Part 3: Haricharan Acharya Speaks on Omani Arabs
The Sagar Samrat, carrying young Jaffer and Sumar, left Mandvi and has now reached Muscat. After commencing the voyage, Jaffer sent a letter home explaining why the boys left home without telling their families. This chapter narrates the tutelage by the wise Brahmin, Haricharan Acharya, of the young history of the Omani Arabs.
From Muscat, the Sagar Samrat sailed southward, staying close to the Omani coast. Haricharan lost no time in his daily discourses to Jaffer, Sumar and Meeru, all of them ardent students who hung to every word from the lips of the old and wise Brahmin.
"It would help to be conversant with the geographical and genealogical history and background of the Omani Arab Dynasty", said Haricharan Acharya as he began his lessons one morning.
"Arabia is a vast tract of land with great stretches of sandy desert. A much bigger desert than your desert of Kutch, or the arid lands of Sindh and Baluchistan. The State of Oman is situated at the extreme south-eastern corner of this land and Oman's chief port and center of trade is Muscat".
"Love of the motherland is one of the strongest traits of the Omani people who embraced Islam in 630 A.D., i.e. 9th year of Hijra while Prophet Muhammad was still alive. The Omani people had a fierce love for Ali ibn Abu Talib, the great hero of Islam, historically the fourth Caliph of the Muslims and the first Imam of the Shias. Their love of independence and their hatred of Bani Ummaya was manifested in an open rebellion against the ruling Caliph of their time, when Omani leaders Suleiman and Said rebelled against Abdul Malik Bin Marwan, an Ummayad Caliph".
"To Marwan, the rebellion was an eye-opener. It was fortunate for him that his rivals were not successful in overthrowing him. He reorganised his administration and strengthened his jurisdiction over Oman. He appointed an independent foreign governor and other subordinate administrators and for a while, the system worked smoothly".
"With the passage of time, the central hold of Bani Ummayed over Oman grew weaker and the Omani people in 751 A.D./134 Hijra, finally exerted their independence and elected their own ruler, Julanda Bin Masud. The ruler was given the title of Imam, which in Arabic means spiritual leader. Under normal circumstances, this person would be addressed as the Governor or Wali".
"The word Imam conveys more than just respect", Jaffer interrupted, "it also has a religious connotation".
"Let us examine the religious beliefs of the Omani Arabs", continued Acharyaji. "Around the middle of the eighth century, a new sect emerged under the spiritual leadership of a very religious man called Abdulla Bin Yahya Bin Abaz. Abdulla travelled extensively within Oman in the year 744 A.D./127 Hijra, after the events at Karbala, and preached that Imamat, i.e. the succession of Imams, had ceased when Hussein, son of Ali, was tragically slain on the battle ground of Karbala".
"Following the principles expounded by their holy man, Abdulla, the Omani Arabs have been electing their own Imams, a leader who is also their religious leader, since 751 A.D./134 Hijra. The Omani Arabs have a long succession of Imams and their history runs into many volumes".
"But, I will tell you about Oman. When the Portuguese first appeared in the Indian Ocean and occupied the coastal strip of Oman in 1508 A.D./914 Hijra. The occupation occurred when the great Portuguese Admiral and Navigator Alfonso de Albuquerque, on his way to India, via Ormuz (now called Hormuz), touched Calayate (Kalhat), a doorway of Ormuz. Calyate was a great trading centre and India bought some of the finest breed of Arab horses and dry dates in large quantities".
"Albuquerque loaded his ships with adequate supplies of food and water from Calayate and sailed away. On his way out he saw it fit to bombard the townships of Sohar, Curiate and Muscat, and invading them. He ordered all captives to be punished severely and their noses and ears to be cut off before being released".
"In 1511, Alfonso de Albuquerque, one of the greatest Portuguese adventurers, ventured out of the Indian Ocean, establishing at Malacca, a great fort that would serve as the keystone to Portuguese holdings. Whoever controlled Malacca had access to those magical islands that lay east of Java like a chain of jewels; these were the fabled Spice Islands, and their riches lay in fee to Portugal".
"I have read about the Christian powers in Europe, especially Portugal and the Vatican, during the time of Henri the Navigator (1453). The Portuguese ruler was very much concerned that Constantinople (Istanbul) had fallen under Ottoman rule and that trade in spices with India and China was no longer possible. Therefore they yearned to find a sea route to India and hence to China. Final words of the Prince to his assembled captains were: "Our mighty task is to reach India and civilize the heathens. Not to lay our hands on the riches of the orient is repugnant, but that these riches should fall in the hands of the Moors (as Muslims were called at the time in Europe) is intolerable"" said Meeru.
"Yes, it could be so", said Acharyaji, "Prince Henri the Navigator played a crucial role in organising the maritime activities in Portugal". He continued, "In the opening years of the 17th Century, two other very small European nations decided to seize by force their share of the Portuguese monopoly. In 1600, England chartered its East India Company, which quickly gained a foothold in India. Two years later, the Dutch launched their counterpart, Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (United East India Company), to be known as Compagnie, which operated with ruthless troops and equally ruthless traders".
"These brutality of Alfonso de Albuquerque offended even his own officers and men. Omani residents also nurtured revenge. While the Portuguese ruled Oman with an iron fist, the Arabs waited patiently for an opportune moment when they would strike and regain their independence.
Soon, there were numerous skirmishes and the Arabian Sea abounded with outlaw pirates harassing the Portuguese me o' war and commercial vessels. Finally Ormuz was wrested away from the Portuguese in the year 1622/1032. Chased by thousands of Arabs in fierce battles, the Portuguese fled. The utter defeat of the Portuguese took place during the reign of Imam Sultan Bin Seif in 1651/1065, when they left the Omani shores, permanently".
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