Abstract Dr. Harry Munt
Harry Munt (Department of History, York University)
Abstract: Oman and the Early Islamic Empire
In 280/893 an army led by the Abbasid governor of al-Baḥrayn succeeded in bringing to an end the Omani Ibāḍī imamate and, technically at least, in (re)incorporating much of Oman as a province of the Abbasid caliphate. This invasion was somewhat opportunistic, building upon divisions sown within Oman as a result of the deposition of the imam al-Ṣalt b. Mālik in 272/885 and the ensuing period of fitna, which involved fierce battles between the rival factions. This Abbasid invasion of Oman in the late third/ninth century nonetheless stands out as a relatively rare example of the (even if only theoretical) expansion of caliphal, imperial authority from Iraq at a time more generally known for the onset of provincial secession. It is perhaps all the more interesting, since caliphs from the time of the first fitna had generally struggled to maintain any kind of direct imperial control over most of Oman, although caliphal authority could be exercised more firmly at some moments. Oman, therefore, makes quite an interesting case study for the depth of caliphal control over communities at the geographical margins of the empire. Not quite a fully engaged part of the early Islamic empire, Oman was also not clearly outside it: the spread of Ibadism in Oman, for example, owed much to its inhabitants’ economic and cultural links with Basra. Such links with other provinces in the caliphate, especially around the Persian Gulf, were strong enough that, when the Abbasid army invaded in the late third/ninth century, many Omanis fled to find refuge in places such as Siraf, Hurmuz and Basra.
This paper will address some aspects of the question of the nature of Oman’s and Omani elites’ engagement with the project of caliphal imperialism. In particular, the focus will be on the nature of Omani elites’ engagement with the project of caliphal imperialism. Why, and how, did many of those elites resist deeper imperial integration so stringently? And how did they perceive the position of Oman within the wider Islamic world? The problem of Islam’s status as an ‘imperial’ religion is often addressed, as it should be, through engagement with the experiences of the many non-Muslim inhabitants of the caliphate and their attitudes towards Umayyad and then Abbasid authority. It can also be addressed usefully, however, through looking at the attitudes of the Muslim elites of a province never fully integrated within the Islamic empire.
In this paper, I will principally address these questions through a study of a key Omani source, the Kitāb al-Ansāb attributed to one al-ʿAwtabī, which seems to have been composed in the mid-fourth/tenth century. This work is an understudied source for investigating the conceptions of the Islamic world and the early Islamic empire formed in a region that always had a very complicated relationship with central caliphal authority.
 Such at least is the argument, which I find generally convincing, of Hasan al-Naboodah, ‘Kitāb “al-Ansāb” li-l-ʿAwtabī: ishkālāt fī al-nisba wa-al-taʾlīf’, Majallat Dirāsāt al-Khalīj wa-al-Jazīra al-ʿArabiyya 32/121 (2006): 139–72.