Tuesday January 18, 2022

Religious tolerance

November 19, 2021

The Sultanate of Oman celebrated its 51st National Day on November 18. This date marks the country’s independence from Portuguese imperialism in 1650. This holiday is the beginning of a two-day break – November 19 is also a public holiday to celebrate the birthday of the legendary and visionary sultan of Oman, Late Qaboos bin Said.

Oman is the only Middle Eastern country with an indigenous Hindu community residing there for centuries. An estimated 5.5 percent of the current Omani population is followers of Hinduism, and approximately 1,000 Hindus have Omani citizenship. The total number of immigrants from the Hindu community is believed to be over 250,000.

The Shiva temple and the Shri Krishna temple, located in the capital city of Muscat, are considered to be the oldest temples in the Middle East, with their unique architecture. One of the salient features of the Shiva temple is the presence of water in its well all around the year. Similarly, the Shri Krishna compound, surrounded by beautiful valleys and desert areas, consists of three temples including the Shri Krishna temple, Shri Ganeshji temple and Mataji temple. Various religious festivals, including Holi, Diwali, Hanuman Jayanti and Navaratri, are regularly celebrated there.

Just five decades ago, Oman was one of the most backward countries in the region. That era was called the darkest period in national history. People were living below the poverty line. Tribal rivalries were on the rise, and the government had been unable to crush insurgencies. The law and order situation was also badly disturbed. In the wider interest of his country, Sultan Qaboos took charge.

The Middle Eastern region has long been plagued by several conflicts, but Sultan Qaboos, as soon as he took control, made it clear that there was no room for extremism and violence in Oman under his rule. “Extremism, under whatever guise, fanaticism of whatever kind, factionalism of whatever persuasion would be hateful poisonous plants in the soil of our country which will not be allowed to flourish.”

Following his determination for peace and coexistence, he resolved all external border disputes with neighbouring countries amicably. He also maintained law and order internally in the sultanate. Rather than taking revenge, Sultan Qaboos took practical steps for the inclusion of rebels in the national mainstream and focused on upgrading the lifestyle of the people.

He also made it clear to the international community that Oman would not become a party in anyone else’s conflict. This is the reason that during the Iraq-Iran war, Oman maintained its neutral status and cordial diplomatic relations with both countries.

Cordial relations with Iran and the US enabled the sultan to play a pivotal role in making the nuclear agreement possible between both rivals. Oman did not support any specific country based on religious affiliations, and during the Saudi Arabia-Qatar tussle, Oman also succeeded in staying neutral.

Today, Oman is one of the modern countries where people of different faiths are living peacefully. Various reports from international organisations have acknowledged the positive situation in Oman in terms of religious freedom.

The current sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, while adhering to the golden principles introduced by Sultan Qaboos, is also committed to serve his country and nation.

While congratulating the Omani people on their National Day, I would like to say that if we want to understand the importance of religious tolerance for national development and prosperity, there is no better example than the Sultanate of Oman.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani