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The Protestant Church in Oman is a mission of the Reformed Church in America, and I gave them a month of pulpit supply during Lent. I roomed at the Al Amana Centre in the Mutrah section of Muscat, the capital.

For four weeks I was awakened before dawn by the calls to prayer. There were nine mosques within earshot of my room, each with a minaret, and in every minaret its muezzin who chanted the calls to prayer five times a day, loudly amplified. Nine different voices filling the air, from high tenor to low bass, indifferent to harmony or any coordination, dissonant like avant garde music, almost like sirens. And yet it was often beautiful, and even thrilling. It certainly got me up to pray. It made the city feel spiritual.

Oman is a God-soaked culture. “How are you? — Thank God.” “Are you coming? — If God wills.” You may think it rote, but I never experienced it as superstitious or superficial. God is always present to daily life. Islam fills the atmosphere, and the minarets are witnesses.

It was my first experience of an Islam calm and serenely confident. The imams I have known in Brooklyn are at pains to act respectably among the dominant Jews and Christians. But in Muscat the Christians are the guests, and it is we who must behave. We are mostly ignored. Except the Sultan’s government endorses the Protestant Church to serve the many expat residents who live and work in Oman on long-term visas.

Very few Omanis have ever converted. The Christian faith has little appeal to most Muslims. Islam is a post-Christian religion. Islam knows about Christianity and has found it wanting. Compared to Islam our religion is mushy, indefinite, contradictory, and undisciplined. We Christians seem secular, unfaithful, self-indulgent, individualistic, and very weak at prayer.

We Christians say that we have a personal relationship with God that Muslims don’t. We say that we can talk to God like children talking to their daddies, and we get this relationship through Jesus. Fair enough.

Still, I can hear Muslims thinking, “Uh, no thanks. That trivializes God, that brings God down to your level, and we want God to be God. We do have personal relationships with God, by means of our frequent and fully embodied prayer (which you Christians might learn from).”

The Pashtun baker next door regularly put out his prayer mat and “promptly and sincerely” prayed, right next to his oven. He was disciplined about it and matter-of-fact. It strikes me as a kind of piety that comes closer to original Calvinism than what we see in church today. And he always called out, “My brother Danni-al!”

Islam is efficient and compact, and it derives its power from a fundamentalism of the One: one God, one humanity, one language. If God is One, then God cannot also be other than One. But that makes God subject to the laws of mathematics and logic, which I cannot accept.

Yet Islam is not monolithic. I got the impression of underlying subtleties and complexities that allow for variations in the experience of God, and multiplicities of expression. In the daily habit of Oman, Islam is more soft than hard, and no less humane than Christianity, and more hospitable.

Islam is multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial, even in close quarters, because all humanity is one community, the ummah, Sure there are prejudices, and privileges of color, but Muslims of all colors mix more easily than Christians do, and the noon prayer on Friday is the opposite of “the most segregated hour of the week.” What racism there is in Oman has little power, although the Bangladeshis are on the bottom.

Muslims believe, like Kuyperians, that all of life is religion, and they do not separate church and state. So Muslims judge Christianity as much by the general behavior of the USA and the UK as by any doctrine of the church. Why should they think otherwise? How Brits and Americans behave is how Christians behave. And while we boast of our freedom, it is they who have little crime, little poverty, no homelessness, no gun violence, plus Omani nationals get free health care. That we have a better take on God looks unlikely to most Muslims.

And yet, while Islam owns the atmosphere, the ground is increasingly controlled by international capitalism and its consumer economy, no less than anywhere else in the world. Multi-national corporations have buildings bigger than the mosques (taller is not allowed). I can imagine a Marxist suggesting who really has the power here. The country is burning its way through hydrocarbons, and transportation is all trucks and private cars. Muscat reminds me of a small, dry Los Angeles between the mountains and the sea. On all of this, Islam has little to say.

Our trip home took us twenty-five hours altogether. The next evening I queued up the CD player to play my favorite Bach motet, Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf, (“The Spirit Helps us in our Weakness”), with the words of St. Paul in rich contrapuntal harmonies. My wife Melody said, “And that’s why I’m a Christian.”

Daniel Meeter

Daniel Meeter is Pastor Emeritus of the Old First Reformed Dutch Church of Brooklyn New York. He feeds the finches and drives uber for his grandchildren in New Paltz, in the Hudson Valley.


  • Interesting and thought-provoking reflections. Thank you.



  • Marla says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Daniel. Lots of food for thought, as your posts always offer!

  • David Hoekema says:

    How fortunate you were to spend a month in that fascinating place, with the extraordinary staff at Al Amana! And to see Islam in a new light. I’m not sure the East Asians, doing most of the hard work of sustaining Omani affluence but ineligible for citizenship and for most of its benefits, would agree that racism “has little effect.” Still, Oman is a peaceful and well-ordered Muslim autocracy, something Westerners think impossible. (As is Morocco, as I’ve observed more recently.)

    • Daniel Meeter says:

      I believe that the real economic exploitation of East Indians is better understood by other categories than Racism.

    • John Hubers says:

      Well said, David. Racism based on color does exist in Oman and throughout the Arab world (noting here that Arabs were heavily involved in the African slave trade and that slavery only ended as an institution in Oman in the early 20th century. When we lived in Oman I would sometimes hear Omanis use the term “blacky” with a laugh to describe their ethnically African neighbors). But the larger issue is a kind of vocational caste system with south Asian laborers at the bottom and Westerners at the top next to Omanis. Western visitors rarely experience this and for this reason often come away with the impression that Oman is an ideal multi ethnic society. You rightly point out that those at the bottom would find that less obvious.

  • Jim says:

    Verily art thou a Kuyperian. Read the master’s reflections On Islam (Lexham, 2018) and you’ll see clear parallels to your own.

  • Jan Hoffman says:

    Thank you for your very helpful insight into Islam.

  • Doug says:

    Thanks for this, Daniel!

  • Kathy Davelaar VanRees says:

    Thank you, Danni-al!

  • Don Sterk says:

    I’m glad you were to take this opportunity to serve the Christian community in Muscat and observe a peaceful Muslim culture. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  • John Hubers says:

    Oman is a unique society where a peaceful coexistence of various ethnicities and religious communities deserves the praise you offer, Daniel. This is partly due to the wise leadership of the previous and current Sultan, as well as the ameliorating impact of a tolerant form of Islam only found in Oman and some areas of North and East Africa. This makes it difficult to extrapolate generalized observations about Islam from the Omani experiece.

    What I wonder, however, is whether you aren”t being overly generalized about both Islam and Christianity, as the personilzed me and Jesus form of Christianity you critique is not definitive of Christianity in its diverse global expressions, including the variety of different forms that are found among our Arab Christian neighbors, some of whom would take exception to your glowing assessment of Islam. And there are, in fact, places in the world where we are seeing a number of Muslims converting to Christianity, finding it to be a more life affirmIng, soul satisfying alternative to the spirituality into which they were born.

    In general it is difficult to generalize about either Islam or Christianity. Religion is always messier than our categorizations allow. So are we.

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