Day 59 – Muscat, Oman
Today we moved into the domain of the Arabs – not just a change in sites and scenery but a huge culture change. From the free-wheeling Indians to the austerity and rigidity of the Arabia. From humidity to desert. And from Hindi to Islam.
As we sailed into the capital city, Muscat, we were presented with stark contrasts – barren mountains coming down almost to the sea, ancient forts on the hilltops, and modern white buildings in the city.
The Arabian Peninsula is dominated by Saudi Arabia, from the west, bordering the Red Sea, to the northeast, bordering the Persian Gulf, conceding the portion of the peninsula bordering the Gulf of Aden to the countries of Yemen and Oman. Little patches of the peninsula, bordering the Persian Gulf are carved out for Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (where Dubai is located). With the exception of Yemen, these are oil rich, tightly controlled countries – either ruled by monarchs or near monarchs.
Oman, officially called the Sultancy of Oman, is one of two Sultancys in the world, the other being Brunei, which we visited earlier on this voyage. The current Sultan, Qaboos bin Said, is a direct descendent of the first Sultan, Seyyid bin Said, who was proclaimed Sultan in 1806.
In this slide, where it says that the old Sultan developed commerce in Zanzibar – it is grossly understated. The Sultan sailed down to the east coast of Africa in 1820, whipped the locals into shape and set up shop in Zanzibar, off the coast of what is now Tanzania. From his base in Zanzibar he created and dominated the slave trade, controlling most of the east coast of Africa, and declaring it part of Oman. He created a slave oriented empire which lasted into the mid to late 1800s. The fifth Sultan, Qaboos, normally rules from the capital Muscat, or his southern Oman capital Salalah, though he is currently ill and hospitalized in Germany.
We boarded our bus and met our guide, Fahd – a young man dressed in the traditional garb in Oman, although we did see a few persons dressed in western clothes.
Despite being a very old city, Muscat, Oman is quite modern, probably due to the fact that it is an oil rich nation.
Typical Omani dress.
We made our way to the Grand Mosque of Muscat, built by the Sultan for the people about 5 years ago, it is the only one which is open to non-Muslim visitors – there are literally hundreds of Mosques in the city. While I have seen many Mosques on this trip, this will be my first opportunity to visit the inside and ask questions.
Before getting off the bus, Fahd advised us of the dress code for entering the Mosque, which included long pants for men and women covering the ankles, for women the upper body covered to the wrists, and women’s hair completely covered. He said that “religious police” would be at the gates to ensure compliance.
Here is the group, properly clothed, and headed to the gate.
As we passed through the gate, two of our group did not make it past the inspection – note the length of the pants.
The Mosque is quite beautiful and is immaculately kept.
Explaining that Muslims must pray 5 times a day, preferably in a Mosque, with the main prayer being at 12:30 pm, Fahd took us first to the Women’s prayer room first, telling us that men and women pray in separate rooms, but that most women pray at home, since traveling to a Mosque might be difficult with their family activities.
We next went to the washing facilities, as Muslims are required to wash before praying. Fahd demonstrated this washing process.
When Fahd completed this process we removed our shoes and headed to the main prayer room of the Mosque.
This is the world’s second largest rug, being recently outdone by the Mosque in Abu Dahbi.
The second largest dome – for the same reason. Sheiks outdoing each other, I guess.
At the 12:30 prayer, each Friday, the Imam gives a 20 minute talk from this pulpit like area. Fahd explained that the Imam holds both a religious and political position and may discuss religious issues, political issues, or civil issues. His speech is augmented by a sound system, since there may be up to 10,000 men in the prayer room, and his talk is televised to other parts of the Mosque.
Fahd next showed us the Koran, kept in the Mosque explaining it is for study at times other than prayer times, since all prayers must be memorized, not read from the Koran during the service.
Back on the bus, Fahd demonstrated another traditional fashion statement. The turban is worn when entertaining. The tassel on the robe has perfume on it. Haircuts are so inexpensive that Fahd gets his beard trimmed once a week.
No tour being complete without a trip to the local market, or “Souk” (which means covered market in Arabic), so we headed to the market for an hour’s shopping. Frankincense and myrrh are major products from here. Maybe the wise men’s origin?
Sally was able to get these school girls to agree to a picture.
Our tour next went a little ways out of the city, to some sort of farm area; we got a few shots of camels and donkeys as well as goats and cattle.
We next proceeded to the Sultan’s palace where we were informed that the 65,000 sq. ft. palace is for ceremonies and visiting dignitaries only, he actually lives in the southern part of Oman, in Salalah.
We headed back to the port, reboarded our ship and set sail for Dubai.
This is a giant frankincense burner, located along the shoreline of Muscat.