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Oman, located on the south-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, is bordered on the north by the Gulf of Oman, on the east and south by the Arabian Sea, on the Southwest by Yemen, on the west by the Rub‘ al Khali (Empty Quarter) of Saudi Arabia, and on the Northwest by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The area of Oman is 212,460 square kilometres (82,031 square miles), about one-third the size of Somalia.

The climate is generally hot and arid. However, the humidity along the coast is high. The average annual temperature is about 28°C (about 82°F). The average annual rainfall is generally less than 102 millimetres (less than 4 inches).

In ancient times, the Dhofar region was famous for its incense, which was sold throughout the Old World. The unusual climate of Dhofar suited the frankincense tree probably better than anywhere in the world. Three thousand years ago, frankincense was exported by sea, and Dhofar, then called Ophir, was extremely wealthy and renowned. In the early 3rd century AD, an Arab chief from Hira in Mesopotamia founded a kingdom in Oman that retained its independence until the reign of the first caliph, the temporal and spiritual head of Islam. The Omanis accepted Islam in the 7th century and elected their first imam, a leader believed to be a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, around 750. In the 10th century the Qarmatians conquered the country, and it was later occupied by the Seljuks.

LANGUAGE

Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken in official and business circles. Baluchi, Urdu, and Indian dialects are also spoken, particularly in the north.

RELIGION

The majority of the population, about 75 percent, is Ibadhi Muslim. Only about 1 million of the world’s Muslims are Ibadhi, and they live mostly in Oman. Sunni Muslims form the other major religious group. There is also a significant concentration of Hindus.

TRADITIONAL DRESS

For men, the traditional dress is the dishdasha, the white cotton robe common to most Arabic states. A turban called a shamag, which may be highly ornate for official occasions, is the traditional head-dress worn in non-coastal regions. Traditional dress for women varies substantially from region to region but is most often highly colourful. Most popular is a knee-length tunic worn over trousers. In some areas, women may veil themselves, but in other areas women have never worn the veil.

GOVERNMENT

Oman is ruled by a sultan, who is advised by an appointed cabinet. The country has no constitution, legislature, or political parties, but there is a consultative council, the Majlis al-Shoura, which was established in 1991. It has 80 members who are appointed by the sultan from several nominations by the leading political figures in each region.

The judicial system is based on the law of Islam. A chief court and court of appeals are located in Masqaï. A "flying court" system has been established to service rural areas.

ECONOMY

The principal natural resource is petroleum. Other known mineral resources include copper, asbestos, and marble.

Agriculture is dominated by the cultivation of export crops, primarily dates and limes. Some grains and vegetables are grown for local consumption, but most food must be imported. The unit of currency is the Omani rial.

TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATION

A road-building program was undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s, and most settlements are linked by a network of graded roads. Oman has several ports: Mina Qaboos, which is located in Muscat; Mina Raysut, which has been developed into an all-weather port; and Mina’ al Fael, which is the leading oil terminal.

EDUCATION

Although the literacy rate was only 20 percent when Sultan Qaboos came to power in 1970, the national education program has expanded rapidly since then. Sultan Qaboos University, a national university near Masqaï, opened in 1986. Education is still not compulsory, but is provided free. Adult education centres have redressed the problem of illiteracy, and government spending on education is considerable.

Salalah, situated on the Southern Dhofar coast, is the second city of Oman. A warm friendly city thousands of miles away from the troubles of the Northern Middle Eastern areas. The people of Oman are the most friendly, helpful and welcoming of all the Gulf states, and take great pride in this reputation with outside visitors to their country.

Khurìya Murìya Islands or Kuria Muria, island group of Oman, situated about 40 km (25 mi) off the country's south-eastern coast in Kuria and Muria Bay (an inlet of the Arabian Sea). Five islands comprise the group. Al Hallanayah is the largest and only inhabited island. Its few residents support themselves primarily through fishing. Ceded to Great Britain in 1854 by the Sultan of Oman for a station of the Red Sea telegraph cable, the islands were returned to Oman in 1967. 

 

 

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Last modified: December 07, 1998