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Cable reference id: #08MUSCAT540
“All of them, those in power, and those who want the power, would pamper us, if we agreed to overlook their crookedness by wilfully restricting our activities.” — “Refus Global“, Paul-Émile Borduas

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Reference id aka Wikileaks id #162978  ? 
SubjectShi'a Islam In Oman
OriginEmbassy Muscat (Oman)
Cable timeTue, 22 Jul 2008 08:15 UTC
ClassificationCONFIDENTIAL
Sourcehttp://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/07/08MUSCAT540.html
Referenced by09MUSCAT851
History
Extras? Comments
VZCZCXRO2957 RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV DE RUEHMS #0540/01 2040815 ZNY CCCCC ZZH R 220815Z JUL 08 FM AMEMBASSY MUSCAT TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9810 INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
Hide header C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MUSCAT 000540 SIPDIS DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ARP, DRL E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/22/2018 TAGS: PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], PHUM [Human Rights], PINR [Intelligence], PREL [External Political Relations], OPRC [Public Relations and Correspondence], KIRF [International Religious Freedom], MU [Oman] SUBJECT: SHI'A ISLAM IN OMAN REF: 07 MUSCAT 0125 Classified By: Ambassador Gary A. Grappo for Reasons 1.4 b/d. - - - - Summary - - - - ¶1. (C) Despite its small size, Oman's population of well-integrated Shi'a Muslims plays an influential role in Oman's economy and politics. Most Shi'a strongly identify themselves as Omanis, but remain distinct in religious matters. The government provides broad autonomy to Omani Shi'a in conducting religious affairs, but also monitors Shi'a activities to prevent potentially destabilizing foreign (i.e., Iranian) influences. Outside of their religious authorities in Oman, a majority of Shi'a look to Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf for inspiration, although some younger Shi'a may be increasingly drawn to Hizballah-linked Ayatollah Mohammed Fadlallah in Lebanon. End summary. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - A Well-Integrated Minority - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ¶2. (C) Oman's Shi'a Muslim population, concentrated primarily in Muscat and along Oman's northern Batinah coast, represents a small minority of Omani society. According to most unofficial estimates, Oman's three main Shi'a communities - the Baharna (Bahraini), Ajmi, and Lawatia - as well as other smaller, nationality-based Shi'a groups, together constitute less than 5% of Oman's total population of 2.7 million. None of the larger Shi'a communities is ethnically Persian. One prominent Shi'ite estimated for poloff recently that there may be as few as 30,000 Shi'a in Oman. (Note: In keeping with the Sultan's often stated and firmly held position that "there are no distinctions among Omanis," the government publishes no statistics on religious affiliation and there are no known official estimates of the number of Shi'a in Oman. End note.) ¶3. (C) Despite their status as a small minority, Omani Shi'a enjoy significant economic and political clout in the government and private sector. Three of the 30 Cabinet ministers are Shi'a, including the two most senior economic officials - Minister of National Economy Ahmad bin Abdulnabi Macki and Minister of Commerce & Industry Maqbool bin Ali Sultan. The highly influential Chairman of the Muscat Municipality (who also holds minister rank), Abdullah bin Abbas, similarly hails from Oman's Shi'a population. Outside government, Shi'a families control some of Oman's largest trading and service companies. ¶4. (C) According to contacts, most Shi'a live among the general population and younger Shi'a are assimilating more fully into mainstream Omani society through intermarriage than did their parents. Many Shi'a are quick to emphasize their national identity over their religious one. Mohammed Ali Amir Sultan, the Managing Director of the prominent W.J. Towell Company, told poloff, for example, that he is raising his children "to be Omani, not Shi'a." - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Separate Religious Establishment - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ¶5. (C) Although well-woven into Omani society, most of Oman's Shi'a remain distinct from the country's majority Ibadhi and Sunni Muslims in religious matters. The Shi'a worship in their own mosques and meet regularly to study and discuss elements of Shi'a theology, history and "fiqh" (jurisprudence) in their own religious community centers, or "husseinias." The Sur al Lawatia (Sur), a 400-year old warren of houses and narrow alleys located along the historic Muttrah corniche near the Muscat port, is the center of the Lawatia's community life and is largely off-limits to non-Shi'a, who traditionally are allowed to enter the area by invitation only. Very few families live in the Sur, one Shi'a sheikh told poloff, but the area acts as the community's gathering place where "Shi'a can be Shi'a." ¶6. (C) There are two large husseinias for men and more than 30 smaller ones for women inside the Sur. In addition, one of the largest Shi'a mosques in Oman abuts the area and many Lawatia gather there for Friday prayers. The Lawatia also reportedly celebrate the Shi'a holy day of Ashura - which commemorates the martyrdom of the Prophet's grandson, Hussein MUSCAT 00000540 002 OF 003 ibn Ali - without interference inside the Sur. Not all Shi'a activity takes place inside the Sur. Pakistani Shi'a, for example, operate their own husseinia in a different part of Muttrah. Other Shi'a groups also maintain gathering places throughout greater Muscat and along the Batinah Coast. Another large Shi'a mosque is located in the city of Al Khabbura, approximately 160 kilometers west of Muscat, where contacts say many Iranian Shi'a worship when visiting Oman. ¶7. (C) Officials at the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs (MERA) tell emboffs that the government provides the Shi'a with broad autonomy in religious matters. Amr al-Rashdi, Director of Religious Affairs at the MERA, explained to poloff that each of the main Shi'a groups has its own leadership committee - whose members are chosen by the community itself - to manage their religious affairs. Each committee administers personal and family status issues according to Shi'a interpretation of Sharia law, including certifying marriages and divorces. The committee also appoints imams, registers husseinias, and finances and builds the community's mosques after receiving the proper licenses from the MERA. In addition, the committees manage their respective community's endowments (awqaf) and charity distributions (khoms). According to al-Rashdi, the MERA has little insight into how the committees dispense donations for charity. Although the MERA has the authority to audit the committees, al-Rashdi admitted that the Ministry has never exercised this power. - - - - - - Leadership - - - - - - ¶8. (C) In addition to forming leadership committees, each of Oman's main Shi'a communities appoints an individual leader to act as the principal interlocutor between his community and the MERA. In the Baharna and Ajmi communities, Sayyid Sharif al-Massouwi and Sheikh Mohammed Ridha al-Ajmi, respectively, fulfill this role and also serve as their communities' senior religious authorities. Sheikh Dr. Ihsan Sadiq al-Lawati (reftel), a professor of Arabic Literature at Sultan Qaboos University, is the Lawatia community's liaison to the government, while a Lebanese sheikh resident in Oman acts as the community's primary religious leader. Al-Lawati told poloff that his community chose him as leader because it wanted an Omani national to be its liaison with the government, but desired a religious figure of greater stature than his own to lead worship. Al-Lawati, who studied theology in Qom, Iran from 1984-1993, stated that Sheikh al-Ajmi used to be the senior religious authority for the Lawatia as well, but that a "disagreement" - the details of which he did not divulge - ended the relationship. - - - - - - - - - - Foreign Influences - - - - - - - - - - ¶9. (C) Al-Rashdi suggested that despite the Shi'a's integration into and identification with Omani society, there remains some low-level concern in the Ministry, and in the general public, that the leadership of Oman's Shi'a communities ultimately is beholden to "foreign entities" due to the hierarchical structure of religious authority in Shi'a Islam. (Note: Al-Rashdi estimated that there may be as few as three Shi'a at the MERA, which is overwhelmingly Ibadhi Muslim. End note.) While admitting that he was not directly responsible for Shi'a affairs at MERA, al-Rashdi described the Baharna's al-Massouwi as "reasonable" and "following his own views," as opposed to taking his cue from foreign sources. He stated that Sheikh al-Ajmi, on the other hand, was "Iranian-influenced" and commented that al-Ajmi often attempted to position himself as the leader of the Omani Shi'a in meetings with MERA, although the Ajmi likely are the smallest of Oman's three main Shi'a communities. Dr. al-Lawati, al-Rashdi opined, is "somewhere between the other two." ¶10. (C) Most Shi'a contacts indicate that very few of Oman's Shi'a look to Iranian ayatollahs for religious or juridical guidance. (Note: Many of the Lawatia, considered Oman's largest Shi'a group, trace their origins to India; very few Shi'a in Oman claim Iranian heritage. End note.) A large majority of Omani Shi'a - "maybe 99%" according to one contact - follow Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf, Iraq as their "Marja al-Taqlid" (source of emulation). Al-Lawati told poloff that Najaf used to be the primary destination for Omani Shi'a pursuing religious or theological studies, but MUSCAT 00000540 003 OF 003 that due to security concerns after the war in Iraq, many Omanis have shifted their studies to Qom, Iran. One contact suggested, however, that some in the younger generation of Omani Shi'a may be increasingly drawn to Lebanese Shi'a groups and look for guidance to the pronouncements of Ayatollah Mohammed Fadlallah, the Lebanese cleric whom many consider to be the spiritual advisor of Hizballah. - - - - - - - - - - - Government Oversight - - - - - - - - - - - ¶11. (C) Al-Rashdi stated that the MERA and Oman's internal security services are active in trying to limit potentially destabilizing foreign influences on Oman's Shi'a communities. Like other minority religious groups in Oman, the Shi'a have to apply with the Ministry at least two months in advance for permission to bring speakers or foreign religious figures from abroad to lead worship or discussions during Shi'a religious festivals. Oman's security services vet the names to make sure that none will preach a political agenda and typically deny entry to at least one Shi'a speaker per year, al-Rashdi estimated. "We need to be careful," he concluded, "because Shi'a Islam is a particularly sensitive issue now." Malallah Ali al-Habib, a former Omani ambassador to Cairo and member of the Lawatia community leadership committee, confirmed to Pol-Econ Chief that Omani authorities "sometimes refuse" committee requests to bring Iranian religious figures to Oman, usually without a direct explanation. GRAPPO

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