Before we arrive in Oman, we are expected to know the Arabic alphabet. I have started to learn Arabic and know about half of the alphabet so far. I am learning it from the Qasid videos on youtube. They have been really helpful and easy to understand. Arabic, though, is difficult. No wonder it is said that Arabic is the hardest language to learn!
There are two main types of Arabic: Classical Arabic (language of the Qu’ran and classical literature) and Modern Standard Arabic. I am learning Modern Standard Arabic. Each Arab speaking country/region, however, has its own variety of colloquial spoken Arabic. So in addition to Modern Standard Arabic, while in Oman, I will have to learn Omani Arabic.
Arabic is very very different from English. Or any other language I have learned for that matter. First, it is read and written from right to left (but numerals, like English, are written from left to right). There are 28 letters and many of these letters do not have an equivalent sound in English. Additionally, most letters change form depending on their position in the word. So most letters have four positions: independent, initial, medial, and final. So that’s basically learning 112 forms. In addition to the letters, there are 21 other diacritics to learn. These include short vowels, glottal stops, doubling of letters, etc.
As hard as Arabic is, I am really excited to be learning it. The scripture is beautiful and I cannot wait to know a language unlike any other language I have learned.
Right now, I’m learning the letters through this fun song!
A few days back our Student Handbooks were sent to us. Yay, more information! The packet gave information about Oman (its history, current statistics, and cultural norms) as well as more information about the program itself.
There are 7 girls in the program
I will be staying with a host family. We haven’t received information on who the host families are, but were told we will know September 3
We will have 15 hours of Arabic instruction each week (3 hours per day).
We will meet with Omani peer tutors each week to practice Arabic and work on difficult content
Each week we will have a Middle East history course and an Omani culture and society course
Community service is emphasized in the program and we will take part in various activities to give back to the Omani community
As a group we will travel to other areas of Oman
We have an information webinar tonight, so hopefully I’ll get more information!
NSLI-Y sent us some links for Omani newspapers, blogs, radio stations, as well as some books we can read to learn some more about Oman. They recommended the book, In the Time of Oil: Piety, Memory, and Social Life in an Omani Town, by Mandana E. Limbert. I started the book today and so far, have found it quite useful. Though Limbert is staying in Bahla, an oasis town in interior Oman (I will be staying in Oman’s capital, Muscat, which is located on the coast), the book paints a picture of other parts of Oman as well. The beginning starts out with a bit of the background history of Oman. I thought I would share a few of the things I am learning:
Oman is bordered by Saudi Arabia (west), Yemen (south), United Arab Emirates (northwest), Arabian Sea (east).
The territory is known as the Sultanate of Oman
The current sultan is Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id al-Bu Sa’id. He came to power during the almost bloodless coup d’etat in 1970 when he ousted his father, Sultan Sa’id bin Taymur al-Bu Sa’id, from the throne (his father came to power during the 1950s with support from the British military).
Prior to 1950, the interior region was a “quasi-independent theocratic state, the Imamate of Oman, based on Ibadi doctrine, a third branch of Islam after Sunnism and Shi’ism” while the coastal regions “were collectively known as the Sultanate of Muscat” (Limbert).
Though Oman is now unified, many still view the interior Imamate area as distinct from the rest of Oman (the coast): as “the site of the nation’s special religious heritage” (Limbert).
After 1970, the country’s infrastructure was developed tremendously. Roads, hospitals, its first modern state bureaucracy, and schools were built (ex: from 3 non-Qu’ranic schools in Oman in 1970 to 363 schools in 1980!). Oman was no longer the isolated country it used to be.
The “Renaissance” period (or in Arabic, ah-nahda), is the period from July 1970 to the present. This period of “awakening” is through the development of industry and growth of cities. It is officially said that this period is due to Sultan Qaboos. The production was not dependent on oil. In fact, it depended on industry and de-emphasized oil.
Oil, however, continued to play a role in Oman as between the 1950s to the 1970s, Oman had three wars instigated by oil exploration. These wars resulted in the official territorial boundaries of the modern state and shaped its government. Oil is a resource that has and currently plays a strong part in various aspects of Oman. It will continue to play a large part in Oman’s future.
The first war (1952-1954) was with Saudi Arabic and was over a border conflict in a town called Bureimi. Saudi Arabic was supported by Aramco (an American oil company) while Oman was backed by Britain.
The second war (1954-1959) was a war fought between the Sultanate and the Imamate territories. The war was fought because the Sultan as well as oil companies tried to access potential oil fields in al-Dakhiliya. Once again, the Sultan was backed by the British. The fighting subsided after 1955 as the war started to become a guerilla war taking place in the Jebel Akhdar mountains. In 1957, the Bahla fort was bombed by British planes and the war continued until the Imamate were defeated.
The third war (1963-1975) took place in the southern Dhofar region as a Marxist rebellion. By 1970 the fighting spread to the north in the oil region. During this war Qaboos bin Sa’id al-Bu Sa’id overthrew his father and became the current Sultan.
The official press projects that Oman has 20 years of oil reserves remaining. Thus, oil has a large influence on Oman’s future.
After the Sultan suffered a nearly fatal car accident in 1995, the state issued its constitution. This constitution addresses the Sultan’s succession. It says that the Sultan has decided upon a successor and that this name is written and sealed in a secret envelope. This envelope, however, may only be opened when the Sultan dies.
The interior area of Oman has strong Ibadi influences. Ibadism is a sect of Islam separate from Shi’ism and Sunnism. According to Ibadi political philosophy, the leader of the Muslim community does not have to be a direct descendant or a member of the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad. Additionally, “the theocratic state is understood to exist in one of four ‘ways of religion’ and can, depending on particular political and religious contexts, shift from one to the other”.
Welcome to my new section on Kids Meeting Point, Stories from Oman!
I recently received exciting news that I will be living in Muscat, Oman for the year through a program by the United States Department of State (the program is called the National Security Language Initiative– or NSLI Y–http://www.nsliforyouth.org/). In my year abroad, I will be studying Arabic, the history and culture of Oman, taking part in community service activities, traveling around Oman, meeting with local leaders, and getting to take part in Omani culture with my host family and hopefully, new friends! I will be staying in Oman’s capital, Muscat with a host family.
I am going to keep a blog while I am in Oman, and will post regularly in this section. I will talk about my day-to-day life, experiences in Oman, thoughts, etc. I leave September so make sure to check back here for updates as I prepare for my trip and then throughout the year to find out what I’ve been up to!