Islam had reached Oman within the prophet Muhammad’s lifetime. By the middle of the eighth century C.E., Omanis were practicing a unique brand of the faith, Ibadhism, which remains a majority sect only in Oman. Ibadhism has been characterized as “moderate conservatism,” with tenets that are a mixture of both austerity and tolerance.

The Portuguese occupied Muscat for a 140-year period (1508–1648), arriving a decade after Vasco da Gama discovered the seaway to India. In need of an outpost to protect their sea lanes, the Europeans built up and fortified the city, where remnants of their colonial architectural style still remain.

The Ottomans drove out the Portuguese, but were pushed out themselves about a century later (1741) by the leader of a Yemeni tribe, who began the current line of ruling sultans. After one last, brief invasion a few years later by Persia, Oman was free for good of foreign-occupying powers.

Isolated from their Arab neighbors by the desert, the Omanis became an economic power in the early 1800s, largely by using their position on the Indian Ocean and seafaring knowledge gained from the Portuguese to gain access to foreign lands. They took control of the coasts of present-day Iran and Pakistan, colonized Zanzibar and Kenyan seaports, brought back enslaved Africans, and sent boats trading as far as the Malay Peninsula.

No country since Persia has successfully invaded Oman which, by the 19th century was a sovereign power in its own right, expanding its territory across the Arabian Gulf and East Africa, where it controlled the island of Zanzibar. The country went on to establish political links with the other great powers of the time, including Britain, France, the Netherlands and the United States.However in the early part of the 20th century, Oman entered a period of decline and isolation.

The search for oil began in the 1920s when the D’Arcy Exploration Company, a subsidiary of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, conducted a geological survey that proved unsuccessful. The Second World War and other events interrupted exploration until 1962 when the first successful well was drilled at Yibal, followed by other wells at Natih and Fahud. Oil production ona commercial scale began in 1967.When Sultan Qaboos came to power in 1970, Oman was almost as far removed from the modern, prosperous 21st century state we know today, as it is possible to get.

The country had only a few basic roads, a tiny number of schools and little in the way of medical care; its people were poor and disadvantaged. Many of Oman’s wealthy and educated had left the country to seek their fortunes abroad. One of the first challenges His Majesty faced was to reverse this “brain drain”, to encourage expatriate Omanis to return home and throw their weight behind the creation of a strong, educated, unified nation. This they did with enthusiasm, helping to build and develop the thriving, vibrant country that is modern day Oman.

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