Oman Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Ethnicity is an important aspect of many societies, but not everyone has the same experience with it. In this lesson, we'll talk about the major ethnic groups in Oman and see what diversity means to the nation today.

Oman

The Arabian Peninsula is often under-appreciated in world history. With the exception of a few moments in history when all of continental Asia was unified enough for the Silk Roads to function, the majority of world trade throughout history passed along the coasts of this peninsula. International trade has defined the cultures and people of this region for millennia, and the people of Oman are no exception. Oman is a nation located on the southeastern edge of the peninsula, about halfway between Africa and India. So, it's been an important stop for traders, merchants, and travelers for a long time. While the world may not always fully appreciate the importance of the Arabian Peninsula in the mixing of world products, ideas, and people, you can bet that Omanis appreciate it every day.

Arab Ethnicity in Oman

So, who are the people of Oman? One of the best ways to understand Oman's role in history is to look at its complex ethnic composition. The largest ethnic group of Oman are Arabs, who make up about 73% of the nation. Now, this doesn't seem too complex, but Arab ethnicity is not actually a monolithic concept. In general, the term refers to people ethnically indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula, but realistically, it encompasses the many ethnic groups who have moved there over time. Due to Oman's location, Omani Arabs do feature slightly different ethnic ancestry than Arabs elsewhere on the peninsula, such as in Saudi Arabia. For a time, Oman was home to the Bedouin people, an Arab-Syrian group who introduced substantial Mediterranean genes into the mix. The coast of Oman was also once ruled by the Tanzanian city of Zanzibar, bringing in strong African influences, and proximity to both Pakistan and India also impacted Omani Arab ethnicity. This is reflected in Oman's unique dialect of the Arabic language, a dialect that is not always intelligible to Arabic speakers from other parts of the world.

Thus, Arab ethnicity is a complex and somewhat fluid concept, based very much on self-identification and how one chooses to be seen. It's also closely tied to religion, as adherence to Islam is seen as a fundamental part of the ethnicity. About 85% of Omanis are Muslims, and while the government does recognize Islam as the official state religion, the nation also adheres strictly to laws prohibiting discrimination against other religions. It is worth noting that Oman tends to experience less ethnic conflict than other nations of the region as well, likely due in part to this religious tolerance.

Omani Arab cuisine, like the ethnicity itself, displays a mixture of influences
Omani cuisine

Minority Ethnicities in Oman

Along with the Arab majority, Oman does have some significant ethnic minority populations and this is worth discussing. Since access to Arab ethnic identity is relatively achievable within a generation or so, it's notable that many people who identify as an ethnic minority are relative newcomers. Due to its growing economy, rapidly improving developments in health services and education, and a reputation as the friendliest nation of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman has become an attractive center for immigration. In fact, about 30% of Oman's population is foreign born. That's a large number. Most are from nearby places like Yemen, but the largest non-Arab group are from India. About 13% of Omanis identify as Indian, although the number of new arrivals has decreased due to recent immigration restrictions. Still, despite the fact that Indians are generally non-Muslims, a fact which has led to conflict and violence elsewhere, ethnic tensions remain reduced in Oman.

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