Since the early centuries of Hijra, Nizwa has been one of the most important scientific and cultural centers, especially when, in 177 A.H / 793 A.D, the Omanis made it their capital. Ever since, the city has been home for most of the imams and scholars who have contributed greatly to its prosperous intellectual and cultural life. Hence the city’s title as “Takht Al-Arab” (mainstay of Arabs) or “Baydat Al-Islam” (stronghold of Islam), which pays tribute to its standing as a hub of learning and scholarship.
Scene from the city of Nizwa
With its contribution to the various fields of knowledge, Nizwa has played a major role in promoting the Islamic civilizational through the ages. The people of Oman have contributed greatly to the Ummah’s scientific and cultural heritage, thanks to their great involvement in intellectual production and to their dealings with various parts of the Islamic world. Documents dating back to the 1st century A.H / 7th century A.D show that Omanis authored books in Fiqh and Hadith and testify to their pioneering role in this area.
Nizwa is known for its strategic geographic location at the southern foothills of Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar (Green Mountain). It is bordered on the east by the Wilayat of Izki, on the north by Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar, on the west by the Wilayat of Bahla and on the south by the Wilayat of Manah. The city has a mixed topography combining plains, ever-green oases and gardens irrigated by aqueducts (Aflaj) and wells.
City of Nizwa
Importance of Nizwa in the Islamic era
In the 2nd century A.H, Nizwa was capital of Oman, particularly during the reign of Imam Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Abi Affan Al-Yahmadi, who proclaimed it as such on 1 Shawwal 177 A.H. But the city has retained its standing despite the fact that later imams and sultans took other cities such as Rustaq and Muscat as capitals of their rule.
Furthermore, Nizwa has, thorough the ages, been one of Oman’s most important centers of knowledge and learning. Its famous mosques used to be schools which produced cohorts of scholars, thinkers, writers and fiqh experts. The educational and religious facilities have also played a vital role in the promotion of learning and education.
Islamic civilization landmarks in Nizwa
Nizwa is home for many historic mosques. The oldest among these places of worship were built in the style of Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque known for its simple architecture. Over time, mosques proliferated throughout the city. The first of these mosques were characterized by the absence of high minarets which were replaced by an extension leading to the roof via stairs reaching to the mosque’s interior. The following are some key mosques that contributed to the promotion of learning in Oman during the first centuries of the Hegira:
Al-Shawadhna Mosque is located in the middle of Al-Aqr neighborhood in Nizwa. Scores of scholars frequented the mosque for worship and religious education, thus contributing to the dissemination of sciences pertaining to faith, fiqh, hadith and language.
Al-Shawadhna mosque was built in the 7th year of the 1st century A.H and renovated many times, the last being in 936 A.H / 1529, as shown by the artistic engravings on the Oman-style 3×4 meters Mihrab, built in the same year. The outer part of the Mihrab is a rectangular structure with floral motifs and 15 engravings alternating with other smaller carvings and foliage patterns.
As one of the oldest and largest mosques in Oman, the Sa’al mosque consists of a vast tower with fine wood doors and a small space for ablution. It was built in the 8th year of the 1st century A.H and renovated several times, but its Mihrab is among the oldest in Nizwa and in Oman as a whole. It dates back to Rabii II 650 A.H / June 1252 A.D and showcases the Omani craftsmen’s ingenuity in gypsum decoration in the 7th century A.H. The mosque’s Mihrab is a square of 3 meters on each side surrounded by an outer band engraved with Quranic inscriptions in the Kufic script. The lower part comprises 22 circular engravings, each with a distinct pattern, while the knot of the niche (taqia) bears a caption by the artisan, which reads: “Commissioned by the [Lord’s] servant Ahmed bin Ibrahim bin Muhammad Al-Sa’âli in pursuit of the Lord’s Mercy.” The Mihrab abounds with interlocking calligraphies and arabesques. Moreover, being frequented by scholars and a setting for teaching and God invocation, the Sa’âl Mosque played a leading role in the dissemination of religious education.
Al-Jinah Mosque, named after the Al-Jinah Oasis, is located in the old district of Sa’âl. It had undergone several renovations, the last of which was in 925 A.H / 1519 A.D. Its Mihrab (4m high and 3m wide), which showcases the general trend of Mihrab designing of the 10th century A.H, is topped with the Shahada transcribed in Kufic script in a frame of floral patterns. The Mihrab’s outer frame features 16 exquisitely-crafted large circular gypsum engravings interlinked by smaller ones, representing different geometric and floral designs. The rectangular inner frame is erected on two pillars engraved on both sides of the Mihrab’s niche decorated with plant motifs, common in Omani Mihrabs.
Al-Sharja Mosque is a simple square structure maintained in a good state, although its construction dates back to 924 A.H / 1518 A.D. Its Mihrab is among the master pieces of artisan Abdullah Al-Humaimi Al-Naqash Al-Manahi. Measuring 4m high and 6m wide, Al-Sharja Mosque’s Mihrab resembles in its design that of Al-Jinah mosque, particularly in its 15 decorated circular engravings separated with smaller ones and surrounded by floral motifs.
5-The Grand Mosque of Nizwa
It was built in the 2nd century A.H, during the reign of Imam Ghassan bin Abdullah who succeeded to the Imamate in 192 A.H, after religious scholars had agreed that Friday prayers be performed outside Sohar, then capital of Oman. The mosque was initially renovated during the reign of Imam Assalt bin Malik, and subsequently during the reign of Imam Sultan bin Yusuf bin Malik Al-Ya’rubi who had the mosque extended and its walls fortified after the construction of the Nizwa Fort was completed. Upon instructions by Sultan Qaboos, the building underwent a third renovation in the early 1970s, in a manner worthy of its religious and historical standing. Hence its new name: “Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.”
II. Forts and castles
The Fort of Nizwa, one of the oldest in the Sultanate of Oman, is known for its enormous rounded walls covered with earth coating. Rising 24m above the ground, with 43m as outside diameter and 39m as inside diameter, the fort has seven wells and numerous embrasures allowing ancient defenders of the city to fire from a protected position, along with various prison dungeons, as the fort used to be a government building.
Built in 1660 by Imam Sultan bin Saif Al-Malik Al-Ya’rubi, the Nizwa Fort now houses the Museum of Nizwa which showcases traditional handicrafts, still practiced in this region.
The castle, situated at a stone’s throw from the Fort, was built by Imam Assalt bin Malik Al-Kharusi before the year 1200. In addition to the mosque, the castle comprises residences for the Imam, students, magistrates, guards and soldiers.
3-Bait Al-Rudaida Castle
This 17th century building is located about 24km from the city of Nizwa, at the gateway to Al-Muayden Valley. The castle combines the military fortification design and the local traditional architectural style, with its massive walls, brick towers and amazing decorative patterns.
III. Nizwa scholars
As home for Muslim scholars through Oman’s Muslim history, Nizwa has been one of the most important intellectual and cultural centers. Its mosques played a major role in the promotion of knowledge and learning in the 1st century A.H, as they produced a considerable number of scholars, intellectuals, men of letters and fuqaha. Below is a list of the major scholars who contributed to intellectual development during the first centuries of the Hegira:
1-Imam Jabir bin Zaid (Abu Al-Sha’thaa)
Imam Jabir bin Zaid Al-Yahmadi Al-Azdi Al-Al-Fargi Al-Nizwi of the Banu Amr bloodline, also known as Abu Al-Sha’thaa, was an outstanding authority in Fatwa and theology, which earned him the status of a Tabi’i (follower) in fiqh.
A prolific author, Imam Jabir bin Zaid grew up in Oman and was educated in Hejaz and Basra. But he spent most of his life in Basra where led a life of a proven scholar. His career was divided between his pursuit of erudition and his role as a fatwa authority, on the one hand, and his role as an leader of a trend of thought adopted, amidst the troublesome context of the time, by his followers who considered the Imam’s opinions as being the most appropriate answer to the such a context, which conform to both the Holy Quran and the Sunnah, on the other hand.
Imam Jabir is considered among the earliest authors of Islam. He assembled his complete works in a collection entitled «Diwan Jabir ».
2-Al-Bashir bin Al-Mundhir Al-Sami Al-‘Aqri Al-Nizwi
Having grown up in Al-Aqr, Nizwa, Al-Bashir bin Al-Mundhir had extended kinsfolk of the Banu Ziad and the Banu Nafi’. He is considered as the second eminent scholar of Oman after Sheikh Mussa bin Abi Al-Jabir Al-Izkiwi. He is particularly credited of his role in promoting universal access to education in this city, as a lecturer and as an eminent authority in Fatwa, which earned him the title of the “Grand Sheikh”.
3-Imam Al-Warith bin Ka’b Al-Kharusi
Imam Al-Warith bin Ka’b Al-Yahmadi Al-Kharusi is one of the eminent imams who marked the Muslim Ummah’s history. Born in the village of Hajar, Wadi Bani Kharus (Oman), he was the third imam to be given Al-Bai’a (allegiance) as ruler of Oman in the 2nd century A.H. After Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Affan had left Nizwa following his removal from office as Imam, scholars and jurists led by Bin Abi Jabir and Bin Al-Mundhir conferred the Imamate on Al-Warith in the month of Zul Qi’da 179 A.H / 796 A.D. The burial place of Al-Warith, situated between Al-‘Aqr and Sa’âl, is a well known site in Nizwa. He had a fortress built as his personal residence in the Village of Siq, in the late 2nd century A.H, which was restored several times by the Sheikhs of Banu Nabhan, the last of whom was Sheikh Sulaiman bin Saif Al-Nabhani, who renovated the fort in the early 13th century A.H.
4-Imam Ghassan bin Abdullah Al-Yahmadi
When Imam Al-Warith died, Ghassan bin Abdullah Al-Yahmadi was raised to the Imamate on Monday 6 Jumada I 192 A.H, during the reign of Harun Al-Rashid. He consulted scholars over the holding of the Friday prayer in Nizwa, which they approved provided the prayer be led by the ruling Imam. This turned Nizwa into Oman’s capital, which accordingly became the country’s seat of Imamate and the dwelling place of Imam Ghassan, namely in Al-Aqr. Imam Ghassan bin Abdullah Al-Yahmadi died on the night of 26 Zul-Qi’da 207 A.H / March 822 A.D after 15 years, 6 months and a few days in office.
5-Imam Abdulmalik Bin Hamid Al-Alawi
Imam Abdulmalik bin Hamid, descendant of the Banu Suda bin Ali bin Amr bin Mer, was given allegiance on 27 Zul-Qi’da 207 A.H / 822 A.H. His Imamate continued until his death on the night of Friday 3 Rajab 226 A.H / 879 A.D, whereupon he was buried in the Imams graveyard in Nizwa after a reign of 18 years and 7 days. He was succeeded by Imam Al-Muhanna bin Jaifar Al-Yahmadi who held the Imamate 10 years and 9 months before he died on 16 Rabii II 237 A.H / October 851 A.H. Imam Assalt bin Malik, who succeeded to the Imamate on the same day, died on the night of Friday 15 Zul-Qi’da 275 AH and was buried in Imams graveyard in Nizwa.
Aqueducts of Nizwa
The aqueduct (falj) of Daris in the Wilayat of Nizwa, at the foothills of Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar, 180 km of the Muscat Governorate. It is one of Oman’s famous Daoudi-style aqueducts and one of the largest in the Dakhiliyah Region. It is known for its high flow rate and it high-quality water.