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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Oman

Ethnicity

Most of Oman's population is Arab, which is an ethnic group of people from the Arabian Peninsula, on which Oman sits at the tip. Like all Arab people, the Omanis aren't truly a singular ethnicity, but rather have traces of various other ethnicities that have been introduced. In Oman's case, the greatest outside influences include the Bedouin, perhaps the origin of the Arabs, and the East Africans, as Oman was ruled from Zanzibar, Tanzania for some time and the trade between the two brought numerous Africans to the region. With the people from East Africa came great ethnic diversity, although the people are still considered "Arab." There is a group of Baluchi, people who claim a distinct ethnicity, but primarily are defined by language (originally from the region of Iran and Pakistan). There are also a number of South Asian immigrants, some of whom have stayed; these people primarily include Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis.

Language

Arabic is the only official language in Oman. The written form of the language is called Modern Standard Arabic (written in the Arabic script), which gives the language consistency across countries from a written perspective. The spoken dialects of Arabic are so drastic from location to location that Arabic speakers in Oman may not even understand Arabic speakers from a country further away, like Morocco. Obviously the dialect of Arabic in Oman is most closely related to the dialects spoken in nearby countries like Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.

Arabic is a Semitic language; other closely related Semitic languages include Amharic (Ethiopia) and Hebrew. More distantly related are languages like Berber (North Africa) as well as historic languages including Phoenician and ancient Egyptian.

There are a number of ethnic minorities that speak less common languages, including Baluchi, Urdu, and others. For most of these people, Arabic is also learned and is the most common language of communication between groups. English is the most commonly taught second language in the country and many young people speak at least a minimal amount of English if they are not completely fluent.

Religion

Ibadi (or Ibadhi) Muslim is the official religion of Oman and nearly three quarters of the population follow this religion. The rest of the population is also primarily Muslim, consisting of Sunni and Shia Muslims, but also smaller numbers of other religions, including Hindi.

Islam (the name of the religion, whose followers are called Muslims) is a monotheistic religion, whose holy book is called the Qur'an. The Qur'an is believed to be the word of God spoken through the prophet Muhammad from 609-632 CE (Common Era is preferred over AD (Anno Domini or "year of the Lord") since the Islamic world doesn't believe Jesus was the messiah). Islam believes Muhammad was the last prophet sent to earth by God, the last in a long line of prophets, which includes Moses, Abraham, and Jesus among others.

Muslims follow five pillars of their faith: testimony, prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. These pillars, and other tenants of their faith, can give great structure to their lives as some foods, like pork, are forbidden and every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day. However, the level of participation in each of these pillars and to what degree Islam influences an individual's life varies from person to person and community to community. Generally speaking, Oman has a range of both liberal and conservative Muslims, but the people tend to be fairly conservative.

This page was last updated: May, 2014