|Chandelier in the Grand Mosque|
Ever since we've been in Muscat we've driven up and down the Sultan Qaboos Highway and admired the Grand Mosque as we drove past it. Always with a we will go there one day. Yesterday was one day, so we did!
The problem being that the mosque is only open to non-Muslims from 8 - 11 work days, it's that work day thing, doesn't really gell with my schedule, what with having to work on work days...
|Grand garden entrance|
Beautiful structures, clean and elegant with an army of workers applying spit and polish to keep it all in pristine shape. And I guess that the European cathedrals must have been kept like that in their early days. As an interesting side light I believe there is a law here that no house can be further than one kilometre from a mosque. In our case there are at least 4 mosques within a kilometre of our house.
|Main prayer room|
And then outside, apart from the gardens there are two semi enclosed colonaded passage ways. Each of these contains a series of arched stoneworks (mosaic, inlay, carving - but mostly mosaic) giving you a guided tour of Islamic Art. The one at the front of the mosque starts (or ends - you pick) with Omani art and the one on the other side starts (or ends - you pick) with Saudi Arabian art, as the home of Islam. So I started with Omani Art and ended with Saudi Arabian somewhere around an hour later.
All of this fits in with the intent that the Grand Mosque would be a centre of Islamic learning and study, for all forms of Islam. So it is not surprising that there is an Islamic study centre, an Islamic tertiary institution and an Islamic information centre in the grounds and their surrounds.
Unfortunately being a public holiday there were no guides on hand to explain everything. If you ever come to Oman the Grand Mosque is a must see - Women must have ankle to wrist coverage and a head scarf. The European woman who tried to get in with a t-shirt tied to head was politely told no, try again. And as with any Islamic place of worship you have to enter bare footed, so there are shoe racks conveniently located outside the entrances, running along the walls for some way.
It is interesting just how much a core part of life religion is for Omani's. Everyday at work the office goes quiet at prayer time as people gather to pray in formal and less formal prayer spaces. You see the same in any workplace, be it an office or a little stall at the local souk. In some cases shops are left open while the staff go and pray, trusting that their non praying customers will wait until they return. And it works, although that concession doesn't happen at the big shopping centres.
All of this leads me to a history lesson. The current Sultan - Sultan Qaboos Bin Said came to power in 1970 as a result of a coup. At that time Oman was a closed country, very few outsiders came here, ships crew were often not allowed off their boats when in harbour. City gates were closed at dusk and there was no electric light. There was one bitumen road, which ran between Sultan Taimur Bin Said's palace and the airport. Schools, hospitals and amenities of any kind were few and far between.
|Ottoman 16-17 C style|
So the long and the short of it is that Sultan Taimur, who had absolute power, but not control of the country was ousted and his only son, who had a Sandhurst military education and time in the UK Armed Forces came to power.
He brought in British assistance and set about quelling the rebellion, building a nation and using the (limited) oil wealth to benefit the populace. In order to quell the rebellion the young Sultan let it be known that anyone who deserted the rebels would be welcomed back with open arms. And then as his army made territorial advances wells were dug, medical aid dispensed, electricity and other advances were provided to the newly liberated area. Of course there was an underlying and I believe unstated message of what we give you we can also take away. Schools, hospitals, sealed roads followed soon after.
|13-14c Persian style|
As a foot note:
If you want a tale of a modern day equivalent to Rourke's Drift (the battle in the movie Zulu) then read about the battle at Mirbat. It was one of the pivotal moments and fought by small numbers against great odds. Some say it is the greatest battle fought by members of the British SAS.