I wasn't posting last week because I was in Oman. And when in Oman for less than a week, well, you can't just surf the Internet.
(Or so I was repeatedly told whenever I checked my Blackberry. At one point, to get my attention, my daughter had to email me from her Blackberry even though we were traveling in the same car. Before you report me for child neglect, however, you should know that I'm talking about a college graduate here.)
Anyway, one of the attractions of Oman is that in spite of the fact that it is an Islamic country, it is virtually a militant-jihad-free zone.
From what I've been able to gather, no Omani has ever been caught participating in the jihad against coalition forces in Afghanistan or Iraq. While the 9/11 Commission claims that bin Laden recruited an Omani jihadist organization to join his Islamic Army Council, the predecessor organization to al Qaeda he created while living in the Sudan during the early 1990s, this Omani group could not have played a very significant role as it has since dropped off the radar screen.
There were also reportedly a few Omanis alleged to be members of al Qaeda that were arrested in Oman in 2002, as was a Kuwaiti-Canadian al Qaeda member who was caught perhaps on his way to Saudi Arabia, according to a Jamestown report. But exactly what these al Qaeda members were precisely doing in Oman is not known as nothing has been made public, aside from a report that at least some were extradited to U.S. custody (a report denied by Omani officials). From what I can tell, none of these jihadists have been seen or heard from since.
Perhaps the closest encounter Oman had with homegrown Islamic radicals occurred in 2004-5, when some 100-300 people were arrested in connection with a plot to violently disrupt an upcoming trade and culture festival in Oman's capital city, Muscat. The plotters reportedly objected to the festivities because they believed celebrations of this sort were unIslamic. But they vigorously asserted that they were loyal Ibadhis as opposed to Wahhabis or Salafis, the type of Muslims usually identified with al Qaeda.
And ultimately, the 31 persons that were ultimately convicted in connection with this alleged plot had their sentences, which ranged from one to twenty years, immediately pardoned by the Sultan who decided that in the end, they were just a bunch of misguided religious fanatics. (I'm putting words in the Sultan's mouth here, but that's essentially what he said.)
Now why would Oman be so uniquely free from militant jihadism as opposed to, say, its nearest neighbors, Saudi Arabia and Yemen? N. Janardhan, a Jamestown terrorism expert posits that this is because Oman is unique in that it is an Ibadhi Muslim country. That is, the de facto state religion of Oman is a branch of Islam that is Ibadhi, a branch of Islam that is neither Sunni nor Shiite. (Note that the de jure state religion is, however, simply Islam.)
So what is so special about Ibadhi Islam? The simple answer is that Ibadhis part ways with the rest of their coreligionists for pretty much the same reasons the Shiites separated from the Sunnis - because of irreconcilable differences over who should have led the early Muslim community.
Recall that after the Prophet Muhammed died, the Sunnis maintain that the leadership of the umma (Muslim community) correctly fell to the person who was best qualified. The Shiites, on the other hand, believe that this leadership position should have resided with the person who was most closely related to the Prophet. Since the Prophet had no sons, his closest relative was his cousin and son-in-law Ali, who did eventually become what the Sunnis call the 4th "rightly-guided imam" believing as they do that the first four imams (or leaders of the Muslim community) after the Prophet's death were truly divinely-inspired leaders - as opposed to those who came after them, who were well, less meritorious or pious.
The Ibadhis, like the Sunnis, also believe that merit should trump hereditary claims to leadership but reject the Sunni notion that these first four imams were all in fact "rightly guided." This is because the Ibadhis contend that the 3rd such imam, Uthman, introduced too many innovations into Islam. And they believe that the 4th imam, Ali, the Shiite favorite, should have been impeached the moment he agreed to negotiate with as opposed to defeat a group of Muslims who rebelled against him in what came to be called the First Muslim Civil War or Fitna.
The Ibadhis also believe (as do the Shiites) that the Koran was created as opposed to being the actual word of God.
Now I'm not sure whether any of this makes the Ibadhis truly less receptive to militant jihadism in the current era than their Sunni or Shiite counterparts today but the Ibadhis in Oman also seem to be a good deal more tolerant than say their Muslim brothers in next-door Saudi Arabia. Not only do Ibadhis have no problem worshipping at Sunni mosques (some 25 percent of Omanis are Sunnis - mostly the Balochis), but they let the Shiites in Oman build their own mosques as they please, and the Sultanate has even given its Christian and Hindu communities public land on which to build churches and temples. Guest workers in Oman of other faiths, while they have not yet been given real estate, are free to organize their own worship services. And, even more amazingly given the regional norms, while there is no discernible presence of Jews in Oman, it was was the first Gulf Cooperation Council country to host an Israeli prime minister - Yitzhak Rabin, in 1994.
Indeed there is certainly some privileging of Muslims in Oman - nonMuslims cannot proselytize, though informally they do, and Muslim women cannot marry nonMuslim men, though some probably end up doing that too, but compared to its neighbor to the west - and Iran, its neighbor across the Strait of Hormuz, Oman does indeed seem to be exceptionally tolerant.
Could this also be the reason it is remarkably free of militant jihadism?