ON THE border with Saudi Arabia, an American clergyman partners with a sultan keen on religious coexistence.
Imagine David Cameron in Norfolk, about to speak on ‘British values’. He then invites forward a Muslim imam, and asks him to explain Islam.
Transfer the scene to the Sultanate of Oman, and witness an American Christian pastor make clear the gospel in the austere heartland of Ibadi Islam.
Now picture a tolerance that predates Britain’s embrace of multiculturalism—on the border of Saudi Arabia.
The analogy is not perfect. Sultan Qaboos bin Said is an absolute monarch, ruling since 1970. Proselytisation is forbidden in any direction.
But the Shiva Temple in the capital of Muscat has served the Hindu community for over 200 years. Since the early 1900s the government has given land to build churches.
Saudi Arabia’s chief cleric has repeatedly called for all non-Muslim houses of worship in the Arabian Peninsula to be destroyed in accordance with sharia law.
Clearly, Oman does not share Wahhabi convictions. There appears a similarity in strict practice, but not in the approach to others. The Ibadi branch of Islam is far older than the eighteenth-century Saudi creed, dating to its formative scholar from the old capital in Nizwa in AD 711.
And to this region where Islam originally took hold, the Ministry of Religious Affairs invited Revd Douglas Leonard to speak.