Category Archives: Oman

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

According to Wikipedia, in 1992 His Royal Highness Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said held a competition to design and build a Grand Mosque. Construction took six years to complete and the result is a stunning reflection of Islamic architecture.

The mosque occupies an area of approximately 416,000 square metres and can accommodate up to 20,000 worshipers within the grounds.

The external dimensions of the main prayer hall are 74m x 74m, with a central dome that rises 50 metres from the ground. Up to 6,500 people can pray at any one time within the main hall.

Intricate architecture inside the dome.

Intricate architecture inside the dome.

Hanging within the dome is the former Guinness world record holding 14 metre high Swarovski crystal chandelier that weighs a staggering 8.5 tonnes. It took four years to build and, until recently, was the largest chandelier in the world.

Underneath the 600,000+ glittering Swarovski crystals is arguably the second biggest hand-woven carpet in the world comprising 1,700 million knots and weighing 21 tonnes. Apparently it took 600 Iranian women 4 years to make. The size and scale of this rug made it hard to photograph properly.

There are sixteen smaller chandeliers lining the edges of the main prayer hall.The mosaic pattern of the Mihrab (below) deserved a closer inspection however the crowds on the day of our visit just would not allow this to happen. Built in the traditional semi-circular way the Mihrab indicates the direction of Mecca and hence the direction that worshipers should face when praying.

Buildings and walls surrounding the main prayer hall were inspired by traditional Omani fort architecture and incorporate verses of the Quran into the design.

Many of the internal walls have small niche’s like the one below that incorporate the Islamic motifs of other cultures. This one reflects ‘a contemporary interpretation of the patterns and designs which flourished during the reign of Tamerlane (1336-1405 AD) ruler of Central Asia’.

There are also fine marble ablution rooms for men and women.

Within the grounds are five minarets that symbolise the five pillars of Islam being Shahada (faith), Salat (prayer), Zakat (charity), Sawm (fasting) and Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca). The four smaller minarets occupy the corners of the mosque and a larger central one located adjacent to the dome.

The height of the central minaret (below) reaches 91.5m and has a 10.9 metre square base. From here the call to prayer is broadcast over the city six times a day.

Non-Muslims are welcome to visit the Grand Mosque between 8:00am and 11:00am any day other than Friday and it is definitely worth a visit. Please dress conservatively though out of respect for your hosts. Men should wear long trousers and have their shoulders covered, whilst women should have a covered head and arms, with either long trousers or a long skirt.

If you are unable to visit the Grand Mosque please feel free to check out the 360 degree virtual tour provided by the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque official website.

Al Ameen Mosque

This incredible building is called the Muhammad Al Ameen Mosque and is situated just off 23rd July Street in the district of Bausher, near our home.


Named after the Prophet Muhammed it was privately financed to the cost of 40million Omani rials and bears the third largest carpet in the world costing around US$4million to weave.


The mosque was opened in 2014 by Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamad al Khalili the Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman. Here’s a closer look at the intricate designs in the domes and spires.


The mosque covers an area approximately 20,000sqm in size and caters for a maximum of 2,100 worshippers at any one time and there is a library spread across two floors so as to accommodate the 12,000+ volumes of Islamic literature.


For women there is an area of 450sqm to allow up to 570 female worshippers to attend prayers at any one time.


Day or night, it is an amazingly beautiful piece of Omani architecture.



Kahwa is traditional Omani coffee. The core ingredients are ground cardamom pods and good quality Arabic coffee beans. Other spices such as cloves, cinnamon or saffron are added to the brewing process and these can differ from village to village, and from family member to family member. The method is simple:

1.) Take a kettle of water and bring it to a simmer.Coffee
2.) Add the coffee grounds and bring it to a boil.
3.) Place ground cardamom, or cloves, or cinnamon etc into the empty coffee pot.
4.) Pour the boiled coffee through a strainer into the pot.
5.) Serve with dates

We shared some lovely kahwa with our friends in Al Rustaq over Eid. Each pot was made by a different member and each pot had a different flavour.

Coffee culture is huge in Oman with giant coffee pots adorning traffic roundabouts and large clay pots available at various souks.

The traditional way of enjoying kahwa in the home is to sit on the floor and never fill the cup to the brim. Once the guest has had enough coffee they simply shake their cup so that the host knows to stop pouring. I learned this lesson a little late in the day and was positively buzzing by the time I had to drive home ūüėČ


Halwa03Halwa is the national desert of Oman and a symbol of the countries heritage and culture. The taste is unique to the family that makes it and the recipe is handed down from generation to generation. The method of producing halwa has been preserved for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years as grandparents teach their grandchildren the hidden family secrets.

‚ÄúOmani halwa is a symbol of Omani culture and heritage and we have to take extremely good care to preserve it.” – says Younis Abdulrahim Al Balushi, whose family has been making Omani halwa since 1951. Times of Oman.

Halwa02There are several types of halwa including honey, saffron and rosewater based. The later has a flavour with a hint of Turkish delight. During the Eid al Fitr celebrations at the end of Ramadan, tons of halwa is produced and sold with prices ranging from 2 to 10 rials per kilogram.

We were lucky enough to visit a local halwa production facility in Al Rustaq, a lovely town in the Al Batinah region of northern Oman, during the first day of Eid. The family showed us their methods for producing their particular brand of halwa down to the hand decorating of individual bowls with dates, dried fruit and slivered almonds. In spite of the crush of locals lining up to collect their orders, our hosts looked after us very well and presented us with a lovely gift of homemade honey halwa, which requires more than three hours to cook and is the most expensive variety of halwa, at the end of our visit.

Halwa is a uniquely flavoured desert so if you get a chance to try locally made halwa then grasp the opportunity in both hands. It may not be what you expect, but it will be an amazing experience.


Ramadan Kareem

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and begins after the night that the crescent of the new moon is sighted. This can vary by a day or two amongst Muslim nations and this year¬†Oman’s Moon Sighting Main Committee, led by Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Salmi the Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, announced that Ramadan in Oman would officially began on the 7th June.

Ramadan is a time to reflect and re-evaluate our lives. It’s the time to be mindful, work on our strengths, and overcome our weaknesses. The fast involves not only abstaining from food and drink, but also from sins like dishonesty, cruel words, pride, and over-indulgence РTimes of Oman

On the 20th June children throughout Muscat celebrated Qaranqasho to mark the halfway point of Ramadan. Qaranqasho is an event similar to Halloween whereby children in traditional costumes visit their neighbours singing songs and receiving sweets as a gift. Qaranqasho began as a reward for children who had managed to fast for the first half of the month of Ramadan.

A specific song is sung on this occasion, ‚ÄúQaranqashoyonas, atonishwayathalwa (O people, Qaranqasho time, give us some sweets please.‚ÄĚ It further goes ‚Äúdoosdoos fi almandoos, hara hara fi a‚Äôsahara,‚ÄĚ where they ask for candy – Times of Oman

I guess that face painting, games and a belly full of lollies is a great way to encourage the children to continue fasting for the second half of Ramadan ūüėČ

Now that we are well past the halfway mark we through we would share with you some of the things we have learned so far about Ramadan etiquette for non-Muslims in Oman.

The Grand Mosque at Night

Do not eat, drink or smoke in public:

Fasting begins at Sehr, which is sunrise in Oman, and concludes with Iftar (the breaking of the fast) after sunset prayers. The Sehr o Iftar time scale roughly equates to a 4:00am beginning and a 7:00pm finish. During this time frame Omani Muslims are not permitted to eat, drink or smoke.

Non-Muslims are also not permitted not to eat, drink or smoke in public during fasting hours. This includes semi-public spaces such as motor vehicles. Sipping water or munching on a snack whilst driving is not entirely private and therefore it is against the Islamic faith, as is chewing gum in public.

Public observance of Ramadan is compulsory, however many Omanis are aware that non-Muslims have a different belief system to their own and may make allowances within the work place if their own beliefs are treated respectfully.

Workplace etiquette:

Ramadan brings shorter working hours. The working day is reduced to six hours and traveling business people need to be aware of this when organising their schedules. Lunch meetings should be avoided and conference rooms that supply tea and coffee facilities need to be carefully vetted.


The Ramadan road toll is very high. The rush to visit family at Iftar, combined with low blood sugar and dehydration from fasting, can lead to road fatalities, so try to avoid driving within an hour of sunset.


ChocolateAlthough the shopping malls are open for business, cafes, restaurants and movie theatres are closed throughput the day. At night however they become a magnet for Omanis celebrating Iftar and are therefore crowded. Live music is prohibited so clubs and bars will be closed. Non-Muslims also need to be mindful of the sounds emanating from within their own domiciles. Parties involving loud music, drinking alcohol etc are acceptable so long as the sounds are contained within the premises and not allowed to be heard outside.

Dress modestly:

Revealing clothing, sheer clothing, too low, too short, too tight, are all items that should remain in your wardrobe. A Muslim Mosque, Buddhist Temple, Christian Cathedral etc, should all be treated with dignity and respect regardless of what your beliefs may be. Walking the streets of Oman during Ramadan is no different and respect costs little.

Public displays of affection:

No matter how romantic you and your partner find the amazing Muscat sunsets to be, snogging in public is a no-no. There will be plenty of time back in your apartment or hotel room for that ūüėČ

Iftar is awesome:

Iftar is both a feast and a celebration with a strong focus on family and community. Perhaps the best way to describe Iftar to Christians is to imagine the daily fasting of Lent being concluded with Christmas dinner. Traditionally the celebration begins with a few dates to break the fast, washed down with Laban (a delicious yoghurt drink) and plenty of fruit. Then the feasting begins with shawarma, kofta, kibbeh, shish taouk, tender lamb, grilled meat and a vast array of delicious salads including fattoush, tabouleh and a Lebanese potato salad full of mint, lemon juice and olive oil. The Baba Ganoush has that delicate smoky flavour of slow-roasted Aubergine and the Hummous is as smooth as King Island triple cream.

The Arabic coffee, brewed for hours with a mix of ground coffee beans, cardamom, and various subtle spices, is both sweet and savoury at the same time. It is the perfect compliment to Umm Ali, a Middle East bread pudding we enjoyed for dessert.

Ramadan Mubarak!


Fun With Food

The kids at OURPLANET International School in Muscat, Oman have been attending ‘Fun with Food’ co-curricular activities after hours, learning about nutrition and enjoying some healthy snacks along the way.

Obviously the students have rather discerning palettes for all things red…

…except when it comes to vegetables ūüôā

Local Shopping in Muscat

Spices available in Muscat

Pick and mix of spices. Around the back are nuts, dates….

You can get pretty much anything here – ¬†some stores even stock pork in¬†sections for non-muslims (the local version of turkey ‘bacon’ does not appeal I must admit).

There are also a lot of western clothing shops – Next, Monsoon, Matalan etc, along with the usual assortment of techie, chemists and jewelry shops etc.

What I was completely unprepared for were the local supermarkets or hypermarkets as they are called.  They are truly enormous and filled with all sorts of local and international brands.  

One of our local hypermarkets, Lulu, has a huge food and outdoor section on the first floor, with household and furniture on the next floor up.  Why is this relevant?  I had no idea what to expect on moving here Рfrom what sort of clothes I could buy to what food would be available in what is essentially a country in the desert.

There is a big English and American influence here –¬†I’ve found Marmite (happy days), Vegemite (yuck, but Matthew loves it), Skippy’s peanut butter, Twinings Tea, McVities digestives, and many brands I’d forgotten about – for me a home away from home.¬†

Greek slow roasted Goat

Greek slow-roasted goat

However, of big note are the veggie and spice sections – AWESOME. There are mounds of pulses, spices, nuts, kernels, herbs, olives and soooo many different types of dates – a pick and mix of anything you could wish for – and many items I don’t yet recognise. ¬†

So, in my first few weeks I have found Oman¬†is the place to learn new dishes, and play with old favourites – so far I have messed about with chicken, experimented with Za’atar (its a funky middle-eastern spice mix), nibbled on cheeses with names I cannot pronounce, cooked Greek-style slow roasted goat, made a delicious buffalo goulash and created a rather unique hummus from scratch – which came out a little green, but tasted fantastic.¬† Next I will¬†attempt to¬†concoct some¬†new Indian curries.

There are also some brands I am less familiar with…

Needless to say, Matthew is feeling right at home ūüėČ

Oh man! Oman

First impressions of Muscat, Oman

We are week 2 of living in the suburb of Bausher in Muscat, Oman.¬† Still missing a dining table etc our apartment has a ‘nearly moved in’ look. ¬† The view makes up for it.

Sunset over Bausher, muscat Oman

View over Bausher, Muscat Oman

Curious about the new place we find ourselves in we did some research: Oman has a population of nearly 5 million of which 1.5 Million live in Muscat the capital (for comparison, the population in London is currently nearly 9 million).[1,2]  The type of  Islam  practiced here is called Ibadism [3] more liberal compared with that of some of its neighbours.  Traditionally Oman has a welcoming community where other religions can be practiced and there are churches for various denominations to be found in Muscat.  

Where is MuscatThe Government here is an absolute monarchy. The monarch is called the Sultan and he is Qaboos Bin Said. His Majesty was educated in Britain and there is a large British influence here. 

It is said that there are more expats in Muscat than local Omanis. The population consists of a large contingent of workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Jordan, and the Philippines, as well as Americans, Australians and British. Clothing is modest but expats in their western gear, Indian women in traditional dress and Omani men and women in their white Dishdasha and black hijab mingle without so much of a glance.  On our first visit to the local mall more than one Omani welcomed us to their country as they passed by.

Tourism is encouraged and Muscat is well worth a visit Рonly five hours drive from Dubai in a truly beautiful setting with the Gulf of Oman on one side and mountains on the other.  Any guidebook worth its salt will give many things to do here and if you are into exploring the big outdoors this is the place for you.

Bander Khyaran Muscat

In our first week here we were taken to Bander Khyaran – a short boat ride from Muscat marina

Traditional Omanis do not drink alcohol so most restaurants will not have a liquor licence but drinks are to be had of an evening in hotel bars and some additional venues of which there are quite a few in Muscat, many along the beach front. If you have a license (for which you need to be a non-muslim with a work visa) you can also buy alcohol from designated stores.

Grans Hyatt, Muscat

View of one of the bars at the Grand Hyatt, Muscat

If you stay here for any length of time you may notice a slightly different taste from the tap water as Muscat has a desalination plant Рbut nothing that fresh mint and lemon can’t fix or some people buy bottled.

One of the things that has taken some getting used to is that the working week starts on Sunday and the weekend starts on Thursday evening.  What this actually means is that it completely throws your calendar out and you have no idea what day of the week it is at any given point.

Temperature at the beginning of May

Temperature at the beginning of May climbing into the 40’s

One word of advice if you are planning a trip: the times to avoid are Ramadan (most places shut during the day) and the summer months¬†(June – August) where the weather is too hot to be outdoors for most. This is the temperature currently at the beginning of May for the week. ¬†The words on everyone’s lips are “Summer is Coming”.


[1] Рaccessed 5 May

[2],_Oman Рaccessed 5 May 2016

[3] Рaccessed 5 May 2016

Useful facts about Oman: Рaccessed 5 May 2016 – accessed 5 May 2016