The podcast (radio) series from BBC titled “Heart and Soul” “explores the role of faith, spirituality and religious practice in the lives of people around the world.
In the last episode, they discussed religious tolerance in Oman which “puts the country in sharp contrast to its neighbour Saudi Arabia, where the public practise of any religion other than Islam is banned.”
Listen to the 1st episode of this 2 part look at Oman. It is 29 minutes long.
Here are some of the parts which I found fascinating:
- “Douglas Leonard is a protestant minister from the Reformed Church in America. He runs the Al Mana Center for Interfaith Understanding in Muscat.” “We have every kind of Christian church imaginable that worships here throughout the course of the week; so about 9 different Orthodox congregations, the Catholic Church and about 60 different Protestant congregations worship here throughout the course of the week. We’re hearing hymns coming out of the Orthodox church to our right, and to our left we can hear the preaching of I believe a Filipino congregation, so yeah, we can hear the sounds of ecumenism all around us.”
- In Nizwa (at 13:10): “We are in front of an old building, built of mud. Can you tell us what it is?” Doug Leonard: “Yeah, this is a traditional Ibāḍī mosque and ibadi mosques were constructed in a very simple way, very austere. So you can see that this is just a simple square structure. Now this mosque is thought to be one of the oldest mosques in all of Oman. It’s Called “The Mosque of the Kibotane” because there are 2 directions of prayer; there is the direction of prayer towards Mecca, but this mosque is so old that originally when this was created as a mosque, the direction of prayer was Jerusalem. Currently, this building is dated at about 1500, so it’s a little over 500 years old. So this is not the original building, but it’s located on a footprint on a foundation that was the original Kibotane, the original, oldest mosque. And archaeologists also think this was a temple before Islam, that it was probably a temple both dedicated to the worship of many gods.” “I could still see a loudspeaker at the top. Do people still pray in this mosque?” “Yeah, people still pray in this mosque and actually, traditional ibadi mosques, instead of a minaret, the imam would just go on top of the roof and call with his voice to the people in the community.”
- The Assistant Grand Mufti, Kahlan al-Kharusi: “Tolerance and coexistence are not tactics Oman is playing for particular…political gains or because of particular pressure. They are principles that they believe in. They believe that their own existence is actually based on these principles and values. That’s why they do insist on being tolerant to believers of other faiths.”
- -(At 19:40) “This Protestant church (my church!) in Muscat has a multi-national congregation of hundreds from all five continents and again, all of them are expatriates as Oman has virtually no indigenous Christians.” (The reporter was very wise to use the word “virtually” because there are in fact Omani Christians.) “Like the other churches here, this church sits on a plot of land donated by the Sultan, and here, too, the basic mood is one of genuine enthusiasm for the freedom and support Christians enjoy in Oman, but it was here that I also heard some mild discontent…”
- “One of the restrictions is proselytization; so in other words you cannot try and convert another person to one’s own religion.” Douglas Leonard, “Interestingly, that prohibition is equal for Christians as it is for Muslims and the reason is Oman wants to be very careful and responsible in protecting against religious division and strife and what they realize is that if a person aggresively starts to go out trying to convert someone else to their religion, it’s going to cause religion and strife. It’s going to cause a problem.” (I strongly disagree here. Omanis often prostelize and they would never be discouraged from doing so. I have received many pamphlets and books from Omanis trying to get me to convert. This prohibition is not equal for Christians as it is for Muslims at all!)
- “But what about what many western observers see as the ultimate test of religious freedom in the Muslim world? Apostasy, or abandoning Islam in favor of another faith or no faith at all. I put the question to Ahmed al Mohani from the legal firm, Seslaw. I cannot remember seeing the penal code a crime defined as apostasy. The law is not entirely based on sharia. Law sharia forms a basis of legislation but we have other codes like the penal code, the commercial code, the banking code, that are not entirely in line with sharia, but what I know, that apostasy, if it happens as an individual affair, between you and God, it’s up to you. But the moment you turn that individual affair into a campaign, to ask people to leave their faith, particularly Islam, then you will be accused of causing public disorder, and that is a punishable crime.” “Any individual who takes such a decision is not obliged to declare this publicly.” The Assistant Grand Mufti, Kahlan al-Kharusi: “When it becomes public, or it becomes associated with insulting other sacred religious symbols, then, yes, in this case it is going to be taken to court.”
- “If a Muslim, an Omani Muslim, decides to embrace Christianity instead, and decides to go to church instead of the mosque on a Friday, is that considered a private matter or a public declaration? “Yes, it is a public declaration although it is not associated with insulting his own previous religion, so it is considered in this case apostasy and it is dealt with through the judiciary. Such an answer is unlikely to satisfy campaigners for religious freedom abroad but no cases of apostasy have been reported in Oman in recent years.”