May 3, 2010 | 10:53 am

Monday – Oman and the Forces of History


Oman has a spectacular coastline that stretches one thousand miles along the Arabian Sea. There are pristine beaches, rugged cliffs, and mountains soaring in the background. The picture above is one I took in Sur, one of it historical ports. Oman capitalized on its access to the sea and has been a seafaring nation for millennia. Through history their ships have sailed to China, India, and Africa following the trade winds. These travels have been immortalized through the legend of Sinbad the Sailor, who Omani folklore claims as a son of Oman.
 
Their encounter with foreign cultures and religions continues to this day. One of the surprising statistics about Oman is that of the nearly three million residents, one million are foreigners. The opportunities for jobs have brought people from around the world, and with it have come the religions of the world.
 
Now for the question on everyone’s mind: what is it like to live there? When people learn that Oman’s neighbors are Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, it sounds like a hostile environment for any foreigners present. This may be hard for you to believe, but after living in Oman for eight years, I found it one of the more hospitable environments in which we have lived. Because Oman has had trade relations with foreign countries for so long, religious diversity is not a new concept or new social reality. Going back centuries, they have had Omanis living in China and Indians living in Oman to facilitate trade and commerce. The presence of people of different faiths has been, and continues to be, a part of the culture. When a new Hindu temple is needed or the churches need to expand, the Sultan provides land so that they have places of worship. More recently, when a cyclone damaged non-Muslim places of worship, within days the government provided aid to make sure the congregations could recover.
 
I do not want to sound too Pollyannaish. There are still issues that need to be addressed, and not everyone has their religious needs accommodated as they desire. But the people of Oman are working to make a place for all.
 
Here’s the random thought of the day: Oman shows how history shapes present-day views and relationships. This can be positive and negative, and often it is a force that we follow with little reflection on where it leads us. I think we all need to take stock of our personal and national histories and see how they influence the decisions we make today.