Official name: Sultanate of Oman (Saltanat Uman).
Little is known about Oman’s pre-Islamic past, but it is clear from recent archaeological discoveries and research that early civilizations already existed 12,000 years ago. The ancestors of present-day Omanis are believed to have arrived from other parts of the Arabian Peninsula in two migratory waves, the first from Yemen and the second from northern Arabia. From the 5th century BCE till the coming of Islam in the 7th century CE various parts of the country were controlled by Persian monarchs.
Oman adopted Islam at a relatively early stage, during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. At that time the country was controlled by the Umayyad Caliphate of Medina (later Damascus). A century later, Ibadism became the dominant sect of Islam in Oman, which distinguished itself by choosing its ruler, or Imam, by communal consensus and consent. This system of elected leaders was maintained until 1154, when the Banu Nabhan established the indigenous and hereditary Nabhanite dynasty. From that point of time the struggle between the hereditary Sultan and the elected Imam, whose power was restricted to the Omani inland, became a feature in Oman’s history, until the beginning of the 20th century. It is estimated that 40 to 45 percent of the Omani population belongs to Ibadi Islam, 50 tot 55 percent are Sunni, and no more than 2 percent are Shia.
One of the historical characteristics of Oman is its connection with the sea, as the home of fishermen as well as merchant seafarers. In their traditional dhows – a type of ship on which the Portuguese probably based the design of their caravel – Omani sailors sailed the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean as far as the East African coast north of Mozambique, where they founded the city of Mombasa in the 11th century. They even reached the shores of southern China. Omani sailors became part of world literature in the story cycle of Sinbad the Sailor (Sindibad al-Bahri), which is allegedly based partly on the experiences of the Omani (and others), and partly on ancient poetry and Arab, Indian and Persian literature and traditions.