Islam in Oman

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”.

Ibadi Islam

  • 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).

More Festivities

December 26, 2013

Today I went to Mac’s house since her host family was throwing us a Christmas party/sleepover. All the NSLI-Y girls came and we had a great night talking, dancing (to Arabic music, Indian music, and lots of American music!), and watching movies. Her family was so sweet and welcoming and we had an awesome time. Her host sister (a little bit older than us) loves to paint nails and she had a huge wall of nail polish bottles (now I miss all my nail polish bottles and makeup!) so she painted all our nails with cool designs.

They even decorated their house with Christmas decorations and gave us Christmas presents (homemade bracelets and a jewelry holder). And we watched “She’s the Man”, so that makes any evening great.

December 27, 2013

We woke up late, had breakfast, and then watched “Hercules”. We hung out for a while, ate lunch, and then Miriam and I built a fort out of pillows and blankets (yes, we are 5 years old). Then we drove to the movie theater to see the second Hobbit movie, where¬†Miriam’s host sisters joined us to watch the movie. The movie theater looked like any theater in the US, except there was a small shop in there selling tea, coffee, and cupcakes to take into the theater. Additionally, in the theater, like India, people seemed to have no qualms about talking on their phone or texting during the movie.

My host father is in Dubai for a few days and my host mother and host brothers went to Bahla to visit family (they said I could stay to go to the party), so Lydia and I went with Miriam to stay at her house. Continuous sleepovers for the win!

December 28, 2013

Last day of my break :(

This break has been so much fun and jam-packed! I am excited, though, to get back to my school schedule and resume my learning of Arabic.

This morning we got up late again, had breakfast, and then just hung out the rest of the day until my host mother picked me up in the evening. Now just at home watching “Tangled”! Should it concern me that my 9 year old brother and I have similar movie tastes?

Merry Christmas!

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I am having many firsts in Oman. One of them is celebrating Christmas. Never would have thought that my first time celebrating Christmas would be in Oman!

 

December 24, 2013

WE and the YES girls went to Muscat Grand Mall in the morning to see the movie Frozen, which by my ranking, should get 10 stars. It was amazing!! We had lunch and then drove to church to sit though an evening Christmas service (another first!).

The Church that we went to was interesting, because it was an area with a few different buildings, each building for a different sect of Christianity. On Christmas Eve, it appeared that there were different services going on in some of the different buildings (for example, one of the other buildings had a Catholic service in French).

Our service was a family service in English, but the crowd there was still quite diverse. There were a few different speakers, one of whom was an Indian wearing a sari, so I thought that was pretty cool. At the end of the service, we sang “Silent Night” and held lit candles; it was quite nice.

Our next stop was a burger restaurant, located on the beach. The burgers were pretty good; at least the best I have had so far in Oman, and the restaurant was warehouse-fancy themed, so it reminded me of one of my favorite restaurants back in Atlanta.

After dinner, the NSLI-Y girls went to Lydia’s house for a sleepover (her house is HUGE) and we did secret santa gift exchange. Merry Christmas Eve!

 

December 25, 2013

And a Merry Christmas!

Lydia’s host mother cooked us a big breakfast, mashallah, but I was so full still. A bus came to pick up up at 8:30 for our Christmas Day activity: spending the day with an American family!

I was in a group with Kirby, and Talya (a YES girl) and we were hosted by an American family (the father works in the US Embassy in Oman, so there’s the connection to AMIDEAST). They had three adorable little boys and it was so sweet of the family to allow us to join them today.

We spent the day at their house playing board games, talking, and eating (their food was so good! It was so nice to have an American home-cooked meal). It was a nice, relaxing and enjoyable day, and an escape back to America for a few hours.

The family was so interesting since they have lived all over the world. It was also an interesting glimpse into the life of a foreign service officer (since I am interested in that as a possible career). I learned a lot about one’s possible lifestyle, its perks, downsides, and in general, got a better understanding of the different jobs and lifestyles available. It was also interesting to see how one’s experience can vary widely between people in a new country. For example, as I saw, many foreign service officers live in areas with many other people from the same country (in this case, many Americans lived in that area). The house is provided by the government, so it is almost like a bubble away from the host culture where you live with your family and can maintain your original culture. Not that this is bad, but it just highlighted how depending on what your job is/purpose for being in the country, your experience will vary widely.

After that, the bus dropped me off at my house and I caught up on a week of non-blogging.

Last Day

December 23, 2013

Last day with my parents :( making the day bittersweet.

We kept the day simple and relaxing, hanging out at the house during the morning. After lunch, we went to a few of the malls (MGM, City Center, and another one that I don’t remember). Then we walked on the beach and sat at a cafe overlooking the beach. Later, we went to a great Persian restaurant overlooking the beach.

After I got all my things, my parents dropped me off at my host parents’ house. It was hard to say goodbye all over again (especially outside my house with my host parents waiting inside). Then my host parents invited my parents inside, so they sat there for a bit. So then I had to say bye again. Basically, not the most fun evening.

Nizwa (fail)

December 22, 2013

In the morning, we went to the Grand Mosque (it is open to the public between 9-11, excluding Friday, when it is closed the the public for the whole day). I love the Grand Mosque so much; it is such a beautiful building.

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We then drove to Nizwa, which is in interior Oman (close to Bahla– I already did a post on Nizwa, so check that out for more details). I wanted my parents to see a bit of what interior Oman is like (in a lot of places, it is less developed than Muscat, with older houses). We wanted to go to the Nizwa Fort, but unfortunately, it was closed for bug prevention spraying. Instead, we walked around the souk for a bit before it closed for lunch and then ate lunch ourselves.

There was not a ton more to do, so we drove back to Muscat and went to Carrefour so that I could buy some things I’d been wanting to buy.

In the evening we met with Homeid (my Arabic teacher) for dinner at a delicious Arabic restaurant where I got shwarma!

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Wadi Al Shabb

December 21, 2013

Back to Wadi Al Shabb! (I’ve already written a post about it when I visited it with my host family, so no reason to describe it once again). This time, however, there were a lot less people and I was with my parents and Liz! There were only a few other tourists (mostly French I think). We didn’t eat lunch there; we just walked through the wadi, but only reached the same area that I reached with my host family. On my bucket list is to finish the whole wadi!

It was just as beautiful as last time and I was so happy that my parents and Liz got to see it. Unfortunately, we had evening plans so we were in a bit of a hurry.

After the wadi, we drove to my neighborhood to drop Liz off at her house (finally, I am starting to get the layout of my neighborhood enough to somewhat direct a car) and then we went to my house. My parents got a chance to look at my house and room and sat with my host parents to drink coffee and eat dates.

Then we hurried back to the house we are staying in to shower and get dressed for the Opera (my host uncle got us free tickets for the Opera)! We saw two famous Tunisian singers: L. Bouchnak Tarab and Leila Hejaiej. We met my host parents at the theater and looked around the beautiful theater (which also houses some fancy restaurants and jewelry shops). People were very dressed up (in fact, my father was stopped because of his pants and they said he could not come in unless he wore a suit jacket on top or a dishdasha (both would be provided by them (a sign said Omani men have to wear dishdashas to enter (wow so many parentheses (parentheses inception)))).

We had really great seats the the Opera House was beautiful! Its design was intricate, but tasteful, with decorate marble-work. Both singers, especially Tarab (his singing was very theatrical and emotional–in the best way possible!) were amazing. The crowd got really into the music and at some parts were singing along with them and dancing. Some people were even crying.

Here’s a song by Tarab:

Afterwards my parents and I went for a yummy dinner at an Indian restaurant.