Oman officially the Sultanate of Oman (Arabic: سلطنة عُمان Salṭanat ʻUmān), is an Arab state in Southwest Asia, on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, where it holds a strategically important position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The nation is bordered by the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the southwest, and shares marine borders with Iran and Pakistan. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the southeast and the Gulf of Oman on the northeast. The Madha and Musandam exclaves are surrounded by the UAE on their land borders, with the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman forming Musandam’s coastal boundaries.
From the late 17th century the Omani Sultanate was a powerful empire, vying with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. At its peak in the 19th century, Omani influence or control extended across the Strait of Hormuz to Iran and modern-day Pakistan, and as far south as Zanzibar (today part of Tanzania). As its power declined in the 20th century, the sultanate came under the influence of the United Kingdom, although Oman was never formally part of the British Empire, or a British protectorate.
Omani people are ethnically diverse, consisting of Arabs, ethnic Balochis, Swahilis, ethnic Lurs (who speak Kumzari), Hindus, and Mehri people. The largest non-Arab Omani community are the Balochi, an Iranian people following the Sunni faith. At least 12 different languages are native to Omani citizens. Oman’s official religion isIbadi Islam.
Oman is an absolute monarchy in which the Sultan of Oman exercises ultimate authority, but its parliament has some legislative and oversight powers. It is a member of the United Nations, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League, and has long standing military and political ties with theUnited Kingdom and the United States.
Unlike its resource-rich neighbors, Oman has modest oil reserves, ranking at 25th globally. Nevertheless, in 2010 the UNDP ranked Oman as the most improved nation in the world in terms of development during the preceding 40 years. Additionally, Oman is categorized as a high income economy and ranks as the 59th most peaceful country in the world.
At Aybut Al Auwal in the Dhofar region of Oman a site was discovered in 2011 containing more than 100 surface scatters of stone tools belonging to a regionally specific African lithic industry – the late Nubian Complex – known previously only from the northeast and Horn of Africa. Two optically stimulated luminescence age estimates place the Arabian Nubian Complex at 106,000 years old. This supports the proposition that early human populations moved from Africa into Arabia during the Late Pleistocene.
Dereaze, located in the city of Ibri, is the oldest known human settlement in the area, dating back as many as 8,000 years to the late Stone Age. Archaeological remains have been discovered here from the Stone Age and the Bronze Age; findings have included stone implements, animal bones, shells and fire hearths, with the later dating back to 7615 BC as the oldest signs of human settlement in the area. Other discoveries include hand-molded pottery bearing distinguishing pre-Bronze Age marks, heavy flint implements, pointed tools and scrapers.
On a mountain rock-face in the same district, cave paintings have been discovered. Similar drawings have also been found in the Wadi Sahtan and Wadi Bani Kharus areas of Rustaq. They consist of human figures carrying weapons and being confronted by wild animals. Siwan in Haima is another local Stone Age site where archaeologists have found arrowheads, knives, chisels and circular stones, which may have been used to hunt wild game.
Sumerian tablets refer to a country called Magan or Makan, a name believed to refer to Oman’s ancient copper mines. Mazoon, another name used for the region, is derived from the word muzn, which means heavy clouds which carry abundant water. The present-day name of the country, Oman, is believed to originate from the Arab tribes who migrated to its territory from the Uman region of Yemen; many such tribes settled in Oman, making a living by fishing, herding or stock breeding, and many present day Omani families are able to trace their ancestral roots to other parts of Arabia.
From the 6th century BC to the arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD, Oman was controlled and/or influenced by three Persian dynasties: the Achaemenids, Parthians and Sassanids. A few scholars believe that in the 6th century BC, the Achaemenids exerted a strong degree of control over the Omani peninsula, most likely ruling from a coastal center such as Sohar. Central Oman has its own indigenous so-called Late Iron Age cultural assemblage, the Samad al-Shan. By about 250 BC, the Parthian dynasty had brought the Persian Gulf under their control. They extended their influence as far as Oman, establishing garrisons there to exert control over the trade routes in the Persian Gulf. In the 3rd century AD, the Sassanids succeeded the Parthians and held the area until the rise of Islam four centuries later.
Arrival of Islam
Omanis were among the first people to come in contact with and accept Islam. The conversion of the Omanis is usually ascribed to Amr ibn al-As, who was sent by Muhammad around 630 AD to invite Jayfar and ‘Abd, the joint rulers of Oman at that time, to accept the faith. In submitting to Islam, Oman became an Ibadhi state, ruled by an elected leader, the Imam.
During the early years of the Islamic mission, Oman played a major role in the Wars of Apostasy that occurred after the death of Muhammad, and also took part in the great Islamic conquests by land and sea in Iraq,Persia (Iran) and beyond. Oman’s most prominent role in this respect was through its extensive trading and seafaring activities in the African Great Lakes region and the Far East, particularly during the 19th century, when it helped introduce Islam to the Swahili Coast, certain areas of Central Africa, India, Southeast Asia and China. After its submission to Islam, Oman was ruled by Umayyads between 661–750, Abbasids between 750–931, 932–933 and 934–967, Qarmatians between 931–932 and 933–934, Buyids between 967–1053, and the Seljuks of Kirman between 1053–1154.
A decade after Vasco da Gama’s successful voyage around the Cape of Good Hope and to India in 1497–98, the Portuguese arrived in Oman and occupied Muscat for a 143-year period, from 1507 to 1650. Their fortress still remains. In need of an outpost to protect their sea lanes, the Portuguese built up and fortified the city, where remnants of their colonial architectural style still exist. An Ottoman fleet captured Muscat in 1552, during the fight for control of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. The Ottoman Turks captured Muscat from the Portuguese again between 1581–88.
Rebellious tribes eventually drove out the Portuguese, but were themselves pushed out about a century later, in 1741, by the leader of a Yemeni tribe, who began the current line of ruling sultans. Except for a brief Persian invasion in the late 1740s, Oman has been self-governing ever since.
No foreign power controlled the entirety of what is now Oman. The majority of the territory was always ruled by tribes, with colonial control restricted to a few strategic port cities. Oman, as it exists now, was never under the total sway of European colonization.
18th and 19th centuries
In the 1690s, Saif bin Sultan, the Imam of Oman, pressed down the Swahili Coast. A major obstacle to his progress was Fort Jesus, housing the garrison of a Portuguesesettlement at Mombasa. After a two-year siege, the fort fell to bin Sultan in 1698. Thereafter the Omanis easily ejected the Portuguese from Zanzibar and from all other coastal regions north of Mozambique, with the help of the Somali Ajuran Sultanate. The Persians invaded Oman in 1737. They were driven out in 1749 when the Al Said dynasty came to power. They continue to rule to this day.
Zanzibar was a valuable property as the main slave market of the Swahili Coast, and became an increasingly important part of the Omani empire, a fact reflected by the decision of the 19th century Sultan of Oman, Sa’id ibn Sultan, to make it his main place of residence in 1837. Sa’id built impressive palaces and gardens in Zanzibar. Rivalry between his two sons was resolved, with the help of forceful British diplomacy, when one of them, Majid, succeeded to Zanzibar and to the many regions claimed by the family on the Swahili Coast. The other son, Thuwaini, inherited Muscat and Oman.
Zanzibar influences in the Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean indirectly introduced Omani customs to the Comorian culture. These influences include clothing traditions and wedding ceremonies.
In 1783, Oman’s Saiad Sultan, defeated ruler of Muscat, was granted sovereignty over Gwadar. This coastal city is located in the Makran region of what is now the far southwestern corner of Pakistan, near the present-day border of Iran, at the mouth of the Gulf of Oman. After regaining control of Muscat, this sovereignty was continued (via an appointed wali, “governor”) and close relations were maintained with the Emirs of Sindh.
The Hajar Mountains, of which the Jebel Akhdar is a part, separate the country into two distinct regions: the interior, known as Oman, and the coastal area dominated by the capital, Muscat. In 1913, control of the country split. The interior was ruled by Ibadite imams and the coastal areas by the sultan. Under the terms of the British-brokered Treaty of Seeb of 1920, the sultan recognised the autonomy of the interior. The Sultan of Muscat would be responsible for the external affairs of Oman.
Reign of Sultan Said
The rule of Sultan Said bin Taimur was characterised by a feudal and isolationist approach.
Imam Ghalib Al Hinai was the elected Imam of the Imamate of Oman in May 1954. Relations between the Sultan of Muscat, Said bin Taimur, and Imam Ghalib were ruptured over a dispute concerning the right to grant oil concessions. A subsidiary of the Iraq Petroleum Company was intensely interested in some promising geological formations near Fahud. Under the terms of the 1920 treaty of Seeb, the Sultan claimed all dealings with the oil company as his prerogative. The Imam, on the other hand, claimed that since the oil was in his territory, anything dealing with it was an internal matter.
In December 1955, Sultan Said bin Taimur sent troops of the Muscat and Oman Field Force to occupy the main centres in Oman, including Nizwa, the capital of the Imamate of Oman, and Ibri. Imam Ghalib bin Ali along with his younger brother Talib bin Ali Al Hinai, led the Imamate of Oman in the Jebel Akhdar War against Sultan Said bin Taimur’s attack on his lands. In July 1957, the Sultan’s forces were withdrawing, but they were repeatedly ambushed, sustaining heavy casualties. Sultan Said bin Taimur, however, with the intervention of infantry (two companies of the Cameronians) and armoured car detachments from the British Army and aircraft of the RAF was able to suppress the rebellion. Talib’s forces retreated to the inaccessible Jebel Akhdar.
Colonel David Smiley, who had been seconded to organize the Sultan’s Armed Forces, managed to isolate the mountain in autumn 1958 and found a route to the plateau from Wadi Bani Kharu. On 27 January 1959, they occupied the mountain in a surprise operation. Ghalib, Talib and Sulaiman managed to escape to Saudi Arabia, where the imamate’s cause was promoted until the 1970s. The Treaty of Seeb was terminated and the autonomous Imamate of Oman abolished giving way to the present day Sultanate.
In 1955, Makran acceded to Pakistan and was made a district – although Gwadar, at the time, was not included in Makran. On 8 September 1958, Pakistan purchased the Gwadar enclave from Oman for $3 million. Gwadar then became a tehsil in the Makran district.
Oil reserves were discovered in 1964 and extraction began in 1967. In the Dhofar Rebellion, which began in 1965, leftist forces were pitted against government troops. As the rebellion threatened to overthrow the Sultan’s rule in Dhofar, Sultan Said bin Taimur was deposed in a bloodless coup (1970) by his son Qaboos bin Said, who expanded Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces, modernised the state’s administration and introduced social reforms. The uprising was finally put down in 1975 with the help of forces from Iran, Jordan, Pakistan and the British Royal Air Force and Special Air Service.
Reign of Sultan Qaboos
After deposing his father in 1970, Sultan Qaboos opened up the country, embarked on economic reforms, and followed a policy of modernisation marked by increased spending on health, education and welfare. In 1981 Oman became a founding member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.
Political reforms were eventually introduced. Historically, voters had been chosen from among tribal leaders, intellectuals, and businessmen. In 1997 Sultan Qaboos decreed that women could vote for, and stand for election to, the Majlis al-Shura, the Consultative Assembly of Oman. Two women were duly elected to the body.
In 2002, voting rights were extended to all citizens over the age of 21, and the first elections to the Consultative Assembly under the new rules were held in 2003. In 2004, the Sultan appointed Oman’s first female minister with portfolio, Sheikha Aisha bint Khalfan bin Jameel al-Sayabiyah. She was appointed to the post of National Authority for Industrial Craftsmanship, an office that attempts to preserve and promote Oman’s traditional crafts and stimulate industry.
Despite these changes, there was little change to the actual political make-up of the government. The Sultan continued to rule by decree. Nearly 100 suspected Islamists were arrested in 2005 and 31 people were convicted of trying to overthrow the government. They were ultimately pardoned in June of the same year.
Inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings taking place throughout the region, protests also occurred in Oman during the early months of 2011. Although they did not call for the ousting of the regime, demonstrators demanded political reforms, improved living conditions, and the creation of more jobs. They were dispersed by riot police in February 2011. Sultan Qaboos reacted by promising jobs and benefits. In October 2011, elections were held to the Consultative Assembly, for which Sultan Qaboos promised greater powers. The following year, the government began a crackdown on Internet criticism. In September 2012, trials began of ‘activists’ accused of posting “abusive and provocative” criticism of the government online. Six were given jail terms of 12–18 months and fines of around $2,500 each.
Oman lies between latitudes 16° and 28° N, and longitudes 52° and 60° E.
A vast gravel desert plain covers most of central Oman, with mountain ranges along the north (Al Hajar Mountains) and southeast coast, where the country’s main cities are also located: the capital city Muscat, Sohar and Sur in the north, and Salalah in the south. Oman’s climate is hot and dry in the interior and humid along the coast. During past epochs Oman was covered by ocean, witnessed by the large numbers of fossilized shells existing in areas of the desert away from the modern coastline.
The peninsula of Musandam (Musandem) exclave, which has a strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz, is separated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates. The series of small towns known collectively as Dibba are the gateway to the Musandam peninsula on land and the fishing villages of Musandam by sea, with boats available for hire at Khasab for trips into the Musandam peninsula by sea.
Oman’s other exclave, inside UAE territory, known as Madha, located halfway between the Musandam Peninsula and the main body of Oman, is part of the Musandam governorate, covering approximately 75 km2 (29 sq mi). Madha’s boundary was settled in 1969, with the north-east corner of Madha barely 10 m (32.8 ft) from the Fujairah road. Within the Madha exclave is a UAE enclave called Nahwa, belonging to the Emirate of Sharjah, situated about 8 km (5 mi) along a dirt track west of the town of New Madha, consisting of about forty houses with a clinic and telephone exchange.
The central desert of Oman is an important source of meteorites for scientific analysis.
Like the rest of the Persian Gulf, Oman generally has one of the hottest climates in the world, and receives little rainfall. Annual rainfall in Muscat averages 100 mm (3.9 in), falling mostly in January. The DhofarMountains area has a tropical-like climate and receives seasonal rainfall (from late June to late September) as a result of the monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean, saturated with cool moisture and heavy fog. The mountain areas receive more plentiful rainfall, and annual rainfall on the higher parts of the Jabal Akhdar probably exceeds 400 mm (15.7 in). Low temperatures in the mountainous areas result in snow cover once every few years. Some parts of the coast, particularly near the island of Masirah, sometimes receive no rain at all within the course of a year. The climate generally is very hot, with temperatures reaching around 50 °C (122.0 °F) (peak) in the hot season, from May to September.
Flora and fauna
Desert shrub and desert grass, common to southern Arabia, are found in Oman, but vegetation is sparse in the interior plateau, which is largely gravel desert.
The greater monsoon rainfall in Dhofar and the mountains makes the growth there more luxuriant during summer; coconut palms grow plentifully in the coastal plains of Dhofar and frankincense is produced in the hills, with abundant oleander and varieties of acacia.
The Al Hajar Mountains are a distinct ecoregion, the highest points in eastern Arabia with wildlife including the Arabian tahr.
Indigenous mammals include the leopard, hyena, fox, wolf, hare, oryx, and ibex. Birds include the vulture, eagle, stork, bustard, Arabian partridge, bee eater, falcon, and sunbird. In 2001, Oman had nine endangered species of mammals, five endangered types of birds, and nineteen threatened plant species. Decrees have been passed to protect endangered species, including the Arabian leopard, Arabian Oryx, Mountain gazelle, Goitered Gazelle, Arabian tahr, Green sea turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, and Olive ridley turtle. However, the Oman Arabian Oryx sanctuary is the first site ever to be deleted from UNESCO’s World Heritage List, due to the government’s decision to reduce the site to 10% of its former size so that the remainder could be opened to oil prospectors.
Drought and limited rainfall contribute to shortages in the nation’s water supply, so maintaining an adequate supply of water for agricultural and domestic use is one of Oman’s most pressing environmental problems, with limited renewable water resources; 94% of available water is used in farming and 2% for industrial activity, with the majority sourced from fossil water in the desert areas and spring water in hills and mountains. Drinking water is available throughout the country, either piped or delivered.
The soil in coastal plains, such as Salalah, have shown increased levels of salinity, due to over exploitation of ground water and encroachment by seawater in the water table. Pollution of beaches and other coastal areas by oil tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman is also a persistent risk.
Oman is an absolute monarchy in which all legislative, executive, and judiciary power ultimately rests in the hands of the hereditary sultan, and in which the system of laws is based firmly on Islamic sharia. Freedom House has routinely rated the country “Not Free”.
The Omani legislature is the bicameral Council of Oman, consisting of an upper chamber, the Council of State (Majlis ad-Dawlah) and a lower chamber, the Consultative Council(Majlis ash-Shoura). Political parties are banned. The upper chamber has 71 members, appointed by the Sultan from among prominent Omanis; it has only advisory powers. The 84 members of the Consultative Council are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms, but the Sultan makes the final selections and can negotiate the election results. The members are appointed for three-year terms, which may be renewed once. The last elections were held on 15 October 2011.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said is the de facto prime minister and also controls the foreign affairs and defence portfolios. The sultan has absolute power and issues laws by decree. He is the longest-serving ruler in the Middle East.
The judiciary branch is subordinate to the sultan and the Ministry of Justice. Sharia (Islamic law) is the source of all legislation, and Sharia Court Departments within the civil court system are responsible for family-law matters, such as divorce and inheritance. In some rural areas, tribal laws and customs are commonly used to settle disputes.
The Basic Statute of the State is the cornerstone of the Omani legal system and it operates as a constitution for the country. The Basic Statute was issued in the year 1996 and thus far has only been amended once, in 2011, as a response to protests.
The administration of justice is highly personalised, with limited due process protections, especially in political and security-related cases. A 2012 report by Bertelsmann Stiftung declared that while “Oman’s legal code theoretically protects civil liberties and personal freedoms, both are regularly ignored by the regime. Oman, therefore, cannot be considered free.”
Since 1970 Oman has pursued a moderate foreign policy, and has expanded its diplomatic relations dramatically. It is among the very few Arab countries that have maintained friendly ties with Iran. WikiLeaks disclosed US diplomatic cables which state that Oman helped free British sailors captured by Iran’s navy in 2007. The same cables also portray the Omani government as wishing to maintain cordial relations with Iran, and as having consistently resisted US diplomatic pressure to adopt a sterner stance.
Oman’s military manpower totalled 44,100 in 2006, including 25,000 men in the army, 4,200 sailors in the navy, and an air force with 4,100 personnel. The Royal Household maintained 5,000 Guards, 1,000 in Special Forces, 150 sailors in the Royal Yacht fleet, and 250 pilots and ground personnel in the Royal Flight squadrons. Oman also maintains a modestly sized paramilitary force of 4,400 men.
The Royal Army of Oman had 25,000 active personnel in 2006, plus a small contingent of Royal Household troops. Despite a comparative large military spending, it has been relatively slow to modernize its forces. Oman has a relatively limited number of tanks, including 6 M60A1, 73 M60A3, and 38 Challenger 2 main battle tanks, as well as 37 agingScorpion light tanks.
The Royal Air Force of Oman has approximately 4,100 men, with only 36 combat aircraft and no armed helicopters. Combat aircraft include 20 aging Jaguars, 12 Hawk Mk 203s, 4 Hawk Mk 103s, and 12 PC-9 turboprop trainers with a limited combat capability. It has one squadron of 12 F-16C/D aircraft. Oman also has 4 A202-18 Bravos, and 8 MFI-17B Mushshaqs.
The Royal Navy of Oman had 4,200 men in 2000, and is headquartered at Seeb. It has bases at Ahwi, Ghanam Island, Mussandam and Salalah. In 2006, Oman had 10 surface combat vessels. These included two 1,450-ton Qahir class corvettes, and 8 ocean-going patrol boats. The Omani Navy had one 2,500-ton Nasr al Bahr class LSL (240 troops, 7 tanks) with a helicopter deck. Oman also had at least four landing craft. Oman ordered three Khareef-class corvettes from the VT Group for £400 million in 2007. They are being built at Portsmouth.
In 2010 Oman spent US$4.074 billion on military expenditures, 8.5% of the gross domestic product. The sultanate has a long history of association with the British military and defence industry.
Oman’s Basic Statute of the State expresses in Article 11 that the “national economy is based on justice and the principles of a free economy.”
Omani citizens enjoy good living standards, but the future is uncertain with Oman’s limited oil reserves. Other sources of income, agriculture and industry, are small in comparison and account for less than 1% of the country’s exports, but diversification is seen as a priority by the government. Agriculture, often subsistence in its character, produces dates, limes, grains, and vegetables, but with less than 1% of the country under cultivation, Oman is likely to remain a net importer of food.
Since a slump in oil prices in 1998, Oman has made active plans to diversify its economy and is placing a greater emphasis on other areas of industry, such as tourism. Metkore Alloys is due to build a world-class 1,650,000-tonnes-per-annum capacity ferro-chrome smelter in Oman with an envisaged investment of $80 million.
A free-trade agreement with the United States took effect 1 January 2009, eliminating tariff barriers on all consumer and industrial products, and also providing strong protections for foreign businesses investing in Oman. Tourism, another source of Oman’s revenue, is on the rise. A popular event is The Khareef Festival held in Salalah, Dhofar, which is 1,200 km from the capital city of Muscat, during the monsoon season (August) and is similar to Muscat Festival. During this latter event the mountains surrounding Salalah are popular with tourists as a result of the cool weather and lush greenery, rarely found anywhere else in Oman.
Oman’s foreign workers send an estimated US$30 billion annually to their Asian and African home states, more than half of them earning a monthly wage of less than US$400. The largest foreign community is from the south Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka or come from Maharastra, Gujarat and the Punjab, representing more than half of entire workforce in Oman. Salaries for overseas workers are known to be less than for Omani nationals, though still from two to five times higher than for the equivalent job in India. The Oman Ferries Company maintains the two diesel-powered, high-speed, car ferries – Shinas and Hormouz. The ferries are used for travel between Muscat and Khasab. Khasab is strategically located in Musandam on the southern tip of the Strait of Hormuz and is controlled by Oman. Mainland Oman is separated by a small strip of UAE territory from Musandam.
Oil and gas industries
Oman’s proved reserves of petroleum total about 5.5 billion barrels, 25th largest in the world. Oil is extracted and processed by Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), with proven oil reserves holding approximately steady, although oil production has been declining. The Ministry of Oil and Gas is responsible for all oil and gas infrastructure and projects in Oman.
Between 2000 and 2007, production fell by more than 26%, from 972,000 to 714,800 barrels per day. Production has recovered to 816,000 barrels in 2009, and 930,000 barrels per day in 2012. Oman’s natural gas reserves are estimated at 849.5 billion cubic meters, ranking 28th in the world, and production in 2008 was about 24 billion cubic meters per year.
As of 2013, Oman’s total population is 3.8 million; 2.15 million Omani nationals and 1.68 million expatriates. The total fertility rate in 2011 was estimated at 3.70. 43% of the population is under the age of 15. About 50% of the population lives in Muscat and the Batinah coastal plain northwest of the capital; about 200,000 live in the Dhofar (southern) region, and about 30,000 live in the remote Musandam Peninsula on the Strait of Hormuz.
The country has a racially mixed native population, a legacy of its imperial past. Many Omani Arabs are returnees from the Swahili Coast, where they lived alongside Bantu peoples. Oman’s passports and immigration office estimates that around one third of the nation’s population of two million (~670,000) were either born in that region or their parents were. Due to these historical ties, a number of Omanis speak the Swahili language of Zanzibar. Additionally, the government of Oman automatically grants citizenship to all Zanzibaris who have Omani ancestral heritage.
In addition, there are Omanis who are originally from the Baluchistan region of Pakistan and Iran. Since Oman took control over the Baluchistan port of Gwadar (Oman no longer rules over this region) in 1783, there has been a gradual migration of Baluch to Oman. Today, they are full Omani nationals, but they have maintained their ethnic and linguistic distinctions. They make up around 250,000 of the Omani population and predominantly live in the Muscat area and in the Batinah region. There are also other minority groups who are very small in number, such as the Ajam, Lawatias and the Indian Hindu Omani nationals, who are sometimes known locally as the Banyan. 600,000 foreigners live in Oman, most of whom are guest workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and the Philippines.
The Oman government does not keep statistics on religious affiliation, but about 75% of Omanis are Muslims, of whom about three-quarters follow the Ibadi School of Islam, which is distinct from the Sunni and Shia denominations. It is the only remaining expression of Kharijism, which was created as a result of one of the first schisms within the religion. Historically, Ibadi has been one of the largest Omani religious sects, and the Sultan is a member of the Ibadi community.
Non-Muslim religious communities include various groups of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Baha’is, and Christians. Christian communities are centred in the major urban areas of Muscat, Sohar, and Salalah and include Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and various Protestant congregations, organizing along linguistic and ethnic lines. More than 50 different Christian groups, fellowships, and assemblies are active in the Muscat metropolitan area, formed by migrant workers from Southeast Asia.
There are also communities of ethnic Indian Hindus and Christians. Muscat has two Hindu temples. One of them is over a hundred years old. There is also a significant Sikh community in Oman. Though there are no permanent gurudwaras, many smaller gurudwaras in makeshift camps exist and are recognised by the government. The Government of India had signed an accord in 2008 with the Omani government to build a permanent gurudwara but little progress has been made on the matter.
Arabic is the official language of Oman. Balochi is widely spoken. Endangered languages in Oman include Kumzari, Bathari, Harsusi, Hobyot, Jibbali, Mehri. Omani Sign Language is the language of the deaf community.
Although Arabic is Oman’s official language, there are native speakers of different dialects, as well as Balochi (the language of the Baloch people from Balochistan western-Pakistan, eastern Iran, and southern Afghanistan) or offshoots of Southern Arabian, and some descendants of Sindhi sailors. Also spoken in Oman are Semitic languages only distantly related to Arabic, but closely related to Semitic languages in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Swahili is also widely spoken in the country due to the historical relations between Oman and Zanzibar, English is also widely spoken in the business community and is taught at school from an early age. The dominant indigenous language is a dialect of Arabic although Baluchi and Swahili are also widely spoken. Almost all signs and writings appear in both Arabic and English. A significant number also speak Urdu, due to the influx of Pakistani migrants during the late 1980s and the 1990s. Oman was the first Persian Gulf state to have German taught as a third language.
The traditional Dhow, an enduring symbol of Oman.
Outwardly, Oman shares many of the cultural characteristics of its Arab neighbours, particularly those in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Despite these similarities, important factors make Oman unique in the Middle East. These result as much from geography and history as from culture and economics.
The relatively recent and artificial nature of the state in Oman makes it difficult to describe a national culture; however, sufficient cultural heterogeneity exists within its national boundaries to make Oman distinct from other Arab States of the Persian Gulf. Oman’s cultural diversity is much greater than that of its Arab neighbours, given its historical expansion to the Swahili Coast and the Indian Ocean.
Oman has a long tradition of shipbuilding, as maritime travel played a major role in the Omanis’ ability to stay in contact with the civilisations of the ancient world. Sur was one of the most famous shipbuilding cities of the Indian Ocean. The Al Ghanja ship takes one whole year to build. Other types of Omani ship include As Sunbouq and Al Badan.
The male national dress consists of the dishdasha, a simple, ankle-length, collarless gown with long sleeves. Most frequently white in colour, the dishdasha may also appear in a variety of other colors. Its main adornment, a tassel (furakha) sewn into the neckline, can be impregnated with perfume. Underneath the dishdasha, men wear a plain, wide strip of cloth wrapped around the body from the waist down. The most noted regional differences in dishdasha designs are the style with which they are embroidered, which varies according to age group. On formal occasions a black or beige cloak called a bisht may cover the dishdasha. The embroidery edging the cloak is often in silver or gold thread and it is intricate in detail.
Omani men wear two types of head dress:
- themussar, a square cut piece of woven wool or cotton fabric of a single colour, decorated with various embroidered patterns
- thekummah, a cap that is the head dress worn during leisure hours.
Some men carry the assa, a stick, which can have practical uses or is simply used as an accessory during formal events. Omani men, on the whole, wear sandals on their feet.
A khanjar, the traditional dagger of Oman (c. 1924).
The khanjar (dagger) forms part of the national dress and men wear the khanjar on all formal public occasions and festivals. It is traditionally worn at the waist. Sheaths may vary from simple covers to ornate silver or gold-decorated pieces. It is a symbol of a man’s origin, his manhood and courage. A depiction of a khanjar appears on the national flag.
Omani women wear eye-catching national costumes, with distinctive regional variations. All costumes incorporate vivid colours and vibrant embroidery and decorations. In the past, the choice of colours reflected a tribe’s tradition. The Omani women’s traditional costume comprises several garments: the dishdasha or kandoorah, which is a long tunic whose sleeves orradoon are adorned with hand-stitched embroidery of various designs. The dishdasha is worn over a pair of loose fitting trousers, tight at the ankles, known as a sirwal. Women also wear a head shawl most commonly referred to as the lihaf.
As of 2014 women reserve wearing their traditional dress for special occasions, and instead wear a loose black cloak called an abaya over their personal choice of clothing, whilst in some regions, particularly amongst the Bedouin, the burqa is still worn. Women wear hijab, and though some women cover their faces and hands, most do not. The Sultan has forbidden the covering of faces in public office.
Music of Oman – In 1985, Sultan Qaboos founded the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, an act attributed to his love for classical music. Instead of engaging foreign musicians, he decided to establish an orchestra made up of Omanis. On 1 July 1987 at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel’s Oman Auditorium the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra gave its inaugural concert. There are over 130 different forms of traditional Omani songs and dances. The Oman Centre for Traditional Music was established in 1984 to preserve them.
The cinema of Oman is very small, there being only one Omani film Al-Boom (2006) as of 2007.
Sultanate of Oman Television began broadcasting for the first time from Muscat on 17 November 1974 and separately from Salalah on 25 November 1975. On 1 June 1979, the two stations at Muscat and Salalah linked by satellite to form a unified broadcasting service. In order to overcome the natural obstacles created by the mountainous terrain, a network of stations spread across the country in both populated and remote areas transmit Oman TV’s broadcasts.
Omanis usually eat their main daily meal at midday, while the evening meal is lighter. During Ramadan, dinner is served after the Taraweeh prayers, sometimes as late as 11 pm. However these dinner timings differ according to each family – for instance, some families would choose to eat right after maghrib prayers and have dessert after taraweeh.
Arsia, a festival meal served during celebrations, consists of mashed rice and meat (sometimes chicken). Another popular festival meal, shuwa, consists of meat cooked very slowly (sometimes for up to 2 days) in an underground clay-oven. The meat becomes extremely tender and it is infused with spices and herbs before cooking to give it a very distinct taste. Fish is often used in main dishes too, and the kingfish is a popular ingredient. Mashuai is a meal consisting of a whole spit-roasted kingfish served with lemon rice.
Rukhal bread is a thin, round bread originally baked over a fire made from palm leaves. It is eaten at any meal, typically served with Omani honey for breakfast or crumbled over curry for dinner. Chicken, fish, and lamb or mutton are regularly used in dishes. The Omani halwa is a very popular sweet, basically consisting of cooked raw sugar with nuts. There are many different flavors, the most popular ones being the black halwa (original) and the saffron halwa. Halwa is considered as a symbol of Omani hospitality, and is traditionally served with coffee.
As is the case with most Middle Eastern countries, alcohol is only available in some hotels and a few restaurants. Alcohol shops sell to non-Muslims who have a license. Unlike nationals of other GCC countries, Omani men are allowed to freely drink alcohol in a bar or restaurant whilst wearing Omani national dress.
Oman hosted and won the 2009 Gulf Cup of Nations
The government aims to give young people a fully rounded education by providing activities and experience in the sporting, cultural, intellectual, social and scientific spheres, and to excel internationally in these areas. Therefore in October 2004 the government set up a Ministry of Sports Affairs to replace the General Organization for youth, sports and cultural affairs.
The 2009 Gulf Cup of Nations, the 19th edition, took place in Muscat, from 4 to 17 January 2009 and was won by the Omani national football team.
Ali Al-Habsi is an Omani professional association football player. As of 2014 he plays in the Football League Championship as a goalkeeper for Wigan Athletic.
The International Olympic Committee awarded the former GOYSCA its prestigious prize for Sporting excellence in recognition of its contributions to youth and sports and its efforts to promote the Olympic spirit and goals.
The Oman Olympic Committee played a major part in organizing the highly successful 2003 Olympic Days, which were of great benefit to the sports associations, clubs and young participants. The football association took part, along with the handball, basketball, rugby union, hockey, volleyball, athletics, swimming, and tennis associations. In 2010 Muscat hosted the 2010 Asian Beach Games.
Oman also hosts tennis tournaments in different age divisions each year. The Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex stadium contains a 50-meter swimming pool which is used for international tournaments from different schools in different countries. The Tour of Oman, a professional cycling 6-day stage race, takes place in February.
Oman hosted the Asian 2011 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup qualifiers, where 11 teams competed for three spots at the FIFA World Cup.
Oman hosted the Men’s and Women’s 2012 Beach Handball World Championships at the Millennium Resort in Mussanah, from 8 to 13 July.
Oman, along with Fujairah in the UAE, are the only regions in the Middle East that have a variant of bullfighting, known as ‘bull-butting’, organized within their territories Al-Batena area in Oman is specifically prominent for such events. This variant of bullfighting is not a violent one. It involves two bulls of the Brahman breed pitted against one another and as the name implies, they engage in a forceful barrage of head butts. The first one to collapse or concede its ground is declared the loser. Most bull-butting matches are short affairs and last for less than 5 minutes. The origins of bull-butting in Oman remain unknown, but many locals believe it was brought to Oman by the Moors of Spanish origin. Yet others say it has a direct connection with Portugal, which colonized the Omani coastline for nearly two centuries.
Sultan Qaboos University
The adult literacy rate in 2010 was 86.9%. Before 1970, only three formal schools existed in the entire country, with less than 1,000 students. Since Sultan Qaboos’ ascension to power in 1970, the government has given high priority to education in order to develop a domestic work force, which the government considers a vital factor in the country’s economic and social progress. Today there are over 1,000 state schools and about 650,000 students.
Oman’s first university, Sultan Qaboos University, opened in 1986. The University of Nizwa is one of the fastest growing universities in Oman. Other post-secondary institutions in Oman include the Higher College of Technology and its six branches, six colleges of applied sciences (including a teacher’s training college), a college of banking and financial studies, an institute of Sharia sciences, and several nursing institutes. Some 200 scholarships are awarded each year for study abroad.
According to the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, the top-ranking universities in the country are Sultan Qaboos University (1678th worldwide), the Dhofar University(6011th) and the University of Nizwa (6093rd).
Life expectancy at birth in Oman was estimated to be 76.1 years in 2010. As of 2010, there were an estimated 2.1 physicians and 2.1 hospital beds per 1,000 people. In 1993, 89% of the population had access to health care services. In 2000, 99% of the population had access to health care services. During the last three decades, the Oman health care system has demonstrated and reported great achievements in health care services and preventive and curative medicine. In 2001, Oman was ranked number 8 by the World Health Organization.