Step 26 – Sultanate of Oman

December 18, 2013

In Muscat, the great historical, geographical, cultural and religious diversity of Oman can be witnessed. This country, far south of the Arabic peninsula, is closer to India than to Cairo or Jerusalem. As it has 300km of coastline on the Indian ocean, Oman is under influence of the Indian continent and its traditions. But having access to the strait leading to the Persian Gulf makes it close to Shi’a countries and Persian traditions from Iraq and Iran. Lastly, it has remained a sacred Islamic land for over 14 centuries since it’s located within the Arabian peninsula; Oman is definitely an Arab country. And you can see it on the faces of Omanis: they are Persian, Arab and Indian all at once!  This gives a subtle mix in their physical features, unknown in our Western world.

 

Precisely about the Western world, it’s interesting to note that Oman is one of the only countries of the region never to have been colonized, with the exception of its ports by the Portuguese, the Persians and then the English, and the scenes of clashes in the 19th century during which the French and the English were engaged in a fierce conflict for the control of this ocean.

 

Another significant element of the Omani culture is the dynastic dimension. Omanis trace back the history of this family back to the beginning of the 16th century. Even if they defend themselves from this idea, we can observe a cult of personality. However, it is not to sit a domineering power but rather to weld people around a collective mystic. It is somewhat similar to the dynamics concerning the Queen of England.

 

This Arab sultanate, even though having Islam as State religion, differs from its neighbors through the religious tolerance and coexistence it has managed to impose despite various pressure. Out of 3.8 million inhabitants in Oman, there are 2 million Omanis and 1.8 million immigrants. Among Omanis, his Majesty’s subjects, 45% are from Ibadist Islam, an extremely minor current denying membership to Shi’a or Sunni currents. 45% are Sunni and 10% are Shi’a. Coexistence between the three faiths of Islam within the same population is already a feat in the light of the torment of the region. Not the slightest example of interfaith tensions can be found in the last decades.  Most of the 1.8 million immigrants are Hindu Indians, but there are also some Christians and Buddhists. As we have seen with our very eyes, freedom of religion is perfectly granted and all communities have the opportunity to express their faith in the public sphere.

 

We had the opportunity to meet with the Rev. Douglas Leonard who develops courses and programs to help international guests understand and appreciate Arab culture, tradition, and religion; and cooperates with Muslim leaders to support their interfaith and intercultural initiatives on peaceful coexistence in the Al Amana centre. They pursue opportunities for cooperation that contribute to the common good of the communities in which we live. They feel dialogue and cooperation are no longer a luxury and that it is an imperative incumbent upon all of us so that we can live in peace with one another.

 

An exhibition presenting this religious tolerance in Oman is currently going around the world (it has already been set in 12 countries and 36 cities) ; it will come to France at our return in September 2014. To learn more about it : www.islam-in-oman.com