When I was a kid, I pronounced this country as “Oh, man!” I also used to get Muscat and Muskrat mixed up (I’m not sure why; they are vastly different.) However, in real life, Oman planted its stakes at a very strategic location in the Middle East and has taken full advantage of that location for many centuries. Once quite a powerful empire, its leader now tries as best as he can to maintain control, even if it goes too far.
Where exactly the name Oman comes from is kind of up in the air. Historical linguists have argued various possible etymologies. Some believe it may have stemmed from either Greek or Roman references to the country (Pliny the Elder referred to the ancient city of Sohar/Suhar as Omana), but others believe it may have been named after other important people or even places in Yemen where some of the original settlers hailed from. It’s hard to say. Pick your favorite story, I guess.
Oman is located on southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. It shares borders with Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Oman also has several enclaves and exclaves that border with the UAE. Its southern coast touches the Arabian Sea, across from India and Pakistan while the northeastern side (and its capital Muscat) borders the Gulf of Oman. The exclave of Musandam Governorate juts out into the Strait of Hormuz, which is at the tip of the Persian Gulf. At that point, it’s really not that far from Iran. Overall, Oman is hot and dry. There are areas in the mountainous regions of the south where it has more of a tropical climate, though.
|Sultan Qaboos bin Said|
The earliest peoples were African Nubians. The oldest settlement we know of is Dereaze, which is located in the city of Ibri. Starting during the 6th century, this area was ruled by various Persian dynasties. As the Portuguese were traveling around Africa and India, they stopped in Oman during the early 1500s. However, Ottoman Turks captured the city of Muscat and fought back the Portuguese for it. The Imam of Oman, Saif bin Sultan, started pushing to expand their holdings along the Swahili Coast of Africa (along the central part of its eastern coast: Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique). The Omanis also pushed the Portuguese out of many of these areas, including Zanzibar (current-day Tanzania), which was an important piece of property and served as Oman’s capital for a brief time. After several instances of battles and divisions, the country was finally divided between in the interior (called Oman) and the coastal area (named after the capital, Muscat). The British stepped in and helped draft the Treaty of Seeb, which declared that the sultan recognized the interior region’s autonomy, and the external affairs of Oman would be handled by the Sultan of Muscat. Oman gained its independence in 1744 and has been ruled by the Al-Said family since. (This makes it the oldest independent state in the Arab World.) When Sultan Said bin Taimur took over during the mid-1950s, Oman became more of an isolated and feudal country, and disagreements between him and the Imam over oil caused a feud that led to military action. After a coup, Taimur was disposed and Qaboos bin Said al Said became the Sultan. He started out with the goal of modernization across all fronts and was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council. He even extended voting right and other rights to women. However, it wasn’t enough to combat some of his extreme decrees, such as the censorship of the press, criticism of the government, among other violations of human rights.
Muscat is the largest city in Oman and serves as its capital. The city is located along the northeastern coast. It’s long had the distinction of being an important trade port and at different points in time was ruled by Persians, Portuguese, and the Ottomans. When the current sultan took over in 1970, the city saw a rapid increase in its infrastructure, which led to an increase in economic development. With a city population of about 630,000, there are many things to see like museums, mosques, and markets and malls.
Overall, Oman has a pretty diversified economy. Petroleum and oil remain to be high on Oman’s economic drivers, but tourism is also pretty high up there as well and is growing. Their economy also depends on industry and agriculture (a lot of dates and fish!). They do have a free-trade agreement with the US (and probably other countries), and that helps to build up foreign economic ties. Oman also receives many foreign workers from Asia (especially India) and various places in Africa. They don’t make as much money as native Omanis, but it’s definitely more than what they’d make back home.
|Muhammad Al Ameen Mosque|
By far, Islam is the largest religion in Oman with nearly 85% of the people practicing some form or another. In Oman, the largest denomination is Ibadhi, followed by Sunni and Shia. There are also significantly smaller groups of Christians and Hindus with a few other religions represented in the mix.
The official language of Oman is Arabic, although Baluchi is also spoken many areas of the country. However, there are several indigenous languages that are endangered now. As far as second languages and foreign languages go, most street signs in Oman are written in both English and Arabic, and they were the first country in the Persian Gulf countries to offer German as a foreign language. Because of the number of foreign workers from India, there are a variety of Indian languages spoken in Oman as well. Swahili is often still used because of Oman’s historical ties with the language.
There are many peculiar things about Oman that I’ve read about. Oman is also famous for breeding Arab horses (probably like what was used in the movie Hidalgo?). Because their holy day is Friday, their weekend is Thursday and Friday. (That might be changing to Friday-Saturday to reflect more of a global business schedule.) They apparently don’t have Coke products for some reason (or they’re really hard to find). However, you can find Pepsi products easily. One thing they do have instead are really great coffee shops. They serve coffee in small cups (kind of like a cafezinho in Brazil) along with eating dried dates with it. I already know I’m using dates in one of my recipes. Even with some of its issues, I’m sure there are more quirky things here.
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