Today, Oman is a small Middle Eastern country, but did you know its territory once stretched to East Africa and India?
Having been the first country to gain independence in the Arab world, Oman has a rich history characterized by invasions, territory gains and losses, and captivating regime changes. The many events that mark Oman’s history have impacted different aspects of the country’s heritage, including its national flag.
Some of these changes resulted in alterations in the national flag, as we shall find out shortly.
Today, we discover the history, meaning, and symbolism of the flag of Oman.
History of the Flag of Oman
Oman used several flags to represent its sovereignty even before its founding in 1650 AD. The first historical flag used was the Sasanian Empire standard. This Empire ruled over the region between 225 and 632 AD.
Some historians describe the Sasanian Empire as the Neo-Persian Empire. This is because it was the last Persian Empire before the seventh and eighth-century Muslim conquests.
Its flag was square with a purple core and yellow impressions. The flag had a mix of purple, yellow, orange, and cream colors.
The next flag was the Umayyad Caliphate flag, which was white without any impressions. The region used this flag between 661 and 750 AD.
The Abbasid Caliphate had a black flag and took over the region between 750 and 934 AD.
The Seljuk Empire that ruled the region between 1045 and 1154 used its blue flag with a double-headed phoenix at its center. The image of a black bow and arrow superimposed the phoenix’s impression.
When the Portuguese invaded in 1508, they colonized the region and flew the first Kingdom of Portugal flag. This flag had a white background and the kingdom’s coat of arms at its center.
The Portuguese changed the design of their own coat of arms five times between 1508 and 1650 during their reign over Oman. Every time they changed their flag, they also changed the flag they flew over Oman.
When the Imamate of Oman defeated the Portuguese, he flew the Omani Imamate flag to signify a change of guard over Omani leadership.
The Imamate of Oman flag had a white background with the royal emblem at the canton.
The Omani Imamate was a historical state that was part of the Omani Proper. Consequently, this flag did not represent the entire Omani territory.
The first flag to represent the entire Omani territory was the Omani Empire flag. The Omani Empire used this flag between 1696 and 1856. It had a white background with a red sword pointing to the right and a script below.
This Empire competed with Britain and Portugal to control trading activities around the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. The Empire’s influence peaked in the 1800s when it controlled the entire Strait of Hormuz region, which modern-day Pakistan and Iran occupy, and extended to the Delgado Cape.
The Empire’s flag changed in 1856, following Said bin Sultan’s death. His sons inherited and divided the territory into the Asian and African sections. The Asian one covered Oman and Muscat, while the African one covered the East African coast.
The Oman and Muscat Sultanate adopted a plain red flag without any images or inscriptions between 1856 and 1970. Red symbolized the Sultanate’s authority as a religious leader or Imam.
Oman adopted the first version of the flag it uses today in 1970 when a new Sultan took over the reins after deposing the ruling one. When he assumed power, Sultan Qabus bin Said modernized his nation by changing its name (to the Sultanate of Oman) and flag.
The new flag had red, white, and green colors. The red stripe was thinner than the white and green ones. The red color made a “T” shape because of its vertical line near the pole.
The new flag also had the coat of arms from the first flag. The coat of arms had a belt, Dagar, and two crossed swords.
The flag changed again on November 18, 1995, when the ratio of colors altered. The new flag, which Oman still uses to date, now has all the color stripes, each with the same width. However, the red color still forms a “T” shape.
Meaning of the Flag of Oman
The Omani flag has a coat of arms, three horizontal stripes of different colors, and one vertical stripe.
The Coat of Arms
The Omani flag has the nation’s coat of arms emblem, also known as the Khanjar Bo Sayfain, at the canton area or the top left corner.
The coat of arms comprises a traditional knife called Khanjar placed inside its sheath. Behind the Khanjar sit two crossed swords. A belt spans the national emblem.
The emblem emerged in the 1700s as the Al Said dynasty’s royal crest. The Sultanate later adopted it as a symbol of their authority during Faisal bin Turki’s (1888 to 1913) era.
The reformist sultan, who took over in the 1970s following a deposition, incorporated it into the national flag. In addition, he added a crown to the national emblem to distinguish it from the one used by royalties.
The national emblem has significant symbolism. The Khanjar and two swords represent historical weapons used by the Omani people. The weapons connected at the waist belt.
Omani men still wear the Khanjar, especially during formal occasions or ceremonies.
The White, Red, and Green Colors
The top horizontal color is white, which symbolizes prosperity and peace. Indeed, white is a universal symbol of innocence, purity, and peace.
White has symbolized peace since the Roman Empire army in 109 AD. The army would wave a white flag whenever they sought to surrender to demonstrate the end of a war and the beginning of peace.
The sultan included the color in the flag to give the people hope of long-term peace.
The red color, which dominates the flag, represents the many battles Omanis have fought against foreign invaders. Several foreign organizations have attacked Oman. For example, from 931 to 932 AD and 933 to 934 AD, the Qarmatians invaded and controlled Oman.
The Iranian Buyyids also attacked and controlled Oman from 967 to 1053. The Seljuk Empire, which made the region part of its own empire between 1053 and 1154 AD, replaced the Buyyids. The Seljuks were powerful, and their territory extended to the southern parts of India.
The Nabhani Dynasty invaded and controlled Oman from 1154 to 1470. The reign of the Nabhani Kings was interrupted between 1406 and 1443 for 37 years.
The Portuguese also invaded and assumed control over Muscat from April 1515 to January 1650. As a result, the Portuguese era saw significant fighting over the control of the territory.
For instance, the Ottoman Empire invaded and made Muscat part of their territory between 1550 and 1588. In 1600, the Nabhai temporarily restored their kingdom over Oman for 24 years. However, the Nabhai later fought the Portuguese and caused them to withdraw their colonial presence in 1650.
The green color at the bottom stands for Oman’s fertile land. Before the discovery of oil, the Omanis depended on their fertile lands to drive the economy.
The primary crops in Oman include bananas, dates, tomatoes, carrots, and lime. The main agricultural area represented by the green color on the flag is the Batina Coast.
This coast is in the country’s northeastern region between Diba al-Hisn and Muscat. The arable land covers approximately 101,000 acres. Half of the country’s crop production comes from this region.
The country’s other fertile lands lie along a tiny coastal plain that relies on Monsoon rains propagated by the Indian Ocean.
Today, agriculture contributes only approximately three percent of the country’s GDP, even though it employs half its labor force.
Oman’s fertile land has yet to satisfy the country’s food requirements, due to challenges like increased water salinity and outdated farming technologies. Consequently, the country imports live animals and other foods to meet its needs. The Omani government has recently demonstrated its determination to make the country food-sufficient by enhancing its investments in agricultural activities.
But Oman has high-quality crops, some of which it exports to neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations. Apart from Oman, the other GCC nations are Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.
The Omani government has incentivized foreigners to invest in its agricultural sector. These initiatives include utilities, tax reductions, tariff protection, loans, and utility discounts. The government also assists its farmers in making more money from their products by helping them to locate foreign markets.
Although the statements above are the official representations of the colors on the Omani flag, you may encounter alternative unofficial symbolic explanations.
For instance, some Omanis associate the white color on the flag with the Imamate. This explanation arises from the white flag which the Imamate of Oman used between 1650 and 1954. In addition, the white flag has a royal emblem imprinted at its canton.
Thus, older generations, which witnessed the white flag in use, still associate the color with the Imamate.
The Imamate was a historical state that existed within Oman. Its territory was located in the Al Hajar Mountains, and its capital rotated between the Nizwa and Rustaq cities.
The Imamate of Oman operated much like the Muscat Sultanate, since people from the Ibadi sect assumed leadership of both organizations. The imamate system has existed for over 1,200 years and operated according to Islamic Sharia.
Its ruler is elected, and the Imam becomes the community’s head. Given the strong influence of tribalism in Oman, the community encouraged the government to assume a decentralized form that would help tribal leaders have a stake in government, cultivating a peaceful coexistence.
The Imamate formed a governance system that prevented the ruler from exercising absolute military and political power. Instead, the Sultanate had to share its power with regional governors.
The Imamate kept the community safe and sought support from local communities whenever he needed to raise an army to fight off invaders.
Similarly, some Omanis associated the red color in the flag with the Sultanate. The Sultanate of Muscat and Oman used a plain red flag as its symbol between 1856 and 1970. The current flag replaced the red one used by the Sultanate.
A sultanate is a monarchical government whose head is the top leader of state and government. Presently, a sultanate rules Oman.
Some Omanis have associated the green color on the Omani flag with the lush vegetation around the Hajar mountainous. The Hajar mountain range occupies the northeastern section of the country, presenting a sharp contrast to the low-lying desert areas.
The history of Oman is just as eventful as the changes in its country’s flag. The first flags raised in Oman belonged to invaders. Local leaders also often changed the national flag, depending on what they wanted to symbolize.
The current flag symbolizes peace, fertile soils, and the blood Omanis shed during invasions.
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- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Oman
- Met Museum, Available here: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/702011
- Strauss Center, Available here: https://www.strausscenter.org/strait-of-hormuz-geography/