Oman, The Catholic Church in

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The Sultanate of Oman (Umân wa-Musqat in Arabic) comprises the Arabian peninsula of Musandam. It is bound on the north by the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf of Oman, on the east by the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, on the south by the Arabian Sea and on the west by Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A long, steep, semicircular mountain range protects the region's fertile coastal plain, while the western region becomes increasingly arid near its boundary with the "empty quarter," as the Rub al-Khali desert is known. Natural resources include petroleum, natural gas, copper, marble, asbestos, limestone, gypsum and chromium, while dates, limes, bananas and alfalfa are the predominant agricultural products.

Oman's economy is based on petroleum and natural gas exports, although the nation is not a member of OPEC; the country also benefits from its strategic position as a transit point for international crude oil trade. Other economic sectors include the sea trade and the export of dates, for which the region has been renowned

since ancient times; vines are cultivated in the more fertile mountain regions. Eighty percent of the population is literate.

Oman was established by Arabs in the first century as a trading outpost of Mesopotamia. Conquered by Muslims in the 7th century, it was ruled by independent imĀms, or emirs subservient to the caliphate of Abbasside at Baghdad. The region became a Portuguese possession in 1506, but the Portuguese withdrew by 1650 due to repeated attacks by Ottoman Turks, who reestablished their trading empire. A century later, in 1754, Ahmad ibn Said, a descendant of the imam of Yemen, claimed the region and his dynasty remained in power in 2000. Oman became a sultanate in 1793, and relations with Great Britain were established in 1798. Although Oman was the most powerful nation in Arabia in 1800, with control of Zanzibar and the coast of Iran and Pakistan, it suffered economic and political decline during the later 19th century, in part because of tribal warfare. Oman fell under British protection in 1913, its relationship strengthened by a series of treaties. Britain proved to be a benevolent ally to the sultanate: through British intervention, revolts against the repressive sultan Said bin Taimur were suppressed in 1953 and 1965, and in 1967 Great Britain ceded the Kuria Muria Islands to Oman. The discovery of oil in the region in 1964 boosted the country's economy, although it sparked a political upheaval that was resolved after the sultan was deposed by his British-educated son, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, during a bloodless palace coup in July of 1970. Taimur fled to England and ended his life in exile at a hotel in London. A revolution staged by a guerilla group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman was put down in 1975, as Qaboos began his ambitious program of controlled modernization. He also maintained good relationships with Great Britain and Oman's mideast neighbors. By the close of the 20th century, the sultan exhibited signs of increasing liberalization, permitting women to run for election and legalizing political parties within Oman, as well as undertaking efforts to privatize the country's oil industry. On Nov. 6, 1996, Qaboos issued the Basic Charter, a decree granting basic civil liberties to all Omani citizens, including freedom of religion. In somewhat of a contrast, however, suffrage remained restricted to 50,000 voters in the 1997 election.

By 2000 Oman had four parishes tended by one secular and six religious priests. Catholic missions existed at Shar and Salalah, and two churches were built on government-provided land in Muscat. As a religious minority in a predominately Muslim country, Catholics respected the tenets of sharia (islamic law) by refraining from evangelization activities among Oman's Muslim population. All children of Omani citizens were required to receive education in Islam, although non-citizens were not required to follow suit. While publication of Catholic materials was not permitted in Oman, no prohibition was placed against their import. The government encouraged ecumenical dialogue. Most Omani were Ibadi Muslims, although a Shia Muslim population resided in Muscat.

Bibliography: Bilan du Monde (Paris 1964) 2:602. b. thomas, Arab Rule under the Al Bu Said Dynasty of Oman, 17411937 (London 1938). Annuario Pontificio has data on all diocese.

[a. jamme/eds.]