Oman — History and Culture
The history of Oman can be traced back to the Stone Age and Bronze Age. As with the rest of the Arab world, much of its history and culture is tied to Islam since this was one of the first territories to accept the faith.
Archeologists have unearthed remains of human settlements in the territory of what is to be Oman which date as far back as the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. Among the relics found were stone implements, fire hearths, pottery, and pointed tools, some dating as far back as 7615 BC. Ancient cave art has been discovered, too, in Ibri in the northeast as well as in the wadis of Rustaq.
Early history in the region saw the dominance of the Persians, the dynasties of Achemenids, Parthians, and Sassanids, in particular. Garrisons were established by Persians in the territory to exert control over the trade routes passing through the Persian Gulf. The rule of the Persians, however, was cut short by a stronger force that was spreading through the region at the time—Islam.
Oman was one of the first territories in the region to accept Islam. In 630 AD, the Prophet Muhammad sent one of his military commanders, ‘Amr ibn al-’As, to Oman to convert the rulers of Oman at the time. Upon its conversion to Islam, Oman played a significant role in the spread of Islam toward Iraq and Persia. More importantly, Oman’s seafaring ways and trade routes were the religion’s highway to Central Africa, India, and the rest of Asia.
During the Age of Discovery, the Portuguese explorers arrived on Omani shores. This occurred a decade after Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s voyage to the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and to Goa, India. The Portuguese took over Muscat and, like the Persians who came before them, established forts to protect the trading routes passing through the seas of the region. Remnants of the fortifications the Portuguese built can still be seen in what is now the country’s capital city, Muscat.
The Portuguese never really conquered the entirety of Oman as their power only covered some port cities. Much of Oman remained under the influence of the ruling tribes of each region. These tribes eventually drove out the European colonizers and by 1741, an army of allied tribes, led by a Yemeni leader, rose to power and began the current line of sultans. The Al Said dynasty is one of the oldest and still surviving royal dynasties of the Arab world. Unlike rulers past, however, Oman’s rulers were now given the title of Sayyid, which reflected more of a secular, rather than spiritual, authority. The legacy remains as the title is still held by members of the royal family to present day.
As with the rest of the Arab world, Omani culture is closely tied to the Islamic faith. Most Omanis are Muslims. However, the majority of them practice Ibadi, a form of Islam which originated in the country and is distinct from the majority denominations of Sunni and Shia.
Omanis are very humble and down-to-earth. However, two very important aspects of Omani culture are dignity and respect. They regard these values so strongly that insults and name-calling can be a basis for taking someone to court. Criticisms, whether personal, national, or superficial such as appearance or behavior, are generally not appreciated.
Rules of etiquette when traveling in Muslim countries generally apply to traveling in Oman. Women must dress modestly outside the comforts of modern hotels, ideally clothing that covers shoulders and legs and certainly not items that are form-fitting or too tight, while men must wear trousers and sleeved shirts. Outside the main cities of Muscat and Salalah, there is strong segregation in society between genders. In many contexts, it may be considered inappropriate for men to interact with the opposite gender.