Not many people know that Oman holds a very special place in my heart. The memories of my childhood lie in the heart and soul of this country. The Corniche, Muttrah High Street, Ruwi and Al Falaj are just examples of my days of innocence.
On Friday, the Arab world’s longest serving monarch, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of the Sultanate of Oman, passed away at the age of 79. Hundreds of Omanis gathered on Saturday to mourn a figure who was hailed as the architect of modern Oman.
Considered the father of the nation, Sultan Qaboos ruled Oman for almost 50 years after overthrowing his father in a bloodless coup with the help of Britain. At the time of his ascension, Oman was a quiet and restrictive nation. Qaboos’ father Said bin Taimur had implemented rigid laws that controlled marriage, education, travel, and even banned wearing sunglasses and listening to the radio. Sultan Qaboos’ vision transformed Oman into the progressive, dynamic and open-minded nation that it is today.
Another truth many people don’t know is that my Mom was one of the few people selected to write on Sultan Qaboos’ Silver Jubilee Year celebrating 25 years of his ascension to the throne. Her article “Exemplary Vision of a Leader” was published in Khaleej Times on November 18, 1995. It was later published in India’s oldest and prestigious newspaper The Hindu, as well as the country’s largest circulating regional newspaper Malayali Manorama.
Sultan Qaboos maintained a neutral foreign policy “friend to all and enemy to none” which proved to be a source of peace, stability and guidance to regional nations and leaders in times of crisis. It also meant that he opened the doors of Oman to many expatriates without the fear of persecution, exploitation and discrimination.
Growing up in Oman in the late 80s and early 90s, I never faced any discrimination as a Hindu. Even back then, Oman was home to one of the largest Hindu temples in the Arab region. While religious minorities faced backlash, violence and racism in other parts of the Arab world, I and other Hindus felt safe in Oman. Oman is a Muslim country, but Sultan Qaboos and the Omani people kept us safe, respected us, and gave us full freedom to practice our way of life.
Sultan Qaboos was an outstanding example that real strength lies in leading your people into the future, not throwing them into the chaos of war, suppression and bloodshed. The futuristic vision of His Majesty meant that the Omani people would embrace the challenges and opportunities of the modern world while preserving the natural beauty and cultural heritage of their ancestors. Sultan Qaboos was truly a leader of renaissance and has left behind an unforgettable leacy.
Sultan Qaboos is succeeded by his cousin and former heritage and culture minister, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said. The latter is also at the forefront of Oman’s Vision 2040 initiative which aims at implementing social and economic reforms that will reduce the country’s dependency on oil and natural gas exports.
Wishing the Sultanate of Oman the warmest of wishes, the sincerest of prayers and the heartiest of hugs. Inshallah under the new leadership, Oman and its people will continue to grow in infrastructure, technology, well-being and prosperity.