Co-existence without agreement a driving principle of the Al Amana Centre in Oman
November 24, 2023
The Al Amana Centre (AAC) in Oman was founded in 1987, but its roots date back to the country’s first Christian mission in the late 19th century. Its initial iteration was evangelistic ministry, but quickly grew into medical care to serve the common good and live out a Christian witness among non-Christian people and education. It was the only modern hospital in the middle eastern country at the time and remained the only modern medical provider in Oman for nearly 80 years.
Today Al Amana, which means “sacred trust” in Arabic, functions as a meeting and training center focused on promoting and practicing interfaith dialogue and co-existence between different faiths. Mohammed Ali Al Shuaili, assistant to the executive director and one of AAC’s program managers, uses scriptural reasoning practices which combine individuals from different faith traditions into small groups — usually 8–10 but no more than 20 — to share, explore and understand each other’s texts. It is designed to enhance personal religious boundaries beyond the familiar and develop respect for differing perspectives without insisting on agreement.
Earlier this year, three members of the Presbyterian World Mission staff — Luciano Kovacs, area coordinator, Middle East and Europe; the Rev. Dr. Elmarie Parker, regional liaison to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf States; and the Rev. Cathy Chang, acting regional liaison for Southeast Asia and the Pacific — visited AAC for conversation with Al Shuaili and other AAC team members.
“I’ve known of Al Amana’s work for many years, but what a privilege to see the center in person, to learn about the Omani context, and to meet the partners who carry-out the peace-building work of the center,” said Parker. “I especially appreciated learning about their ‘scriptural reasoning’ experiences, which bring together people from different faith traditions to read and interact with passages from their respective holy Scriptures. The focus is not on conversion, but rather on exploration and understanding. The mutual respect and insights that come from this process are transformative for participants.”
“We seek to give participants an experience where they co-exist and can feel safe,” said Al Shuaili. “We provide them the safe space to discuss and recognize it’s OK to like someone who is different from you, doesn’t share the same values or beliefs that you share. It’s OK to like and live with them.”
Oman itself is a Muslim-majority country, but with a heavy population of expats there are many Christians, Hindus and followers of other religions also living there. Al Amana’s target audience is international groups — they generally do not accept individuals into their programs, but host groups from the U.S., Europe, Africa and other countries. Their typical group is interested in learning what it is like living in a Muslim-majority world as a Christian, or looking deeper into what Islam looks like from inside a predominantly Muslim country. They also create safe space for religious groups from areas experiencing religious tension to learn and to connect in a neutral space.
According to Al Shuaili, AAC provides a rich cultural experience for first-time visitors to a Muslim country. Part of that experience inevitably involves breaking down myths or stereotypes around Islam and its followers.
Some common stereotypes that Al Amana addresses for American groups is that Muslims oppress women, that women do not have rights in Islam, and males are superior to women. This includes women not being allowed to uncover their heads or go to work.
“When they come to Oman, they realize none of those perceptions are true. Women here have liberty and rights. There is no systemic discrimination of women,” says Al Shuaili.
Another stereotype Ali is eager to dispel surrounds security in the Middle East and the ability to travel safely. In Oman, at least, Al Shuaili has not seen evidence of police violence at any point.
“The general feeling of people living in Oman is that they are safe. We are happy to clarify that, especially for people from the U.S. Furthermore, participants will not be targeted in the streets by people asking them to convert to Islam. When we host groups, we do not show them how the media shows them. We let them see how it is,” he said.
Scott O’Neill, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Al Amana Centre (AAC) in Oman
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