Yesterday my host mother and I were sitting in a park watching my host brother play in the playground. I decided to ask her a bit about Islam (since she and my host father are going to Saudi Arabia for a special week of prayer in a month). My host family is a sect of Islam called “Ibadi Islam”. I’m going to be honest: I had never heard of Ibadi Islam before coming to Oman. I soon learned though that this is because Ibadi Islam does not exist largely throughout the world- there are pockets of Ibadis in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, East Africa, and Oman (Oman is the only country with a majority population of Ibadis). Our conversation soon shifted to a more philosophical debate as we talked about the interactions between different religions and fighting that can occur. Similar to me, she believes that most religions are not all that different; that most emphasize loving each other and striving to be a good person (similar to the Ted Talks video I shared on my page a while ago). I think she summed up things well when she said “there are many very bad Muslims and many very good Muslims. This is the same with Christians, Buddhists… all religions. I do not understand why people hate each other because their religion is different.”
Then today, for homework, I had to read a packet about Islam, and specifically Islam in Oman. Appropriately, the reading is called Islam in Oman written by Michael Bos. I’m not very religious myself, but I find learning about religions fascinating, though I thought it could be interesting to share some of what I have learned from my host mother and from my reading.
Heritage of the Different Sects of Islam
- When the Prophet Mohammed died, there was a controversy over who would succeed him. Three distinct responses emerged: Sunni, Shia, and Ibadi.
- Sunni Islam: believe that the successor (called a caliph) must be from the tribe of the Prophet (the Quraysh)
- Shia Islam: believe that the successor (called imam) must be a descendent of the Prophet
- Ibadi Islam: believe that the successor (called imam) should be chosen due to being the most knowledgable and devout Muslim. regardless of bloodline or ethnicity.
- Difference between caliph and imam: Caliph emphasizes political responsibilities, as well as the protection of religion (including tasks of administration of the state, finance, foreign relations, and military matters). At the end of of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924, the caliph in Sunni Islam ceased to exist. The imam has a “strong spiritual role as the infallible intermediary between God and the faithful”.
- The first civil war in Islam occurred due to the controversy over succession. In the Battle of Siffin, it was Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib (cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet) vs. Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan (Syrian leader). Some of Ali’s followers disagreed with Ali’s decision to accept arbitration and said “judgement belongs to God alone” (la hukma illa lillah), meaning that it is up to God to select the caliph. This group of people became known as the Muhakkima, some of whom would later become Ibadi.
- Values of the groups of people (the Kharijite): “establishing the centrality of Quranic precepts in governmental rule, rejecting the pre-eminence of one tribe over another, reaching out to exploited groups, and eliminating any racial or class restrictions on leadership” (Bos).
- The Kharijite disagreed on a central question: how should a Muslim oppose another Muslim. Most of the Kharjities took the approach that their opponents were non-believers. But the ideology that the Ibadis adopted opposed this extremism that rejected “any requirement for a militant revolt against opponents”. “Differences of opinion did not mean others were non_muslims because ‘the faith of Islam unites them'”. So “they were to live peacefully among those with whom they disagreed” and “should never presume to exclude anyone from the community of Muslims” (Bos).
Islam in Oman
- Oman’s long history with maritime activity allowed contact among people and cultures to spread, allowing Islam to be introduced and spread in Oman during the 17th century.
- Islam was initially introduced to Oman through interactions among people (a lot due to trade), but it was officially introduced to Oman when Prophet Mohammed’s envoy, Amr ibn al-As, brought a letter to the Kings of Oman (Abd and Jayfar ibn al-Julanda) asking them to embrace Islam.
- Ibadi Islam is the dominant school of thought in Oman.
- The imam in Ibadism is closer to the concept emphasized in Sunni Islam, but a great emphasis in Oman is on an imam’s ability to settle trial disputes and conflicts. The imam, therefore, is frequently chosen from neutral tribes or clans, and is many times passed on within a family. In the 19th century this titled was changed to “sultan”. For almost a century, there was disagreement over this, and the sultan controlled the coastal region of Oman while the imam controlled the interior region of Oman. The sultan, however, won and in 1959, the imamate was abolished.
- The Grand Mufti is the chief religious authority, but he has no judicial authority.
- Islam is the state religion, but it is Islam, not Ibadism (converting is Islam is not a prerequisite for naturalization and its Basic Law provides that ‘all citizens are equal before the Law, and they are equal in public rights and duties. There shall be no discrimination between them on the grounds of gender, origin, colour, language, religion, sect, domicile or social status’).
- Sultan Qaboos has granted land for places of worship for Muslims, Hindus, and Christian in Oman.
- Sharia is the basic of legislation.
- Muslim students are required to take courses in Islamic studies as part of the public education system, but this does not apply to non-Muslim students.
I found it interesting how inclusive Ibadi Islam is and tolerant it is of other sects of Islam. I think that this may be a major reason as to why so many religious groups can exist peacefully together in Oman (especially between Sunni and Shia Islam).