“It is important for everyone to talk about the rich diversity of Muslims around the world and Oman is part of that fabric. In that context, the sultanate’s rich traditions and its history with Islam are important to the evolving global conversation on Islam,” Farah A Pandith, US State Department’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities, told Muscat Daily on Monday.
The office of Special Representative to Muslim Communities was created by the US President Barack Obama’s administration in June 2009 as a part of its initiative to engage with Muslims around the world. Pandith, an American Muslim born in India, is the first person to occupy this high-profile position.
Pandith said she is impressed by Oman’s leadership in the areas of interfaith dialogue, tolerance and women’s rights. “I am always encouraged when I come to a community or a country that has respect for all faiths and has a proactive approach to ensure that young people understand the importance of mutual respect.
"I hope the young people in Oman continue the rich tradition of speaking about other faiths and other sects within Islam with respect. I think they have a global role in that conversation,” she said.
The American diplomat said she felt ‘very excited’ about her first visit to the sultanate. ”I am honoured to have a chance to come to a place that is so special historically and culturally.
"I’ve been around the region and had a chance to see the influence of Oman in many different parts of the world, in Zanzibar or other places. I am very excited to be here.”
Reflecting upon her visit to the Sidab Centre on Sunday which is associated with the Oman Women’s Association, Pandith said, “I found the women at the centre quite empowered, making sure that they contribute strongly to their community and to the growth story of Oman. It was wonderful to learn that their artworks are sold all over the world.”
On Monday, Pandith visited the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat that left her feeling ‘stunned’. “I was absolutely stunned at the majesty and grace of the architecture and the design of the Grand Mosque.
"It reflects the best of Islamic architecture. The gardens are gorgeous and I’ve felt very welcome here. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said has done a remarkable job in making sure that this was a place that was sacred and that was beautiful.”
This was followed by a trip to Nizwa. The tour of the Nizwa Fort, Pandith said, contributed to her understanding of the rich history of Oman. "It is a very special treat to be able to visit this wonderful, historic place. What an amazing part of human history. Thank you!," she wrote at the fort's visitor's register.
Pandith also interacted with the students at the Nizwa University, an experience that she found particularly fulfilling. “I am grateful for the experience to learn more and more about Oman and its people and to have a chance to talk at the university with young people, to hear from them, specifically about what their vision and their interests are.”
‘Video disgusting, crude’
Nizwa - US State Department’s Special Representative to Muslim Community, Farah A Pandith’s visit to Oman gains significance amid widespread outrage in the Muslim world over an anti-Islam video that was produced in the US.
Condemning the video, Pandith said, “I have watched the trailer. I thought it was disgusting, it was crude. President Obama and Secretary [of State, Hillary] Clinton were very clear in condemning the video that was made by a private US citizen and that did not have anything to do with the United States government.”
The American diplomat also stressed on the need for mutual respect. “We believe in the importance of mutual respect. I feel very strongly as an American that it is important to have freedom of speech.
"We stand by the constitution of the United States that allows everybody to be able to express themselves freely. One would hope in a world today where you cannot control any kind of social media or movement of ideas that people would be respectful of each other.
"I would hope that any human being [while exercising that freedom] has the sense not to insult another person or community based on race, religion, sexuality or gender.”
“I also want to say, importantly, that there is no role for violence in condemnation. We hope that in response to things like this people will act in a non-violent way,” added Pandith.