Culture Smart! provides essential information on attitudes, beliefs and behavior in different countries, ensuring that you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues. These concise guides tell you what to expect, how to behave, and how to establish a rapport with your hosts. This inside knowledge will enable you to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and develop trust, friendships, and successful business relationships. Culture Smart! offers illuminating insights into the culture and society of a particular country. It will help you to turn your visit-whether on business or for pleasure-into a memorable and enriching experience. Contents include: * customs, values, and traditions * historical, religious, and political background * life at home * leisure, social, and cultural life * eating and drinking * do's, don'ts, and taboos * business practices * communication, spoken and unspoken
About the Author
Simone Nowell is a writer who has spent eleven years in Oman and has traveled extensively throughout the country. Along with her family, she embraced the local culture and made many Omani friends. British by birth, Simone has spent the last twenty-six years in the Middle East and has planted firm roots in the region. Swapping the fast-paced life of the editor of a regional magazine for a slightly slower pace of a freelance author, Simone also encourages local literature and supports the talents of locally-based writers and illustrators through her family's small publishing company. She currently lives in Dubai with her husband, Rashid, and their two children.
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By Simone Nowell
Bravo LtdCopyright © 2009 Kuperard
All rights reserved.
LAND & PEOPLE
The Sultanate of Oman is located on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, with coastlines on the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. Strategically located on the Strait of Hormuz, directly opposite Iran, it is bordered by three other Middle Eastern countries: the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the south. It covers an area of 119,500 sq. miles (approximately 309,500 sq. km) and is the second-largest Middle Eastern country after Saudi Arabia. Muscat, the capital, lies on the northeast coast. The main town in the southern Dhofar region is Salalah, also on the coast.
Oman has three distinct geographical regions — coastal plains, mountain range, and plateau — and is home to some of the most varied landscape in the Middle East. The southern coast is lush and green for most of the year, while the Wahiba Sands of the empty quarter remain hot and dry. The coastal cities enjoy both the cooler months of winter and the benefits of trade. One of Oman's particular features is its natural attractions, such as the majestic Jebel Shams mountain range — with its highest point at 9,777 feet (2,980 meters), there is often snow on the summit.
Oman has only two proper seasons; the hot, humid summer, and the cool winter. Summer starts in May and continues through to September; it is scorching, with temperatures up to 115°F (46°C) during the day, with the addition of humidity ranging from 60 to 80 percent, which is most keenly felt in the coastal towns. However, the southern parts of Oman are far cooler in the summer as they are affected by the monsoon, with temperatures of 84°F (29°C) during the day and 68°F (20°C) at night. Winter, from October to April, is far cooler, with temperatures of 73°F (23°C) during the day and 59°F (15°C) at night.
The annual rainfall in Muscat is approximately 4 inches (10 cm). The Dhofar region has a much heavier annual rainfall of 25 inches (64 cm), which occurs in the summer when the monsoons bring temperatures down and turn the area green.
Shamals (sandstorms) can occur throughout the year, with winds as strong as 30 knots, but are more frequent toward the end of the winter months. These storms can last from one to three days and tend to rage during the day and die out at nightfall. High winds cause low visibility, disrupting everything and everyone from flights out of the airport to the shipping industry and the local shopkeepers at the souq. The fine dust penetrates the smallest of cracks around doors and windows, covering everything with a powdery layer.
Oman has a total population of three million, made up of Omanis and approximately 700,000 foreigners. The country enjoys a notably high population growth rate compared with its neighbors — about 3 percent per annum. Around 80 percent of people live in urban settings, with the rest living in the more rural areas. Much of the workforce in industries such as construction, oil, and gas is made up of foreigners, who tend to live in the larger cities.
As there are many different tribes in Oman, it is difficult to give exact figures for Bedouin or desert dwellers, as they do not all take part in the national census. The Bedouin of Oman are generally nomadic–pastoral, with a minority being nomadic–agricultural. People in rural areas are usually engaged in agriculture, such as date farming and frankincense harvesting; much of the region's pottery and handicrafts also comes from these areas.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The Omani people are very conscious of their national history, which they learn in school, and the history of their tribe, both of which form an important part of an individual's identity.
Archaeological excavations along the southeastern fringes of the Arabian Peninsula show that human civilization in Oman is very ancient. In the twelfth millennium BCE the world was just emerging from the last Ice Age, and the area was greener and more humid than today. The earliest Omanis lived in the mountain valleys and survived by hunting gazelle, wild cattle, and other animals, which were plentiful. Their stone weapons and tools included knives, awls, and drills that were comparatively advanced and of high quality; examples have been found in Dhofar, Wadi Bahla, lzki, lbra, and along the northern Omani coasts.
The picture archaeologists have drawn of Oman, prior to written records, is one of settled life in towns and villages scattered along riverbanks and in mountain valleys, where water was readily available. During that period the people built stone houses, made beautifully decorated clay utensils, as well as dishes and cups of stone and alabaster, wore woven clothes, and adorned themselves with jewelry. They traveled widely by donkey and perhaps camel, as these were domesticated at that time. The remains of ancient villages and towns show that they built roads between lbra and Buraimi and the Omani coast.
The Seafaring State of Majan
The contents of tombs discovered near Buraimi, lbra, and other sites on the Omani coast show cultural and commercial contact between Oman and Iraq, Persia, and India. By the second half of the third millennium BCE, there was extensive commercial activity between Oman and Persia, India, and Mesopotamia. Early writings from this era mention these countries, their goods, and commercial activities. They also refer repeatedly to "Majan," which, say archaeologists, is the country we know today as Oman, but which then also included the whole Gulf coast. Babylonian and Sumerian records mention that King Sargon of Akkad (2371–2316 BCE) prided himself on the fact that ships from Majan and Delmoon (modern-day Bahrain) came to dock in his ports and harbors. Two centuries later, Ur-Namu (2113–2096 BCE), King of Ur, claimed that he had won back the ships of Majan — probably by offering favorable commercial relations to Majan, or by improving his own ports. The Akkadian King Naram Sin (2225–2191 BCE), for unknown reasons, actually invaded and occupied Majan. However, Majan's King Manium was treated with honor and respect, and the Sumerian town of Maniumiki was even named after him.
From these historical events and the fact that the Omanis were among the first people to sail across the warm waters of the Gulf, we can conclude that Oman's prosperity was due mainly to its judicious use of its strategic location, within reach of India, Persia, Iraq, and Africa. Majan was also known in this period as "Jabal Al Nihas" (the copper mountain). Copper was one of the main commodities carried by its ships, and Oman has numerous ancient copper mines. Laboratory tests have demonstrated that old Omani copper from the Sohar Mountains contains nickel, as does the copper found in the Sumerian town of Ur in modern Iraq. Timber is also mentioned in the export records of Majan, and recent research has shown that a large area of Oman was forested.
Civilization from the First Millennium BCE
After the prosperity of the third millennium BCE, Oman's history during the second millennium BCE is shrouded in obscurity. So far nothing significant has been found to give a clear picture of life in the region during this period. Trade between Majan, Delmoon, and Milokha (India) suddenly ceased around 2000 BCE. Delmoon itself suffered a temporary decline around 1800 BCE.
We have no information on any maritime activities, apart from some indications found in Buraimi that there were commercial relations between Loristan in Persia and Oman. By the first quarter of the first millennium BCE prosperity had returned to Oman with the rise of the Assyrian civilization. Omani merchants returned to Indian ports, and possibly also to African shores, trading in spices, perfume, and timber from Delmoon, and in copper from Majan itself. However, commerce did not completely recover until the rise of the Achaemenid dynasty in Persia and the invasion of Egypt by the Persian king Cambyses in 525 BCE. His successor, Darius the Great, captured parts of India, restoring to the Gulf the maritime trade it had lost to the Red Sea, where Phoenician commerce flourished.
In 325 BCE, Admiral Nearchus sailed with Alexander the Great from India. In his diary he wrote about a port in the Arabian Peninsula named Mekitah. This was probably Rass Musandam, whence "cinnamon and other goods were shipped to Assyria." It seems that in the third century BCE a sea route was opened up between Oman and Taborban (today's Sri Lanka), the source of cinnamon, and while there Omani merchants also traded for gold imported from the Far East.
Oman and the Early Arabs
Arabs have always inhabited Oman. The ancient tribe of Add is known to have lived in the sand dunes between Oman and Hadramaut to its west. The Greek geographer and historian Strabo (c. 63 BCE–21 CE) wrote that the Arab tribe of "Thamood" had also lived in this region. Other Arab tribes gave their names to Omani regions. The port city of Sohar, for example, is named after the Sohar tribe, who lived in the region of Batinah, and the name of the Obal tribe is recalled in the name of a valley that lies between Ruwaha and Rustaq. According to Arab genealogists, Sam Bin Noah ruled the region between Hijaz in northwest Arabia and Oman. His grandson, Suhail, built Sohar.
In about the eighth century BCE, Yarub Bin Qahtan, head of the Yarub tribe in southwest Arabia, extended their rule to other parts of the peninsula. He sent his brothers to govern Oman, Hadramut, and Hijaz. The great thirteenth-century historian Ibn Khaldun wrote, "Yarub Bin Qahtan was one of the greatest kings on earth. It is said that he was the first to receive a royal salute from his people. He ruled over the Yemen, vanquished the people of Add and the Amaliqa of the Hijaz. He appointed his brothers governors of all these regions. Jarham ruled in Hijaz, Add Bin Qahtan in Al Shahr, Hadramut Bin Qahtan in Jibal Al Shammar and Oman Bin Qahtan in Arabia."
Yarub's successor, Yashjib, lost his hold on Oman, but this was regained by his son, Abd Shams, who governed all the regions to the south of the Arabian Peninsula. The Himyarit dynasty, which is descended from him, ruled the Yemen from 115 BCE until the advent of Islam. Oman, under the rule of the legendary kingdom of Sheba (Saba'a), had close relations with the neighboring Himyarati kingdom.
In the middle of the sixth century BCE, the Persian Achaemenids, under Cyrus the Great, invaded Oman and exerted control over the country from the coast. Oman's underground irrigation canals (aflaj) were probably constructed during this period. Northern Oman would remain under the control of successive Persian dynasties until around 800 CE.
The Azd Migration
Obscurity surrounds events in Oman in the period between Achaemenid (sixth to fourth century BCE) and Sassanid Persian rule (226–640 CE), but part of the country was still under Persian rule at the time of the great Azd migration from Yemen to Oman, under the leadership of Malik Bin Fahm. This migration took place just after the collapse of the Great Dam of Marib in Yemen in the sixth century CE, which caused great social disruption and resulted in the mass exodus of an estimated 50,000 people. While the Marib dam had been regularly breached by local flooding, this catastrophic final breach has been attributed to lack of repair and maintenance. A flash flood resulted in the complete destruction of the dam and its associated irrigation network, bringing an end to an ancient civilization.
The early migrations of the Azd were chronicled by the eighteenth-century Omani historian Sirhan Bin Sa'id. He gives a detailed account of the story of Malik Bin Fahm, who appointed his son, Han'a, to lead the Azd army. When they arrived in Oman, Malik sent a messenger to Al Mazraban, the Persian governor, asking for permission to settle in a region with access to water and grazing. The Persians decided "not to allow this Arab to settle among them. They thought 'their land' was too small, even for themselves." Both parties prepared for war on the plain near Nizwa, and after a fierce battle Oman was liberated and Malik became the ruler.
Arab historians record that the Azd were the kings of the mountains and the deserts. The treaty with the Persians now gave them full sovereignty. The Sassanids called the Azd leaders "Al Jalandi," the title by which all future Omani rulers were known.
Early Omani Muslims
Oman embraced Islam during the Prophet Mohammed's lifetime (that is, before 632 CE). At the time the country was ruled by the Jalandi dynasty. According to some historians, it was converted during the reign of Al Jalandi Bin Al Mustansir, who died a year later. Others say that Bin Al Mustansir never lived to see Islam, and that an emissary of the Prophet, Amr Bin Al As, was sent to Oman in 630 CE carrying this message to the sons of Bin Al Mustansir, Abd and Jayfar, who together ruled the country: "In the name of Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate. From the messenger of Allah to Jayfar and Abd, the two sons of Al Jalandi. Peace be upon those who follow the righteous cause. I call upon you to embrace Islam. Be Muslims and be saved. I am sent by Allah to all peoples to warn the living that punishment will be meted out to the unbelievers. If you embrace Islam, I shall confirm you as rulers. If you deny Islam your kingdom will vanish, my horses will be at your gate and my prophecies will destroy your kingdom."
Abd and Jayfar converted to Islam. They summoned the chiefs of the tribes and presented them with this fact. The people then flocked to join them, and Oman was absorbed into the Caliphate. Many historical accounts show that the Prophet devoted special attention to Oman.
Oman and the Cultural Movement at the Dawn of Islam
After embracing Islam, the Omanis enthusiastically studied the Koran, its interpretation, the Arabic language, and its literature. Oman, by virtue of its many religious scholars, became a leading cultural center in the Islamic world. While faqihs (religious scholars), by definition, specialize in Islamic law and religious studies, it is worth noting that no real distinctions were drawn at the time between the scholars of different intellectual disciplines. The Omanis were involved in every aspect of learning.
Given that Oman had an ancient civilization, it was no surprise that it became an important nation with the advent of Islam. Oman was the cradle of great men of science, orators, and scholars. The ninth-century writer Al Jahidh is reported to have said, "I may have heard the ignorant saying: what do the Omanis know? But where else are so many scholars and orators like Musqala Bin Al Raqia, the best of the orators, and his son Karb Bin Musqala?"
In every Arab history book, mention is made of Oman's men of learning. The most famous of the Omani qadis (judges) was Ka'ab Bin Siwar, who was appointed supreme judge in Basrah by the second caliph Omar Bin Khattab (c. 581–83). Among its greatest scientists were Abu Sha'tha Jabir Bin Zaid Al Azdi, Sohar Bin Abbas, Al Rabie Bin Habib (a contemporary of Jabir Bin Zaid, an Omani scholar and intellectual, and some say the first Imam and Founder of Ibadhism), Abu AlMundir Bashir Al Mundir Al Nizwani, and many others. Oman's impressive scientific tradition continues largely unbroken to this day.
Excerpted from Oman by Simone Nowell. Copyright © 2009 Kuperard. Excerpted by permission of Bravo Ltd.
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Table of Contents
About the Author,
Map of Oman,
Chapter 1: LAND AND PEOPLE,
Chapter 2: VALUES AND ATTITUDES,
Chapter 3: CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS,
Chapter 4: MAKING FRIENDS,
Chapter 5: PRIVATE AND FAMILY LIFE,
Chapter 6: TIME OUT,
Chapter 7: TRAVEL, HEALTH, AND SAFETY,
Chapter 8: BUSINESS BRIEFING,
Chapter 9: COMMUNICATING,