Ibadis in the Sultanate of Oman: Religious and Sectarian Coexistence

Published: January 15, 2015

(The following is a summary of a paper on Oman’s Ibadi sect, published in Al-Mesbar’s 93rd monthly book. For an executive summary of the book, click here.)

Jordanian author and researcher Mohammed Al-Awawda explores the Sultanate  of Oman, which he claims has been the most successful of the Gulf states in overcoming sectarian tension. The author presents his research on the Ibadis, who may be distinguished from other religious groups in Islam for their strong belief in the principle of “national unity” — a quality which in turn has prevented Ibradis from embracing the “takfir” or abolishing others from the faith. This branch of Islam has also imposed policies designed to decreasing sectarian differences, which have helped spread an ethos of tolerance among sects inOman.

The study shows that 45 percent of Oman’s indigenous population identify as Ibadi faithful, while Sunni Islam makes up nearly 50% of the population. The remaining 5% are a combination of Shia Muslims, Hindus, and Christians.

The history of Ibadism has its roots in the “khawarij,” an early Islamic movement that renounced Ali bin Abi Taleb during his historic confrontation with the future caliph Mu’awiya. In other words, the Ibadi sect was formed out of a political party which did not congeal into one of Islam’s principal sects. But official religious and secular institutions in Oman reject this description, and regard their community as a mainstream strand of Islam. The name “Ibadi” goes back to the group’s progenitor, Abdulla bin Abi Ibad.    

In its schools, the Sultanate of Oman avoids teaching sectarian dogma or the history of division within Islam. Curricula are informed solely by general Islamic principles undisputed by Sunnis, Shias, or Ibadis. This approach appears to have strengthened the country’s social fabric.

The study also traces the beginnings of political Islam in Oman — movements that have attempted to insinuate themselves into the Ibadi sect since 1967. Awawda examines the local manifestations of Wahhabism. the Muslim Brotherhood, and Shirazi Shia Islamism.