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Hartford Seminary

Oman: “An irresistible glow of religious pluralism”

Six Hartford Seminary students traveled to Oman for two weeks for a special January intersession course — Christian-Muslim Relations in Arabia: Ibadi Islam and Interfaith Theology in the Sultanate of Oman.

Oman has a long tradition of religious pluralism both within Islam and other faiths, which madeit an ideal place to engage in inter-Islamic and Christian-Muslim dialogue. In the two-week travel seminar, the students attended lectures and meetings with IbadiIslam imams and scholars, engaged in interfaith dialogue with students in the Institute of Sharia Sciences, met missionaries of the American Protestant Mission in Oman, and explored the interfaith context of Oman with visits to a Hindu temple; Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant worship centers; and some of the oldest mosques in Islam.

The Rev. Doug Leonard, Director of the Al-Amana Centre, Sultanate of Oman, was the on-site coordinator. Yahya Michot, Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, was the instructor of record and accompanied the students.

Junaid Sulahry, one of the students, wrote, “Some American Muslims have a tendency to dismiss the Middle East as a distant land with little contemporary significance. I was one of those people. In reality I have discovered a gem of hope in the Middle East that emits an irresistible glow of religious pluralism that cannot be ignored and must be studied. Oman’s unique culture of religious pluralism enables Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and other religious minorities to practice their faith freely and peacefully. In the past two weeks I have attended churches, temples, and other houses of worship in which the name of God is recited and in which people cannot stop talking about their freedom of worship. In a world that often seems to be growing further apart, we must study the parts of the world that have managed to come closer together. There is something irresistible here in Oman, something special that can help us navigate the increasingly complicated world in which we find ourselves. I look forward to implementing the lessons of Oman to build stronger communities back home.”

Ryan Sawyer, another student, wrote:

“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to come here. I can confidently speak for everyone on this trip when I say that each of us has been struck by the beauty of Oman in one way or another. It is a beauty of many layers of depth, from the breath-taking mountains, coasts, and deserts, to a beauty of the heart that inspires every soul in reach and totally defines the character, virtue, and hospitality of human interaction in Omani daily life.

Unlike those countries that in recent decades have been nearly torn apart by the political dance of death between the worst of modernity and the corresponding ugliness of pseudo-religious backlashes, Oman remains one of the greatest contemporary examples of a nation that, through its commitment to traditional ideals, endeavors to resist the invention of this dichotomy altogether. These ideals, aided by the stability of the state and the strength of the family and greater community, are so widespread that there is almost no violent crime or burglary at all, even in the largest cities. Moreover, the inspiring peace and cooperation between the many diverse religious communities in the context of a still largely traditional Islamic society reminds us that a total commitment to one tradition need not by any necessity come with the cost of not respecting others; indeed, the protection of religious minorities is mandated by the Islamic tradition, and it is a tragic irony when this ideal goes unrealized elsewhere, usually due to very modern developments.

Even amidst the double-edged sword or zulfiqar of radical economic development or ‘modernization,’ Oman remains by law without skyscrapers. The harmonious presence of traditional architecture, the ubiquitous aroma of frankincense, the calls to prayer from all directions at several points throughout the day, all of these call to mind the ever pervasive, ineffable Beauty, our constant companion of which all other beauties are somehow but a manifestation and, correspondingly, a reminder.

There is no one in my life whom I would not advise to visit this country, and I know absolutely no one who I believe would come and walk away without having felt that he or she had greatly benefited from it.”

Here are several photos. More photos and commentary areavailable at www.facebook.com/hartsem.

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