Throughout its growth as a separate branch, Ibadhism was often suppressed by the Sunni caliphate and for many years went underground or into `kitman’. In Oman it found solace and a harbor for growth, thanks also to the isolation of the country from the rest of Sunni Arabia, protected against any incursion by its geography, notably the Rub Al Khali deserts and the Al Hajar Mountains.
Today 75% of Omanis are Ibadhis and follow an Islam that eschews decadence of any kind but remains essentially tolerant and accepting of other Islamic sects and other religions.
Architecture, Arts, Crafts, Music and Dance
It would not be far from truth to claim that Omanis do have a natural taste for moderation and elegance which is best observed in the restrained public buildings in the capital Muscat. This impression becomes even more validated when one sees the houses that dot the villages across the country; simple, painted with a variation of about three colors and often only one storey high. All Omani architecture, largely, follows these basic principles of simplicity, elegance and moderation.
In ancient Oman, forts were a passion for the nation builders of Oman. Close to about 1000 forts dot the country and numerous watchtowers overlook hilltops. Today many of these forts are undergoing restoration as a support to the growing tourism industry, but more particularly, they help in shoring up the country’s identity, creating a sense of historical oneness and unity. Interestingly these forts, built by ancient builders, are themselves sedate and functional rather than extravagant and opulent.
In hindsight, when one views the restoration of the country’s heritage in a region where skyscrapers and artificially created islands are today’s toast, one understands and definitely admires this respect for historical continuity and that is what makes Oman unique!
The Aflaj is another of ancient Oman’s unique architectural creations. Once made up of thousands of kilometers of water channel networks, the aflaj is a water channel system that works on gravity. The hydraulics of the system was based on the flow of water from the foothills of the jebels, from springs directly through a man made water channel to homes and fields. As water was an extremely precious substance, all villages had a water accountant or bidar who divided the water flows using stones wrapped in cloth and based on a fixed share. The share or time set aside for each individual, family or field was decided by the bidar and managed by aflaj clocks or sun dials with gradations to determine the time a plot, individual or family receives their share of water.
In today’s Oman, apart from the elegant public buildings and the sedate private homes across the country, Oman’s architectural insight and underlying principles are best exemplified in the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
The Grand Mosque is the ultimate expression of restraint and elegance exhibiting simplicity of form and function. Set within an area of 416,000 sq. meters, the built up area of the mosque itself is 40,000 sq meters. The main prayer hall is square; 74.4 meters sq. in size and can house 6500 worshippers at any given time. The prayer carpet in the prayer hall is 263 square meters in size and it took four years to produce and weighs 21 tonnes. Perhaps the only opulence in the entire complex is the 35 chandeliers made of Swarovski crystal and gilded metals. Thirty four of these modern masterpieces light up the hall, with the central chandelier throwing light from 1122 bulbs!
The architectural influences of this simple and elegant Mosque borrow from Timurid art of Central Asia, Iranian Safavid art, Contemporary Islamic Art and Islamic Indian Mughal Art.
Arts & Crafts
Each region of Oman is associated with a particular craft - Bahla is famous for pottery, Nizwa is known for its silver jewelry, Jebel Shams area for rugs, the port of Sur for boat building and the village of Shwaymiyah for basket making.
It is necessary here to make a mention of the craft of the boat builders of Sur. The skills of Omani boat builders were known throughout their trading world. These builders assembled boats without any architectural plans or drawings, assembling 500 ton vessels by using their eye and entirely from memory. Made from imported teak from India, these ships were literally stitched together with coconut fiber, made water resistant by applying natural oils and animal fat.
Oman’s arts and crafts are more about the practical, items of use, rather than decorative pieces created out of altruistic motives.
Music & Dance
Oman’s music aligns itself with the rest of Arabia. The rhythm and melody instruments used in songs and to recite poetry denote African and Arabian influences.
The Oudh needs special mention though with its rising popularity amongst the people of Oman today. The modern Oudh with its short neck has not changed its shape from that seen in ancient manuscripts. The importance of the Oudh comes from the fact that it contains a large melodic range (ambitus) of two octaves because it contains five or six strings. And, as the Oudh does not have any frets like the guitar, it can produce tones that include all Arabic and non-Arabic intervals.
Dance is an important element in the structure of Oman's traditional arts. Movement is always closely linked to the musical form, its role and its function in society. There are over 130 different forms of traditional Omani songs and dances and each is a part of a rich tapestry.
Modern day Oman has embraced western classical music demonstrated by the fact that each branch of the armed forces has a band of international caliber.