Discovering Oman: A Peaceful Muslim Country

 

Last winter, I sailed the Arabian sea onto the port of Muscat. When I was not giving terrorism lectures on the ship, I would step off the Seabourn and discover a world enshrined in mystique. Through the bazaar, you can smell the rich woody scent of frankincense and an array of spice stored in baskets. 

Muscat sits on the Straits of Hormuz at the most easterly port of the Arabian peninsula. I had been to Oman before one one hot summer day and sailed into its most southern city, Salalah, greeted by local workers from India at the hotel. 

Some have described Muscat as a kind of Florida Keys in the Middle East, the city draped out along a 19-mile corniche of beaches and bays, and palm-lined streets interconnected by expressways. Author of Sultan in Oman, Jan Morris offered this description:

There was a little of Jerusalem to its mystique, a little of Charleston, a touch of the backstreets of Oxford, of one of those little fishing ports on the Gulf of Venice–welded and illuminated by an overpowering sense of the old Arabia.

 

A visit to Sultan Qaboos’s mosque–named after its peaceful leader–I was reminded of the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi with its beautiful hand-loomed carpet, majestic arches and chandeliers imported from Europe as well as clean, open spaces. Unlike Abu Dhabi and Dubai, two Emirates I like for different reasons, Oman prides itself on old-world charm, its trading culture, and confidence in its people.

Muscat’s villages are a true reflection of Arabia’s ancient soul.

 

 

In a travel book I have on my bookshelf, Muscat is described as the “cauldron of a desert…lush, pristine and as subtle as its perfume..an oasis of calm.” Or the Switzerland of the sands.

I spent hours at the town’s museum, amused by the top floor of postage stamps and a collection of treasures from a different time. Heavy swords held by men and large silver jewelry once worn by women–all behind glass cases for the public to view. No pictures allowed. 

Although green, Muscat is surrounded by dunes, wind-blown deserts, razor-sharp mountains and the city is shrouded in mist at monsoon time. Luckily, I arrived in winter. No rain, no snow. Just a pigeon-blue sky and a chalky sunlight. 

Painted gazelles outside a museum cafe

When I lecture on the Gulf states, I talk about Oman’s unique history of tolerance and inclusion. The small Gulf country is unlike its neighbors, many of whom are struggling with sectarian violence. (Think Yemen, Bahrain, and to some extent, Saudi Arabia.) Unlike the other Gulf countries, Oman has preserved its rich cultural heritage and opens its cities to outsiders with a message of peace–a true reflection of Islam and the Muslim civilization.

Travel Tip: It’s blazing hot in the summer. Women don’t need to wear the headscarf: a long skirt and loose top is fine. White clothing is best in the heat. Winter is still warm with a chalky sunlight but there is a breeze in the evening coming from the sea. No matter what season you travel to Oman, you’ll be surprised by its ancient charm and heart-warming people. 

 

 

 

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