It may seem to some to be verging a little on the voyeuristic side, but many will find a visit to a Saudi cemetery to be a very interesting and moving experience.
There are plenty of cemeteries in downtown Riyadh, but if you head for the Oud Cemetery just off Batha’a Street it epitomises a very Saudi outlook on life and death.
It was here that the late King Fahd was buried in August 2005 in an unmarked grave amongst the equally anonymous graves of his predecessors. After a 23-year rule, there was no mourning period in the Kingdom, government offices stayed open and flags remained at full mast.
The reason is that the House of Saud practises one of the strictest codes of Islam – known as Wahhabism – in which followers try to emulate precisely the behaviour of the Prophet Muhammad and avoid anything which could be regarded as an un-Islamic "innovation". Public displays of grief are frowned upon by the religious establishment which views every aspect of life and death as a submission to God’s supreme will.
It is probably best to drive around the cemetery – women are obliged to stay inside the car in any case – and everywhere you will see anonymous mounds of stones that cover the bodies. No one will be able to tell you who is buried where as it is considered of no consequence.
Outside the cemeteries you may well see one of the more harrowing scenes of the capital – many grieving and destitute widows begging for alms from passers-by.
Another cemetry is very close to Batha’a Soukh and can be viewed through the railings from the road.
Al Oud Cemetery can be found on the left hand side of Batha’a Street going south, between Al Dirrah and Manfuha.
Entrance: 24 37.3’ N; 46 43.4’ E
Batha’a Cemetry is in King Faisal Street, just south of the Al Suleiman Commercial Centre, along the road from the Mismak Fortress.
24 38.1’ N; 46 42.9’ E