Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Royal Opera House

The new Royal Opera House Muscat program is out (January-March). More details here on Muscat Mutterings, or on the ROHM website. Tickets range from 3 OMR to 55 OMR.

Sultan Qaboos Soccer Cup

And we won .... :)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dhofar Tonight

Pay attention if you're an expat living in Salalah!

Tonight is the final soccer match for the Sultan Qaboos Cup. Both teams that made it to the finals this year are Dhofari teams (Al Ittihad/green - Nadi Dhofar/red). This is HUGE for us. In both cases, Salalah is going to be on fire tongiht because the cup is staying here.

Furthermore, because both teams that made it to the finals are Dhofari, the final match was moved to Salalah. It's taking place at the Saada Sports Stadium (next to Dhofar university). The game starts at 7:30 (live on TV), but doors open at 3 p.m and people are advised to get their early. Entrance is free, and there's a special section of the stadium for ladies. I'm tempted.

If you notice an abnormally large number of police cars around town, don't worry. However, if you want to avoid traffic jams and thousands of crazed boys hanging out of car windows painted red/green, I advise you to stay home. It's going to be wild when the game is over (around 9:30 I guess). Be prepared to see lots of Madar (Dhofar celebratory dance, usually seen after soccer matches).

In case you were wondering, Dhofari Gucci is a loyal Dhofar club fan, so I'll be wearing my brightest red thobe tonight.


Sunday, December 25, 2011


Ten weeks into my freshman year at college a few years ago (overseas), I experienced my first 'Christmas'. The commercialism confused me because we had nothing like that during Eid in Oman, but I tried to understand. I spent Christmas day alone reading.

During my second year of college, I was invited to spend Christmas with a Christian family and it completely changed my perspective. They welcomed me into their home with open arms and introduced me to their family traditions during this festive time. Televisions were put away, laptops switched off, and mugs of hot cocoa were made. They isolated themselves from the modern world and settled into a few days of pure family. We baked, we decorated the Christmas tree and wrapped gifts and gave to the poor and played Christmas music. I also went to Mass with them out of curiosity. It was snowing and there was a fireplace in the living room. Every moment from that magical time has remained intact in my memory.

From that moment, I have been working (in my own way) to promote religious tolerance among my friends, family and wider audience. I am proud to be a Muslim but I also deeply respect peaceful people of other faiths. Believing we are superior to others in religion or race or culture will not get us anywhere in this life. What this world needs is more tolerance.

I would like to wish all my Christian readers a blessed Christmas and a blessed Chanukah to members of the Jewish faith (the celebration started on December 20th and will continue until the 28th).

Peace - Nadia

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dhofar's DNA

(view from Taqah lookout point, half an hour east of Salalah)

I'm very much looking forward to buying Maria Dekeersmaeker's new book titled 'DNA of Salalah, Dhofar. A Tourist Guide'. Has anyone been to the Family Bookshop in Salalah this week? Is it available? I know a Kindle edition is available on Amazon.com but I'm not a fan of e-anything. If you find the actual paper book please let me know!

From today's Times of Oman:
.MUSCAT: What has Pointillism, a neo-impressionist painting technique got to do with the Khareef? How many tiles were used in the Mihrab of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Salalah? Which particular role do Dhofar women play in the traditional music of the region? Why is the camel, the ship of the desert, everywhere in Dhofar? What are the crying stones? Why is the Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter also called the Valuable Quarter?
All these answers and much more can be found in the ‘DNA of Salalah, Dhofar. A Tourist Guide’ written by Maria Dekeersmaeker and printed in Salalah. “Like DNA is a blueprint of living beings, this book tells in 191 pages, with 57 pictures and with particular maps, stories about the past, the present and the future of the southern part of the Sultanate,” says the author.
As DNA influences most of the characteristics of living beings, every chapter in the guidebook contains a ‘main theme,’ a so-called cliffhanger. The particular information expressed in ‘Essentials’ can be interesting for new discoveries or for further explorations. The references to other publications and websites are the tools.
With this book the Belgium author and journalist Maria Dekeersmaeker, based in Salalah, Dhofar, has fulfilled again another dream come true. In 2008, she wrote the novel The Earth has Fever her debut and first dream. ‘The DNA of Salalah, Dhofar. A Tourist Guide’ is available in bookshops in Muscat and Salalah.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Onken is BACK

..... at Lulu's in Salalah. With new flavors. Forgive my obsession with yoghurts. 'Nuff said.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tim Hortons

So according to today's Times of Oman article here, Tim Hortons is opening an outlet in Muscat in early 2012. You heard me right. Muscat Mutterings is going to be a very happy man. They also said an outlet or several in Salalah would be a possiblity. If that's true, then the future of coffee at this end of the country just got brighter. At the moment there are no cafes here that serve real brewed coffee. Brewed beans. Not paper packages you tear open and add to a cup of boiling water. I'm talkin about real coffee. Tim Hortons are also famous for their wide variety of doughnuts *drool*. They hope to open thirteen outlets in Oman by 2013. THIRTEEN. Surely one or two of them will be in Salalah, right? Happy Saturday!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dhofar findings challenge ‘Out of Africa’ Hypothesis

By M Najamuz Zafar - Muscat Daily - 05/12/2011
The recent discovery of stone artefacts from the Dhofar region has challenged the long-held theory that modern humans expanded across the world from Africa. The new findings now point out that humankind ventured into the Arabian Peninsula instead of hugging its coasts, and did so thousands of years earlier than long thought. Lead researcher Jeffrey Rose, a paleolithic archaeologist at University of Birmingham in the UK, who has been in Oman since 2002 and runs the Dhofar Archaeological Project (DAP) in cooperation with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, told Muscat Daily that the new findings provide irrefutable evidence of a population expansion from northeast Africa into Arabia.

“The question remains, however, if this was a successful colonisation that led to our expansion to the rest of the world. To answer that question, we must continue exploring Dhofar, and to the north, within the Rub al Khali,” said Rose. He added that the new discovery has led to a few surprises. “First, no one has ever considered the Nile Valley as the source of human expansion. Until now, we expected the group to have come from somewhere in East Africa. "This was based on genetic evidence,as well as very early modern human remains found in Ethiopia. “However, with our discovery, it now seems the colonising population moved out from the Nile Valley.

"They were not fishermen, but large game hunters who were particularly well adapted to the open savannah. It is for this reason that they flourished in Dhofar, which was experiencing much wetter climatic conditions at that time.” Second, the expansion took place tens of thousands of years earlier than predicted by geneticists, forcing Rose's team to re-evaluate the genetic dating methods. “This early date may mean the 'great expansion' that occurred 70,000 years ago originated in Arabia, and not Africa. Third, the expanding groups moved into the interior. Not one site was found anywhere near the coast, completely overturning the prevailing coastal expansion hypothesis,” he said.

Confined to the Nejd Plateau in Dhofar, Rose's team has unearthed more than 100 sites classified as Nubian Middle Stone Age (MSA). Nubian MSA artefacts are well known throughout the Nile Valley, but this is the first time such sites have been found outside Africa. A dating technique called 'optically stimulated luminescence,’ which measures how much radiation a mineral has absorbed over time, revealed that the tools are roughly 106,000 years old. “This is considerably older than present biological data that indicates men left Africa between 70,000 and 40,000 years ago.”
So far the researchers have not discovered the remains of humans or any animals at the site. “The conditions are not very conducive to preservation, as all bone breaks down here. "However, Nubian Complex artefacts are associated with modern human remains in Egypt, so it's pretty safe to assume these toolmakers are the same species that was in Arabia,” said Rose.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Grand Mufti of Oman Condemns Royal Opera House (Part 2)

Further to our discussion yesterday, many of you know that in a recent video, His Eminence the Grand Mufti of Oman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamad Al Khalili deemed it unacceptable for muslims to visit the newly opened Royal Opera House in Muscat. This has caused an explosion of debate on local internet forums and the Arabic blogosphere here in Oman. I just read a letter to the mufti written by fellow controversial blogger Muawiyah Al Rawahi on his Arabic blog. I'm secretly pleased with all the discussion His Eminence has triggered. It's very important for Omanis to talk about this and figure out where they stand. (and no, I don't think we must stand united)
Following a request from one of my readers, thinker & blogger Balqis, here's the transcript of what he said. It's a pretty short video (48 seconds).

He was reading a question from a paper:

Question: My Mother, may God grant her health and long life, wants to visit the newly opened Royal Opera House to admire the architecture and beautiful designs. Is this acceptable, given the fact that such venues host musical events known to the world as 'opera'. This is the main purpose of the venue.

Mufti: since the dedicated purpose of this venue is music and dance, then visiting it is not acceptable. As for the architecture and designs, they're not exclusive to this location only and can be found at other locations, and Allah knows best.
If you're a conservative Muslim, don't read any further. It may upset you, but I think many younger Omanis share my sentiments. Let me get one thing straight; His Eminence has been around for as long as I can remember and is a very much loved and respected person in Oman. This isn't the only opinion he's voiced which has caused public debate. Earlier this year when Malik Al Mamari, former ROP chief was replaced, His Eminence expressed hope that the new chief would ban all bars in Oman. When cyclone Gonu struck Oman in 2007, he said it was because of our accumulated sins. He's allowed to express his opinions like everyone else. It's a free country.
On one hand, I truly respect him and feel his opinions are valid, but on the other hand sometimes I feel they're irrelevant for me.
The concept of the Royal Opera House is alien to many Omanis, especially ones living in rural areas and villages. In Salalah, most locals don't know what to think so they've chosen to ignore it altogether. According to the last newspaper column from fellow blogger here, a decent number of Omanis are boycotting the ROHM because they feel the money could have been spent on more useful ventures that would benefit Omanis.

Whether His Eminence is keeping up with the modern times is questionable… and whether Islam should keep up with modern times in the first place is also a topic for debate, but in my honest opinion, if you want to instill sound Islamic beliefs in the new (and coming) generations of Omanis, religious leaders must make their teachings relevant.

Our current version of Islam was adapted by religious thinkers over a thousand years ago and many of the laws were developed for political reasons. We follow the Quran, and the Hadiths (Sunna), our second source of Islamic theology. Hadiths are reports of what the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said and did in his lifetime. Whatever questions the Quran doesn't answer, the sunna supposedly does. Over the centuries, hadiths have been catalogued by Islamic scholars for our consumption. All we have to do is submit to them (or the ones our Imams choose for us). Does that mean we shouldn't think? What if entire phrases have been misconceived? The reality of Muslims hundreds of years ago is very different from our reality today.

There, I said it.

Islam supposedly encourages 'Ijtihad', i.e. the art of independent reasoning, but scholars today don't. Believe it or not, the 9th century Baghdad caliph (highest Islamic authority) Al Mamun encouraged a version of Islam that promoted rational thought. Those were the days of Avveroes (Ibn Rushd) and Ibn Sina, some of Islam's greatest liberal philosophers. A few generations later, the gates of ijtihad were closed and therefore the tradition of independent thought. In the guise of protecting the Muslim nation from disunity (fitna), Baghdad-approved scholars agreed to freeze debate within Islam. From their politically motivated perspective, everything muslims needed to know was already known. If you had a question, that four existing Sunni schools of thought would address it for you.

Here we are hundreds of years later living with the consequences of a thousand year old strategy to keep the Islamic 'empire' from imploding.

Let's get another thing straight; I'm Muslim and I will always be Muslim. I believe in a pure spiritual and peaceful Islam. I also believe in independent reasoning. The Quran may be sent from the heavens, but does that mean man's interpretation of those holy verses is also holy? Of course not. Quite often I feel the interpretations we have of the Quran may not be as accurate as we'd like to believe. The Quran may be sent from God/Allah/A higher being but most Islamic teachings are man-made. You want to refuse to believe that and continue hiding with your head in the sand? Be my guest.
Our problem with young Muslims these days is that we have a new generation of kids who are smart, worldly and able to think for themselves. Like me, they're not ready to be spoon-fed a version of Islam from a thousand years ago. For example, back to the question of music being a sin. Do I believe it's a sin? Not really. Do I believe listening to music non-stop is bad? Yes, because life's too short and I should be out in the world doing good. Do I believe rap music (it's not even music) with crappy language is good? Of course not. Why would I listen to something so negative? But I think I'm able to choose what kind of music I listen to and whether it contributes to me being a better person. It's a question of morals, ethics and independent reasoning. I don't need an Imam to tell me I'm sinning by listening to Tchaikovsky while I do housework.

Another issue that drives me nuts is the battle of religions. I don't believe Islam trumps over Christianity and Judaism because the Torah and the Bible are from God too, right? How can they be infidels when they follow the same God we do and believe in the same prophets we believe in? Do I think Muslims are the only humans who are getting into heaven? Uh, no. Do many muslims think that? Uh, yes. I think having faith, doing good, and being a good person are what matters.
There are aspects of Islam that I feel have been altered. I'm uncomfortable with Islamic teachings related to killing and war. To me as a young Muslim in this day and age, it's irrelevant and disturbing. The Islam I want to follow is peaceful, spiritual and relevant. And I maintain the right to think for myself.

Back to the Mufti's statement about alcohol, I spent five years in a western country at college. College life is all about drinking. I'm confident in saying that I hate alcohol and wish it never existed. I was saddened to see how utterly stupid my peers became after two or three beers. They say it made them feel better, but if you need alcohol to make you feel better than you have a problem. I was saddened to know that most forms of socializing revolved around alcohol and only alcohol. There were no meaningful activities or conversations when alcohol was involved. And furthermore, drinkers made fun of people who didn't drink (even for health reasons, like a dear friend of mine who had a serious heart condition). I stayed away from alcohol and made friends with people who were willing to do things that didn't revolve around drinks. Did I openly condemn drinkers? No. It's their business. Did I go anywhere near alcohol? No. If you drink, that's your life, but my life is so much better without it. The world would be a better place without it.
.Another issue that I choose to apply independent reasoning to is the whole chaperone idea for women. In Islam, women need chaperones when they leave their homes. According to Saudi clerics, women should never drive and should be chaperoned even when surfing the internet. To me, that makes no sense at all. Did I sin by spending five years abroad? I was raised well and my family trusted me. Did I get into trouble? No. Is it a sin to work with men? Apparently yes. But guess what? I don’t want to believe that. . . and I won't. If I apply independent reasoning to this, it just doesn't make sense to me that God would create men and women then condemn women to their homes. I'd like to think that men and women were put here on this earth to do good and work side by side to make this world a better place. Those are just some of the issues that have forced me to re-think the Islam I was taught in school here in Oman.

But you know something? I respect His Eminence the Grand Mufti. I respect all Muftis. Their hearts are in the right place. We need Sheikhs and Imams and Muftis and religious leaders because very few Muslims want to dive into independent reasoning. They want to be told what to believe in. Their faith is what keeps them going. Never mock that. If that's what suits them, then let them be. If that guy really was worried about taking his mother to the opera house, then bless his heart, and he's lucky he has the Grand Mufti to turn to. And I truly respect the Mufti for taking the time out to answer people's questions.
I was born with a mind of my own and I'm sure God intended for me to use it. I read a lot and think a lot and I truly believe the Quran is a beautiful and wonderful holy book and that Islam is a beautiful religion.... true Islam. However, original Islamic practices have mingled in with our Arab traditions over centuries and today we find ourselves with a version of Islam that isn't necessarily the one we were intended to follow. The pillars of Islam and the faraidh فرائض are clear, thank goodness, but so many other teachings leave me with a huge question marks above my head. I choose to apply my own independent reasoning to some teachings of Islam that were developed by men over a thousand years ago and that seem irrelevant to my reality.

Humans aren't perfect, and the men from centuries ago who developed the Islam that we follow today had their hearts in the right place, but that doesn’t mean they were right about everything. Man's interpretation skills can suck sometimes.

Again, I respect the Mufti's opinion and I wish him health and long life. He has every right to speak his opinion and that applies to me and you as well. He's a remarkable person and very dear to us Omanis. His deputy, Asst. Grand Mufti Dr. Kahlan Al Kahrusi is expected to become the Grand Mufti of Oman in the event of Al Khalili's death (may Allah grant him long life). For those of you who are unfamiliar with Dr/Sheikh Kahlan, he is also a truly remarkable person. Believe it or not, he's quite young and very educated/worldly. He spent years studying (and teaching) at Oxford and obtained his Masters and doctorate in Islamic studies from there. Along with his academic credentials, he has a wealth of research experience working at the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in Oman as a researcher and advisor for His Eminence the Grand Mufti. He was only appointed as the Assistant Grand Mufti in 2010. I had the honor of meeting him briefly right after his appointment and I think the future of Islamic research in Oman is in good hands. I really liked him.

And finally, as outrageous as this post may seem, keep in mind that I'm still learning. That's the beauty of it. That’s the beauty of Islam. I will continue to study and think. The minute your opinions become fixed, that's when you stop learning.

Regardless of what you believe in, I encourage you to post your opinions in the comment section. It's a learning experience for me.
Peace - Nadia

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Grand Mufti Condemns Royal Opera House

A couple of days ago a video surfaced in YouTube of the Grand Mufti of Oman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamad Al Khalili (mufti meaning religious leader or highest religious authority in a country) while he was answering people's questions on religion. A guy mentioned that his mother wanted to visit the newly opened Royal Opera House Muscat to admire the Islamic architecture and the Mufti stated clearly that because the venue hosts evils like dance and music, that is it forbidden for muslims to visit such dens of iniquity. Ouch. I wonder what His Majesty feels about that. If you speak Arabic you can see the video here. Your thoughts?