. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2011.
Many of Saudi Arabia's 10 million expatriate laborers are Muslim, coming from Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They celebrate the religious holiday of Eid Al Adha by slaughtering a lamb, as Islam dictates. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2009.
Jeddah's Corniche is a favorite place for Saudis to gather on the weekend. Religious strictures are less severe in Jeddah, which has a more cosmopolitan history and lifestyle than the capital of Riyadh, located in the conservative heartland of the kingdom. Image by Caryle Murphy. Jeddah, 2014.
Riyadh's iconic Kingdom Tower built by a nephew of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Prince Waleed bin Talal. The prince is more progressive than many other Saudis. His wife, for example, does not wear an abaya and a headscarf. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2014.
Two religious policemen on patrol at Riyadh's International Book Fair. Although the strict interpretation of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism, frowns upon fancy dress as an impious pretension, the religious police often wear the formal robe, the bisht, as seen here. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2014.
Some books on Arabism, which is seeing a revival among young Saudis as an alternative to political Islam, were removed from the Riyadh International Book Fair this year. Image by Caryle Murphy. Riyadh, 2014.
Saudi Arabia is feeling the impact of its increasing interactions with the outside world, and as a result religious attitudes in the oil-rich desert kingdom are changing.