dispatches to and from

nathan f. elmore

Dispatches to and from faith, culture, and things in between

Oman, in January

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Photo: Corbis Images

 

{Travel & Study}

For the first two weeks in January, indeed, I'm studying Christian-Muslim relations on the Arabian peninsula. This unique opportunity, at the turn of another calendar year, seems as beautifully surreal as it does fantastically crazy.

In November, I became aware of a very peculiar course (within my program) being offered by Hartford Seminary -- a two-week travel seminar in Oman called "Christian-Muslim Relations in Arabia." This tailored learning experience is a partnership between Hartford Seminary and Al Amana Centre, an organization with roots in the Reformed Church of America.

An absolute long-shot, I applied for the course anyway. In early December, through several different scholarships, a path had been made for which I am incredibly thankful.

The Sultanate of Oman is the only Muslim nation in the world that predominantly practices Ibadi Islam. According to the Hartford Seminary description: "Ibadism incorporates an austere piety with an openness to engaging in dialogue with other Islamic schools of thought and other faiths. Due to the guidance of Ibadi doctrine and Oman's centuries-old status as a cosmopolitan hub of sea trade, Oman has a long tradition of religious pluralism both within Islam and with other faiths." In fact, Michael Bos, the former director of Al Amana Centre, has said: "One of the marks of Oman's identity is who the country is able to include rather than exclude."

Though two weeks is a limited time, the experiences in Oman will be wide-ranging:

  • lectures and meetings with Muslim imams and scholars;
  • interfaith dialogue with Muslim students in an Islamic seminary;
  • interactions with Christian missionaries of the American Protestant Mission in Oman that dates to the 1890's;
  • opportunities to socialize with Oman's political and religious leaders;
  • visiting some of the oldest mosques of Islam and experiencing the culture and beauty of Oman

I am, of course, ecstatic that God has given me this kind of travel-and-study opportunity in the Arab world. Like a good guest, I feel eager to openly receive the variety of gifts awaiting me in Oman. Additionally, as a follower of Jesus, I am especially hopeful to discover how this experience might contribute to my vocational calling and spiritual capacity to educate and empower Jesus-followers to be reconcilers and peacemakers among our Muslim neighbors.

Through it all, I am also longing to piece together another note or two in this desperate would-be song that I am calling The Song of Machpelah.

 

The Song of Machpelah is an interfaith writing project borne out of my Christian-Muslim exchanges, experiences and ongoing study. At Machpelah, God willing, in small, medium or large ways a living song will arise. And it is a composition being put together by both Christians and Muslims. Peace by piece. For more on the project.