What religion is Oman

Religion in OmanAn Islam of maximum tolerance

The Great Mosque of Muscat, the capital of Oman. A magnificent building with valuable carpets, Italian marble from Carrara and ceramics from different parts of the Islamic world. The mosque is named after Sultan Qaboos, who has ruled Oman since 1970. This central mosque of the Ibadis, inaugurated in 2001, is unique in the Islamic world, explains the guide appointed by the Ministry of Religions. Because here we pray non-denominationally:

"We are all Muslims, and we say: There is only one God. The people who pray here come from different faiths. Around 75 percent of Muslims in Oman are Ibadis, plus 20 percent Sunnis and around five percent * are Shiites . "

All of them - Ibadis, Sunnis and Shiites - pray here together in harmony. Whatever else separates the Muslims, here in Oman, during prayer, it doesn't matter. They are all united. Only available in Oman.

The architect and archaeologist Michael Jansen, professor at the "German University of Technology" in Muscat, enjoys the relaxed atmosphere:

"The Ibadi mosque is characterized by its simplicity in design and layout. In Ibadism you don't have large minarets, you see the little turret there, that's where the muezzin comes out, so simplicity, no decoration, almost no emphasis on the kibla, the direction of prayer, the prayer niche, and no large minarets. And very beautiful in the architecture. "

Ministry of Religions with 6,000 employees

If you want to find out more about Ibadism, there is no better address than the Ministry of Religions in the center of the capital. Over 6000 men and women work here, a gigantic company - and an indication of the great role that religion and the relevant ministry play - not just in terms of numbers.

The man who rules this enormous authority is called Abdullah al Salmi. He has been Minister of Religion for 22 years. Some say he is the most important man in Sultan Qaboos ibn Said's cabinet. Ibadism is identity-building in Oman. It is also about politics, society and anchoring in the region. You could say: Ibadism is at the heart of Omani culture. The Minister of Religion, Abdullah al Salmi:

"In Islam we believe in all religions. We believe in Jesus and in Moses - whoever does not stand by them as Muslims is not a real Muslim. All Abrahamic religions belong to Islam. That is why we do not call our authority the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. We prefer to speak of the Ministry of Religions. Otherwise we would disparage the other religions. And that would contradict our beliefs and our practice. "

Values ​​as the top priority

With his white beard and white turban, the minister looks friendly and reserved at the same time. Abdullah Al Salmi comes from a family of famous scholars and is himself a high religious scholar. From the beginning he makes it clear to the visitor what is important to him in religion: moral behavior.

"It's about ethics. Values, values, values ​​- values ​​are the most important thing in life. And that is what we are working on here. The prophet came to us primarily through his values. The message in this ministry are values, Values, values. "

Ibadis insulted them as unbelievers

This primacy of ethics is reminiscent of the "Global Ethic Project" of the theologian Hans Küng. And indeed there have been encounters between Küng and Abdullah Al Salmi. Küng sees Ibadism as the counterpart to violent Islamism that is so common in the media.

But the emphasis on ethics in Ibadism is not appreciated everywhere. The Ibadis with their thoughts of freedom and responsibility are a thorn in the side of the strict Saudi Wahhabis. Some Wahhabis therefore insult the Ibadis as heretics, as unbelievers and even as "dogs".

This is not without danger for the small people of the Omani next to the overpowering neighboring Saudi state. In fact, Abdullah Al Salmi tries not to irritate the Wahhabis too much in interviews and speeches, he likes to express himself in diplomatic clauses.

Perhaps that is why Al Salmi doesn’t like to give interviews very often. In spite of all the restraint and friendliness of the minister of religion, it should be noted that he almost has to force himself to talk. Tea and dates are served.

"When we examine a religion, the point is never to judge that religion and its followers, such as whether they are good or bad. We do not want to make superficial judgments about other religions. We have to expose the basis of every religion. And that is incumbent on the specialists, the scientists and the theologians. "

"We have no enemies"

Ibadism goes back to the early Islamic break between Sunnis and Shiites. The Ibadis see themselves as the "family of the upright". Its name goes back to the scholar Abdulla Ibn Ibad al-Murri al-Tamimi. The community started at the end of the seventh century in Basra. Missionaries set out from there, mainly to southern Arabia, but also to Egypt and North Africa. The mission: to found Ibadi communities. Such communities still exist today in Tunisia, Algeria and Libya.

Most of the Ibadi missionaries were traders, combining business with religious persuasion. The Omani have always been considered smart business people. Ibadism as a gentle and tolerant Islam is linked to the ship trade. The traders crossed the Indian Ocean, came to China or along the African coast to Zanzibar. There was also a brisk slave trade with Africa, which is often kept secret.

"We have 1,600 kilometers of coastline on the Indian Ocean. That shapes our culture. We live by this ocean, we get married and we pray together, and we learn from this ocean. We as a seafaring people are open to everyone else, but the core of our identity is justice. We have no enemies. We have many friends in the world. Our sultan once said: I want to see a map with Oman's enemies. But there are none. "

Relaxed atmosphere and no high-rise buildings

Religious tolerance, says Minister of Religion Al Salmi, is a state of affairs in Oman. It is forbidden to insult or degrade people of any religion. A kind of non-denominational Islam is taught in schools that does not exclude anyone.

Professor Michael Jansen, who has lived in Muscat for decades (**):

"The Ibadi form of religion is a very early one. It is before the split between Sunni and Schia, that came later. There are Sunni and Shia, that's clear, but the nice thing about Oman is that these differences are not discussed at all."

In fact, the atmosphere in Oman is relaxed. The architecture is historical, there are laws and building regulations for that. The whole country is embedded in its history, high-rise buildings like those in Dubai or Riyadh cannot be found here. The neighbors in the Emirates are perceived here in Oman as having no history, as superficial and nouveau riche.

And yet Oman trades with all of its neighbors - including Iran, which is boycotted by other countries.

Trade and change as a means of countering political, social and religious tensions? Oman appears like the leftover remains of an old, idealized Orient, a non-fanatical world in which destruction and division play no role.

Abdullah Al Salmi, the minister of religion, demands that the state and religious communities must be separated. He claims that Mohammed never assumed the role of a political leader, that a "political Islam" was imposed on him afterwards - as a blueprint for Islamism.

"We have to protect religion from the state. Religion must be independent of the state. The state eats up everything, religion, ethics, depending on its interests, but religion is something different from the state."

Counter program to Islamism

The Ibadites differ from other Islamic currents in a number of traditions: Imams are freely chosen. The idea: the most capable according to the majority opinion should be an imam.

The Nizwa Fort in Nizwa, Oman (Sebastian Kahnert / dpa-Zentralbild / ZB)

The stronghold of Ibadism in Oman is the oasis city of Nizwa, around two hours' drive southwest of Muscat. A 17th century fort surrounded by massive sand-colored walls. It wasn't always peaceful here. In the 17th and 18th centuries there were wars with the Portuguese, but also internal strife between the Ibadite dynasties.

However, Nizwa remained the capital of Oman and the headquarters of the incumbent rulers. The mosques of Nizwa date back to the early days of Islam in the seventh century.

Ibadism knows an extensive body of literature. German archaeologists played a role in deciphering ancient texts. German scholars intervened in the interpretation of historical Ibadi texts and thus helped in the long term to formulate Ibadism in its current form.

Currently, Minister of Religion, Abdullah Al Salmi, is committed to a radical freedom that is possible in Islam when he quotes Qur'anic Sura 10:99 in his book "Religious Tolerance. A Vision for a New World":

"If your Lord had wanted everyone on earth to believe, as a whole. Do you want to force people to believe?"

Or Quran 18:29:

"Whoever wants to believe, and whoever wants to remain without faith."

That is the counter-program to Islamism.

Al Salmi says the Islamic world urgently needs religious reform.

Above all, however, he thinks that Islam must be developed further, adapted to the progress of the world. If Islam remained in the present, it would fall further and further behind.

(*) "Number corrected"

(**) Editor's note: In an earlier version it was wrongly claimed that Professor Michael Jansen established the German University in Oman. We corrected the mistake.