Islam in Oman
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The majority of Omanis are Ibadhi Muslims, followers of Abd Allah ibn Ibad. This sector is closely followed by Sunni Muslims. The Shi'a minority live along Al Batinah and Muscat coasts. This minority includes the Al-Lawatis, the Bahranis of Bahrain descent, and the Ajam, of vague origin but generally considered to originate in Iran.
Christians and Jews have historically been able to practice their own religions openly in Oman. The society is tolerant, though social hierarchies do exist. In Ibadi communities, the traditional Arab coffee is served to Muslims first, with Christians being served after the poor Muslims; in Sunni communities, Christian guests may actually be served even before the respected Muslim leaders and clerics.1
Many people think that Ibadism is an outgrowth of the Kharijites movement, a variant form of Islam practiced by descendants of a sect that seceded from the principal Muslim body after the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632. Ibadies, however, deny this notion considering themselves ougrowthing from the famous follower (tabe'e) Jābir ibn Zayd. Ibadies reject primogeniture succession of the Quraysh, the tribe of Muhammad, and assert that leadership of Islam, the caliphate, should be designated by an imam elected by the community from candidates who possess spiritual and personal qualities. Ibadhi leadership is vested in an imam, who is regarded as the sole legitimate leader and combines religious and political authority. The imam is elected by a council of prominent laymen or shaykhs. Adherence to Ibadism accounts in part for Oman's historical isolation. Ibadis were not inclined to integrate with their neighbours, as the majority of Sunni Muslims regard Ibadism as a heretical form of Islam.
The austere, puritanical nature of Ibadism has affected the practice of Islam in the country. Omani mosques are very simple, with almost no decoration expect around the windows and often lack the minarets common in other Muslim countries.13 Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta described the cleanliness of Omani mosques, despite the fact that the entire community would congregate to eat inside, each person bringing their own food.3 Although the Arab people are musical and rhythmic by nature, the denomination frowns upon singing and dancing.13 Sharia law is strictly enforced in public and private, and Oman's adherence to conservative Ibadism led to its historical isolation from the rest of the Middle East.3
In the 1800s, the Banu Bu Ali tribe of Jalan converted to Wahhabism, an austere form of Sunnism. They sporadically fought Ibadi communities but otherwise did not affect the overall religious demographics of Oman.3
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.