When traveling to a new country, it is always important to keep the local customs and etiquette in mind. This is especially important when you are a guest in a Muslim country, as they each have their own special rules and formalities.
Those who are planning to visit the Pearl of Arabia — better known as Oman! — are also encouraged to check out the Oman eVisa application before their trip.
Communicating with Locals
Omani locals are very friendly and will most likely want to chat with visitors, ask about their travels, and make friendly small talk. However, some general practices still apply.
First, when talking with a man, it is best to avoid questions about his wife, as this is considered a personal topic. If you want to know more about a person’s family, it is best to ask general questions and start the topic from there.
Very often, Muslims are very hospitable and friendly, so much so that they can even invite you for a cup of tea at their home. If you plan to visit, be sure to take your shoes off at the entrance, as the soles are seen as unsanitary and may track dirt into the house.
Likewise, do not insist that the rest of the family sit down at the table. Each family has its own rules and they will join you if they wish to do so.
Food and Drinks
There are also a few things to consider about food and drinks before traveling to Oman or another Muslim country.
There are a handful of prohibited foods that cannot be found in stores. First, Muslims are prohibited from drinking alcohol and, as such, most locals do not drink it. Many countries in the Middle East typically ban any sale of alcohol, but Oman (and some of its neighbors, like the United Arab Emirates) are exceptions.
Travelers and locals with an alcohol license are able to purchase drinks at the airport, hotels, restaurants, bars, and special liquor stores around the country. The minimum drinking age is 21 and over. The only exception to liquor sales are during the month of Ramadan, when selling alcohol is banned.
It’s especially important to note that being inebriated in public is strictly forbidden and may result in a serious offense, fine, or even jail time.
Travelers should also note that it is forbidden to eat pork in Muslim countries, as it is considered to be a dirty animal.
In addition to these nuances, be sure to remember two golden rules: Food should be grasped with the right hand, as the left hand is considered unclean. Similarly, it is a faux pas to refuse food, as this can offend the host.
The Holy Month of Ramadan
Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims, and, therefore, has its own special nuances.
The dates of Ramadan are calculated according to the lunar calendar and are shifted by eleven to twelve days each year, so it is best to check the exact dates in advance when planning your holiday.
Traveling during Ramadan is a special occasion in itself, as it gives travelers a peek into local life and traditions. During this month, Muslims are forbidden to eat, drink, and smoke during daylight hours. The only exception is before sunrise and after sunset, when locals gather at mosques and at home to pray and break their fast.
To be respectful to fasting locals, travelers should not eat or drink outside of their hotel grounds. Likewise, the majority of cafes and restaurants will be closed until sunset, and it is better to stock up beforehand.
Mosques and holy places
When visiting holy places, there are a few differences depending on your gender.
Men are allowed to enter any mosque, but a certain style of dress should be observed. Wear long pants and a t-shirt.
Women can enter the mosque only through a special entrance for women. In the majority of mosques, women should wear a scarf to cover their hair and a long dress (abaya).
Before entering a mosque or a holy place, both men and women must take off their shoes. There are special lockers or drawers to store shoes, usually near the entrance.
During your trip, you will most likely see people performing namaz. Also known as salah or salat, this is a Muslim ritual when a person kneels on a rug and prays. The namaz is one of the most important rituals in Islam and is done five times a day at specific times.
If you see a person performing namaz, it is best to not walk in front of him or her, interfere with their prayer, nor talk to them until after they are finished.
Special Tips for Women
In public transport, as well as some cafes and restaurants, there may sometimes be separate areas for men and women. Typically, the first carriages on the metro or train are exclusively for women, and are usually marked in pink and/or with a female sign. Please bear this in mind when using public transport so as to not accidentally end up in the wrong area.
When going out to public places, it is advisable not to wear anything overly exposing and/or tight. The best clothes to wear in Oman are loose, moisture-wicking fabric and long-sleeved shirts and long dresses. The shoulders, neck, and décolleté area should be covered at all times.
On public beaches, it is better to wear a burkini (a special closed Muslim bathing suit) or, at the very least, be prepared to swim in a t-shirt and long shorts. At tourist attractions and resorts, it is possible to wear traditional swimsuits and bikinis.