Three Days in Muscat: Sultanate of Oman

The first thing that impressed me at Muscat airport was the speedy entry clearance followed by a warm welcome by a visa officer who spoke fluent Urdu. In the past few years travelling across the world has helped me to develop unique feelings; while entering into most localities I instantaneously sense the presence of peace and composure in the atmosphere. 


Muscat has both peace of heart and mind and indeed there are numerous reasons behind this thought. Perhaps, the discovery of oil and its wealth has had little effect on Omani’s in contrast to few neighbouring places in the Arabian Peninsula where a considerable level of arrogance has emerged as a result of excessive oil wealth. One couldn’t resist my quest to search for reasons that creates such humility within the Omani peoples.


Quickly it dawned upon me after reading historical texts that as the Omanis embraced Islam this fact caught the attention of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who supplicated dua (pray) for them, which is also visible in a valid Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) says, “God’s mercy be on the people of Al Ghubaira.” [The people of Oman] “They have believed in me although they had not seen me.” Surely it is Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) dua’s that until today Oman remains peaceful, prosperous and had successfully pushed away its enemies throughout its illustrious history. 

 

The blessings for the Omani people continue in a rich vein as Caliph Hazrat Abu Bakr Al-Sidiq, (RA) also said, “People of Oman you; you have entered Islam voluntarily although the Prophet has not come to your land on foot or on horse. You have not opposed him as other Arabs opposed him, and you have not called for separation or dispersion. May God unite you in benevolence” Thus these sacred words remind us that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his most beloved companion Hazrat Abu Bakr Al-Sidiq, (RA) expressed exceptional adoration  that have blessed Omanis until the present today.

 

One is living proof of the sacred prayers effects which are in full swing in Muscat. Another amazing fact to report on is that despite, a rich culture, blue shores, superb mountain ranges and green valley’s such as Wadis, world heritage sights, beach hotels, noteworthy palaces, Oman receives scant publicity within the global media fraternity perhaps in part due to its trouble-free environment that ultimately provides little room for sensational news.

 

Whilst driving from the airport to the city centre, one cannot but notice an abundance of contemporary buildings, mostly governmental in nature and all in white colour, standing high under clear blue skies. State of the art shopping malls adorn the skyline, beautiful mosques featuring artistic coloured minarets, green parks with palm and dates trees, busy restaurants punctuate the streets.

 

Muscat possesses wide and clean roads with pavements and small parking slots. Looking at the sidewalks, I felt a sense of comfort (Sakoon) in my heart that runs throughout the journey until I reached my first destination. As the anonymous proverb goes on saying that ‘a best journalist gets two stories ain a penny ride’ I was talking, filming and making notes at the same time perhaps because of sheer excitement that lasted all the way through.    

 

In the first instance, I learnt the presence of tranquillity in the atmosphere that is unusual but  in fact a combination of two things, justice and kindness that runs from the top (His Highness the Sultan) himself to a considerable extent to the bottom (ordinary people). This coupled with the fact where ever I went in Muscat I found nothing but humility and warmness.

 

My host Javed Chaudhry, a young self-made inspirational individual and a well established educationalist quickly deduced my query and informed me that a few illustrations of Sultan Qaboos displaying his just nature which to him perhaps is indicative of peace prevailing across the whole of Oman.

 

He also added to this, his own experience with police who had treated him fairly and in a praiseworthy manner.

 

I naturally enquired about the conditions experienced by Pakistani migrant workers in Oman, once again Javed offered me an example of Abdul Sattar Basra, a renowned Pakistani engineer, who owns a farmhouse and Omani citizenship was bestowed upon him by none other than His Highness Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said in recognition of his services to the country.

 

In such a short time, one came to the conclusion that living conditions for Pakistanis and other foreign workers are indeed comparatively better than other Gulf States despite the presence of possible challenges along the way. 

 

As a frequent traveller to the region, my judgement may not be shared by all concerned. Back at the University of Leeds, a fellow PhD researcher complains of the disparity in the pay-scales of European and non-Europeans, and certainly this is an undeniable reality as one may face this at airports and other places across the Gulf region.

 

Nationals of Britain and European backgrounds enjoy leverage and much more reverence compares to their fellow human beings of sub-continental origins. But what makes Oman a bit more open and different is the polite nature of its inhabitants.

 

As we stopped by the Lulu Centre to my surprise I felt like that I was in Leeds, like Tesco Extra, where you have almost everything under one roof. Knowing that my stay was only going to last for three days, Javed had already planned my time in a calculating fashion that allowed me to visit Matrah seafront (Corniche Matrah), fort and a bazaar.

 

 If you go towards Matrah seafront almost every roundabout displays numerous signs of Omani culture looks pleasing to eyes.

 

 

Muttrah is the world largest natural harbour, alongside the road and particularly on the roundabouts you cannot but notice that cultural presentations such as Gahwa Kettle, figurine of fishes which are important source of food in Oman.

 

 

Also, the Omani national symbol, a special curved dagger (Khanjar) is slightly different from the Kirpan that Sikhs carry along. Young and old wear it with dishdasha (traditional dress) at weddings and national festivals.   

 

 

Muttrah is surrounded by high black colour dry mountains complimented with blue seashore and thus indeed is the best place in Oman to visit. The entire seafront is endowed with decorated marble and wooden benches, lovely restaurants, and it also exhibits traditional ships standing at the port.

 

For those of who admire walking alongside the seafront here at ‘Muttrah Corniche’ where the oldest Souq is situated whilst on the top of mountain stands a landmark white colour round shaped incense burner and a must see ancient fortress made of mud and stones.

 

For food lovers, the seafront offers unique mix of traditional Omani foods and also savoury snacks at reasonable prices from all over the world. Again, one may not escape from the beautiful wooden ceiling with glass work in the middle carrying pictures of the dagger and the Surahie (tea kettle) regarded as an integral part of Omani culture.

 

It also highlights the view that hospitality is their DNA that I always experienced that back in Leeds with my colleagues Ibrahim Al-Mujaini, Muhammad Al-Ghafri, Ahmad Mahroos and Omar Swafi.

 

From this point onwards, I took the pleasure of visiting Pakistan School Muscat, the birth place of his passion that earns him Chairmanship of the Board of Directors of Pakistan School System in Oman since 2010. 

 

I met the School’s Senior Principle Muhammad Zakariya Babur who embraced me warmly especially after hearing that I was a journalist and a researcher. He began to brief me about Pakistan School Muscat where around 2, 200 students are seeking knowledge under highly motivated and carefully selected professional educationalists.

 

 

The total number of students do not exceed 4,500 and currently study at other four branches of the school established in Salalah, Sohar, Musanna, Nizwa and Seeb. An hour long stopover also included talks with teachers and students alike.

 

Passing through the corridors, I noticed extraordinary paintings and displays of art work belonging to schoolchildren who also excel in inter-school competitions from debates to games.

 

Walking along the school grounds, I saw children playing cricket and at that particular moment, I felt that I was at Sir Syed College Wah Cantt, a teen, who has no liability whatsoever and is free from all sorts of worries. GOSH! If there is a time machine out there that will take us back to school days?

 

I would recommend to those passionate overseas Pakistanis planning to set-up similar network of schools perhaps in other Gulf and European countries. Pakistan School Muscat is indeed a living example and can be accessed via http://www.pakistanschool.edu.om/

 

On our return from school, I slowly begin to observe that Omanis are adaptive to other cultures and continental food like Brits who admire curry, which has gained a title of ‘celebrative dish’ here.

 

Soon I count the presence of variety of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian restaurants and cuisines. The first evening, begins at a local Pakistani restaurant where I tasted biryani and kebabs and also revelled in drinking coconut juice at the nearby Bangladeshi spot after the dinner.

Omer Iqbal Chaudhary

 

During the warm weather, it brings you a soothing comfort, another added feature is the way sellers chop big coconuts greatly increases your appetite. Omanis own several distinctions in food, culture and everyday life style. I guarantee the fragrance of Bukhoor and its thick smoke help turn the atmosphere pleasant around you while Omani cuisines like Qabsa with green salads further increase your appetite.

 

Oman’s mouth-watering sweet, Halwa, is another indispensable item on the menu which has various different types but the basic ingredients remain the  same such as dates and almonds etc.

 

People living on seafront still cherish fish as their main course of food and on top of it a cup of warm Gahwa or Kahwa completely refreshes the soul. What is important for foreigners is to learn local customs for example your host will continue to fill in your small cup of Gahwa each time until you turn it upside down.

 

The next day was Friday, a commonly observed weekly holiday in many Muslim countries. We went to pray in a magnificent, notable and must see Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque covering approximately 416,000 square meters.

 

This most distinguishing feature is its architecture that is a unique mix of Islamic art from various different periods and regions across the world.

 

The idea of five minarets reflect the  five pillars of Islam while the adjacent garden and trees and fountains promote the idea of Islamic gardens mainly derived from the Holy Quran chapter Al-Rehman. The grandeur of the entrances doors (Mehrabs) resembles one in Spain, Bukhara and Samarkand.

 

Not a single inch of this beautiful mosque is left without décor, the incredible wooden ceiling, blue coloured glass windows, and masterpiece Persian carpets, white marbled sermon place decorated with flowers for the imam all shows stunning illustration of calligraphy and arabesques which are incomparable.

 

One cannot but notice that chandeliers made of most expensive Swarovsky crystals while the cornice of the dome is coated in gold. The precincts of the mosque are marked with covered pathways (Veranda) similar to the sixteenth century Badshahi Mosque in Lahore and Sultan Ahmet’s blue Mosque in Istanbul.

In these locations the  light brown colour marble tile work recalls great Islamic dynasty founded by Hulagu Khan’s descendant Mahmud Ghazan (695-703/1295-1304) who after embracing Islam brought profolic designs of tiles and gave it a splendid mix of Islamic touches.

 

The original ‘Kashi’ or ‘Kashi Kari’ tiles are named after a region called ‘Kashan’ and become known to Samarkand and Bukhara in later centuries.

 

 In addition, the mosque also celebrates the work of Safavids (16th-18th) century that brought new colour scheme in tiles thus by highlighting geometric features which are visible in historic buildings built by Turks in Agra, Delhi, Samarkand and Lahore. 

 

In corridors alongside the lawns each niche is different in shape, composition and design deeply rooted in the concept of ‘flowers of heaven’. After I finished my Salah, I began to wish I could have spent some more time in this unrivalled mosque during Ramadan.

 

If I were to explain this marvellous piece of art in three simple words they would be; Jewel of Muscat!  Seeing ordinary people praying for Sultan Qaboos long life and health, I begin to think about the end day and that how each one of us has to go to an eternal place leaving behind an opulent life.

 

A particular subject that struck a chord with me was whether Sultan wants to rest here like Turkish Sultans most of whom are resting in their mosques lawns.

My last day in Muscat was so wonderful and memorable that I made a note of this visit in my personal diary. On this day, I met a renowned Pakistani Engineer Abdul Sattar Basra, who invited us to his farm house called ‘Barka’where for the first time in my life I actually saw a black coloured camel!

 

Dressed in proper Omani traditional clothes at first I thought he was an Omani friend of our host. He showed us a nearby small dam that he himself designed, fenced with large stones covered with iron knit to collect rainwater for irrigation purposes.

 

This extraordinary service to Oman wins him a farm house while he remains the first Pakistani who lived in a palace where his daughter was born. The three hour long stay at his farm taught me a great number of things; Basra was born into a family that had to face troubles of migrating to Pakistan during 1947 where after losing worldly possessions they had to start from scratch.

 

His success story has many lessons for those who believe in Allah SWT. Honesty and strengthening Iman (faith) by being generous mean that no one can stop them from being happy and successful not only here but also in the life hereafter.


By:  Irfan Raja