Oman’s history dates back to 5000 BC, before the Islamic times, when the Dhofar region was the heart of the frankincense trade. Dhofar was known to have the most precious frankincense trees because of the beautiful monsoon seasons that it was blessed with.
According to legend, the frankincense from the Dhofari trees were so special that the Queen of Sheba once visited King Solomon carrying the liquid from the Dhofari frankincense trees. The quality of the frankincense, as well as the strategic location of Oman, made it the hub of trade to the regions of Persia, India as well as Africa.
In 1507, the Portuguese came to know about Oman’s convenient trading location and invaded the country in order to protect their sea-lanes to India. They attacked the Omani ports and were able to colonize the coastal cities of Oman: Muscat, Sur and Sohar. They had control over the coast of Oman for around 150 years until the local Omani tribes drove them out.
The Portuguese didn’t leave a lot behind, however, remains of their colonial architecture are still prominent in many of the historical forts of Oman. The land of Oman gained economic power around the 1800s, as their convenient location and knowledge from the Portuguese helped them take control of foreign countries. They gained access to Iran and Pakistan and colonized Zanzibar, Mombasa and Kenyan sea coasts. During this time, the country was known as Muscat and Oman and had two different leaders, the sultan and Imam, the Ibadhist leader. At this time, Omanis were practising the faith of Ibadhism, as Islam was not yet introduced to the country.
Zanzibar was an important region of the Omani empire, as the Sultan of Oman, Sa’id ibn Sultan decided to live there permanently. He built beautiful palaces and gardens and was able to strengthen the region’s economy by introducing many spices.
However, soon after Sa’id died in 1856, the area was divided between his two sons due to their rivalry. One became the Sultan of Zanzibar while the other ruled Oman. This division, therefore, broke the link of Oman and Zanzibar.
In 1938, a new Sultan, Said bin Taimur gained control of Oman. However, due to his beliefs and conservative ways, Said was against change and segregated Oman from the world. This affected the country’s economy tremendously, as Oman fell into poverty. Illiteracy and infant mortality rates soared, and the population started rebelling against the Sultan. The unrest settled once Said’s son, Qaboos captured the throne and banished his father to London, where he lived until his death.
After Sultan Qaboos seized the throne, the country’s economy boomed. He changed the nation’s name to the Sultanate of Oman and strengthened the country as a whole. He modernized the economy and Oman began exporting oil. People’s quality of life improved vastly, while its social and cultural renaissance was set in motion. Oman’s oil revenue was invested in building schools, hospitals and national infrastructure. The country was finally able to take advantage of its trade location to further grow and improve its economy.
History of Religion in Oman
Oman welcomed the religion of Islam during the lifetime o the prophet Mohammed. In the 6th century, the two kings of Oman received a letter from Prophet Mohammed encouraging them to convert to his religion. The two kings, Abd and Jaifar studied and considered this, but were convinced quickly and converted. Soon, Islam was accepted with ease in Oman, without compulsion. This led the Prophet Mohammad to state “God’s mercy be on the people of Al Ghubaira (the people of Oman)… They have believed in me although they had not seen me.”
Later, Abd and Jaifar expelled the Persians who had controlled both Muscat and Oman and were able to unite the Arabian tribes in the nation. Some 50 years after the death of Prophet Mohammad, a denomination of Islam was formed in Oman, called Ibadi. It predated both the Sunni and Shia dominations in both regions. Now, Oman is the only Muslim country in the world to have a majority of Ibadi population.
Ibadi is a major form of Islam that is still practised in Zanzibar and Oman. Ibadi differs from the greater denominations of Islam as they discard the practice of Qunut (certain standing positions for prayers). Moreover, they believe that God will not be present on the Day of Judgment. Furthermore, unlike Sunnis who believe that once in Hell, one will only stay there for a short amount of time, Ibadi believes that once in hell, one will remain there forever. For a long time, many Muslims refused to consider Ibadism as a part of Islam. However, in the 20th century, interactions between Ibadis and other Islamic communities increased. Ibadis, on the other hand, have always been united with other Muslims, even if they are non-Ibadis.
Now, although officially an Islamic country, Oman accommodates all religious groups. There is a small community of Indian Hindu citizens that are made up of immigrants and foreign citizens, as well as a minuscule percentage of Christians. Most churches and temples in Oman have been built on land that was donated by the Sultan for non-Muslims to worship at.