Reaching the Nations

Oman

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 309,500 square km.  Occupying the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman borders Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.  A small enclave in the United Arab Emirates at the tip of the Musandam Peninsula adjacent to the Strait of Hormuz also belongs to Oman.  Arid, hot desert coverts most of the country and coastal areas have higher humidity.  In extreme southern Oman, a monsoon occurs and results in tropical climate in the Salalah region.  Plains are the dominant terrain feature, with mountains in the far northeast and extreme southwest.  Sandstorms and droughts are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include increasing soil salinity, oil spills and little available fresh water.  Oman is administratively divided into five regions and four governorates. 

Population: 3,418,085 (July 2009)

Annual Growth Rate: 3.138% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 5.53 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy: 71.87 male, 76.55 female (2009)

Peoples

Arab: 72%

Other: 28%

Arabs form the majority of the population.  Nearly 600,000 foreigners reside in the country (17% of the total population).  Most other ethnic groups come from South Asia and other Middle Eastern nations.  There are also some Africans, Filipinos, Europeans, and Americans who temporarily work in Oman. 

Languages: Arabic dialects (60%), Indian languages (13%), Balochi (7%), Mehri (2%), other (18%).  Arabic is the official language.  Only Arabic dialects have over one million speakers (2.0 million).

Literacy: 81.4% (2003)

History

Oman has been populated for more than 5,000 years and has traded with many areas in the Indian Ocean and Asia.  Persians controlled or influenced Oman for several centuries before and after Christ's birth.  Islam arrived shortly after its founding and Oman assisted its spread in Asia.  The Portuguese ruled for around 150 years starting in the early sixteenth century.  Omani independence occurred in 1650.  Oman began expanding its influence in East Africa for the following two centuries until the empire divided in the mid-nineteenth century.  Friendship treaties were signed with the British in the late eighteenth century resulting in Oman not coming under European rule.  A rebellion occurred in the Dhofar Governorate in the 1960s and 1970s.  In 1970, the son of the sultan overtook the government and has ruled since.  Sultan Qagoos has modernized Oman and maintained close relations with the United Kingdom.  Oman has acted more independently than much of the Arab world, but has positive relations with all nations in the Middle East.

Culture 

Oman has some inherited cultural characteristics but shares cultural similarities with neighboring Arab nations.  Islam heavily influences everyday life.  Oman is famous for the Khanjar, a curved knife worn on holidays.  Men and women continue to wear traditional clothing.  Cuisine includes spiced meat, rice, and breads.  Cigarette and alcohol consumption rates are very low.  Polygamy is practiced by some Muslims. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $20,300 [43.8% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.846

Corruption Index: 5.5

Oman is one of the less wealthy nations on the Arabian Peninsula mainly due to limited oil reserves.  The government has sought to diversify the economy and lessen dependence on oil for revenue.  Services are the largest economic sector (62%) followed by industry (36%).  Foreign workers account for approximately 60% of the workforce and the unemployment rate is around 15%.  Agriculture is limited due to the dry climate, but common crops include dates, fruit, and alfalfa.   Oil is the largest industry and primary export.  Trade partners include China, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, and Japan. 

Faiths

Muslim: 95%

Other: 5%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic   3,001

Seventh Day Adventists   less than 300

Latter-day Saints  around 100  1

Religion

Nearly all Arabs are Muslim.  Most foreign workers from other Middle Eastern nations or South Asia are Muslim.  Other religious groups include Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Bahai's.  Christians are concentrated in the larger cities of Muscat, Sohar, and Salalah.  There are some government efforts to regulate Islamic activity, such as mosque construction and location.[1]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The Basic Law allows for freedom to practice religion if it does not interfere with public order and recognizes Islam as the state religion.  Shari'a law is in effect and connects Islamic practices with government policy.  Islamic holidays are recognized as national holidays.  Discrimination based on religious affiliation is forbidden.  Unlike some Middle East nations, conversion from Islam to another religion is not regarded as a crime but does carry potential legal challenges from fathers retaining rights over their children.  Land is donated by the Sultan to non-Muslims for religious assembly.  Proselytism is not illegal but can be stopped if those offended report it to government.  Government prohibits foreigners on tourist visas from preaching, teaching and leading congregations.  Islam is taught in public schools and non-Muslims may be exempted.  Private schools may provide non-Muslim religious instruction.  All religious groups must be registered, which is done on a case by case basis.  There have been no recent reports of societal abuses on religious freedom.[2]

Largest Cities

Urban: 72%

Muscat, As-Sib, Salalah, Bawsar, Suhar, Ibri, As-Suwayq, Ruwi, Saham, Nizwa.

LDS History

In 1988, there was only one active member who would travel to the United Arab Emirates for Church meetings.[3]  The first congregation was likely created between 1990 and 2000.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: around 100 (2008)

In early 2010, membership in the Oman Branch appeared to number between 50 and 100.  Most members reside in the Muscat metropolitan area. All members with a few possible exceptions are foreigners. 

Congregational Growth

Branches: 1  Groups: 1

In 2000, Oman was assigned to the Europe Central Area.  In 2008, the country was transferred to the newly created Middle East/Africa North Area.  In addition to the Oman Branch, which is assigned to the Manama Bahrain Stake, there is also a military group.

Activity and Retention

It is difficult to estimate member activity rates due to the unknown number of inactive foreign members.  Member activity seems high among known membership.  As much as 75% of LDS membership in Oman may be active.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Arabic, English, Farsi, Hindi, Tagalog, Urdu

All LDS scriptures are available in Arabic, English, and Tagalog.  Book of Mormon translations have been completed for Hindi and Urdu; only Book of Mormon selections are available in Farsi.  Most Church materials are available in Arabic and Tagalog whereas Urdu and Farsi have more limited Church materials.  Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony are available in Farsi.  The Liahona has twelve issues annually in Tagalog, three issues in Urdu, and one issue in Hindi. 

Meetinghouses

Meetings for the Oman Branch likely occur in a rented space.  Meetings for the military group likely occur on base.

Humanitarian and Development Work

Church members cleaned a section of beach outside Muscat in February 2010.  Large-scale humanitarian efforts do not appear to have occurred.

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Oman has one of the most tolerant atmospheres for non-Muslims in the Middle East.  The Church can benefit from liberal laws which can accommodate the conversion of not just non-natives but also Omani citizens if they approach the Church on their own initiative.  Appointment of government land for a meetinghouse appears likely once membership requires a larger meeting location.  Omani law may restrict visiting Church leaders from training and conducting ecclesiastical business.  In 2009, the Church published the name of the Oman Branch on its meetinghouse locator website and provided contact information for the branch president.  This is the only link for those without local LDS personal contacts to find the Church.

Cultural Issues

Church meetings are held in Friday, the Muslim day of worship.  Tolerance towards non-Muslim religions is higher than most Arab nations but Oman is heavily influenced by Islam and Arab culture.  Conversion from Islam is greatly frowned upon and in other Arab nations can result in capital punishment if discovered.  Low rates of alcohol and tobacco lessen challenges overcoming these substances for prospective converts prior to baptism.  

National Outreach

The highly urbanized population reduces the number of outreach centers needed to reach most inhabitants.  Membership is most concentrated along the northeastern coast where Oman has the highest population densities.  Sparsely populated areas outside the northeastern coast and the Salalah region challenge future outreach. 

The national population remains unreached by the Church due to cultural restrictions on proselytism.  Only individuals in personal contact with members have access to the meetinghouse location and contact with the Church in Oman.  The meetinghouse location is not made public due to the Church's sensitive nature.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The tiny church membership in an Islamic nation with a sensitive Church presence has likely lessened member activity as many have been unable to find the Church.  The quality of teaching received by members and their church attendance habits of will be most strongly influenced by the nations in which they joined the Church.  Foreign members may experience increased church activity resulting at least in part from the desire for social interaction.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The greatest opportunities for member-missionary work are among Christian foreign workers.  Cultural restrictions and the lack of Omani Arab membership frustrate greater outreach among Omani Arabs.  The diversity among the non-Arab population challenges ethnic integration efforts.  Most members in the Oman Branch appear to be Westerners who may have little contact with foreign workers from South Asia and the Philippines. 

Language Issues

LDS scriptures and materials are available in most native languages spoken by the Omani population.  The language with the most speakers without Church materials is Balochi, which appears unlikely to have forthcoming translations of Church materials.  English will likely continued to be used until enough active members and leaders require the creation of language-specific congregations.  Language-specific congregations for immigrant workers have previously been created in the Middle East, such as a ward in Doha, Qatar designated for members speaking Filipino languages. 

Leadership

In early 2010, the president of the Oman Branch was a Westerner.  Local leadership appears well trained and developed due to expatriates staffing callings in the branch.  Limited leadership outside of Muscat and among non-English speakers may have contributed to only one branch functioning in Oman. 

Temple

Oman is assigned to the Frankfurt Germany Temple district.  Temple trips likely occur with the Manama Bahrain Stake due to the small size of membership.  Due to long distances from temples, a temple may be constructed on the Arabian Peninsula to serve foreign members living in the Middle East, the majority of which have very active and reside in neighboring Arab nations. 

Comparative Growth

The Church arrived later to Oman than to most other Arab nations.  The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain appear to all have more members.  Much of this delayed and limited growth appears due to slower economic growth and fewer expatriate workers.  There is still virtually no outreach among the Arab-speaking Omani population, notwithstanding a more favorable environment than in other nations.  Christian groups only have established congregations among expatriates.  Christian churches have few congregations and limited national outreach. 

Future Prospects

Legislation more tolerant than most other Arab nations toward the religious freedom of non-Muslim groups and the sizable foreign worker population provides a positive outlook for future growth.  Potential mission outreach opportunities among foreign works have yet to be realized and must be due without infringing on Omani law.  Future sustainable growth may occur among the foreign population through member-missionary efforts, creative outreach strategies, social networking, and foreign workers remaining in Oman for extended periods of time.


[1]  "Oman," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127355.htm

[2] "Oman," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127355.htm

[3]  Platt, Joseph B.  "Our Oasis of Faith," Ensign, Apr 1988, 39