While Oman is spectacularly beautiful on the outside, even more beautiful – inside – is the beating heart of Oman – the people and the culture of this most amazing of Middle Eastern countries.
Never will you experience more generous, friendly, helpful and kind people than Omanis. They treat everyone with respect – their families, their neighbors, their guests. I have lived or worked in all the Gulf countries except Kuwait – the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman – and I choose to live here in Oman because of the people. Here’s a secret for you – people from all those Gulf countries also prefer Oman; they visit often, intermarry when they can, and buy properties here to spend as much time as possible. Everyone knows the Omanis to be peaceful and proud, reliable and creative, hospitable and principled.
Omani culture is an enticing combination of religion, tradition, arts, cuisine, architecture, and lifestyle reaching back thousands of years. The majority of Omanis practice a type of Islam called Ibadi – from my experience, the kindest and gentlest form of Islam. As an example, women are not forced to wear abayas as in Saudi, and men treat women with great respect and affection. Tradition permeates all aspects of daily life – customs for
- greeting each other – like a kiss on the crown of the head for elders
- welcoming travelers, always gahwa (Arabic coffee spiced with cardamom) and dates, then quiet time before launching into conversation
- decorating homes, like a separate majlis (living room) for men and women
- weddings and funerals, gender-specific events lasting several days
- covering their bodies and heads… and so much more.
The traditional dress for women is a loose, multi-colored jelabia (long dress) with matching head cover, and for men, a spotless white dishdasha with either intricately-embroidered kuma (cap) or stylishly-wrapped mussar (square scarf). It used to be that you could tell which part of Oman a man was from by the way he wore his kuma or mussar, unique to each region, but with easy travel inside Oman, that has changed. Only recently, Omani women have begun to appear in public in super-stylish black abayas like Emiratis. Omanis are confident and comfortable with who they are, and they allow guests to be the same, although they expect the modesty they embody.
I am particularly struck by how women are equal partners in life in Oman. I wish I could say I’ve taken these pictures of Oman’s all-women mounted military band. I find them so inspiring!
Tradition in Oman is a colorful reflection of ancient peoples who lived in the mountains or the desert, along the coastline or arrived from afar with vastly different means of survival and celebration. Balushi spices are mixed with Sri Lankan grains and Indian rice; Chinese silk adorns Zanzibari jebalia; bagpipes accompany tribal drumbeats. Still today, all Omanis deeply value nature, music and dance, intricate artistic design, and simple hearty food. Oman is a feast for the eyes – art and architecture reflect Persian geometric designs and Moroccan styles. His Majesty, the Sultan of Oman, has impeccable taste, and he has deliberately shaped the pleasing aesthetics of the Sultanate’s visual appearance. It is, in so many respects, the opposite of Dubai or Doha – no towers and flashing lights. Simple elegance. Muscat is lovely.
But back to the people. I have Omani family who have accepted me warmly and unconditionally. With them, I can experience the pride that children bring, the loving reverence for elders like our grandfather hababou, the appreciation for the bottomless, simple meals of homemakers, the reliance on Inshallah and Allah Kareem.