Introduction / History
The Mahra Arabs are one of the smaller groups of Arabs in the country, composing a small percentage of the total population. They live in the southwestern corner of Oman near the borders with Saudi Arabia and Yemen, in a region called Dhofar. More specifically, they reside in the northern part of Dhofar in an area called Mahrah, as well as to the east on the Jiddat Plateau. They speak an Arabic dialect called Mahri, or Mehri.
Scholars say that the Arabs originated on the Arabian Peninsula. There, in the harsh Arabian Desert, a distinctive tribal culture developed. From that initial location, the Arab world began its spread.
Omani social structure is based on a tribal system of placement. The tribes are classified into levels of nobility based upon genealogy, responsibility, and marital freedom. The Mahra are classified as semi-nomadic warriors, which is, by Arab standards, a position of low recognition.
What are their lives like?
Mahra social structure is based on the tribe. Each tribe is ruled by a sheik, who is considered an expert in Islam and in relating to the outside world. His responsibilities include administering justice, protecting the tribe, sustaining tribal status, and providing grazing territory for the herds. Their territory is staunchly defended, partly by controlling all of the goods and persons that pass through it.
The Mahra are divided into two main groups. The first group, the semi-nomads, can be found on the desert's edge in the far northeastern portion of Oman. During the winter grazing months, they stay out with their animals; and in the dry, summer months, they move into the villages. The second group, the settled Mahra, spend the year in small, semi-fortified villages, where they raise camels and goats. Some farming takes place in these villages, and domestic animals are kept to supply milk and eggs.
Social life is extremely important to the Mahra. They share a daily coffee time while sitting on the floor and planning the next day's activities. Because wood is expensive and somewhat scarce, animal dung is used as fuel for cooking. The typical daily diet consists of wheat bread and porridge, with an occasional addition of boiled meat or chicken.
The Mahra are an endogamous tribe, which means that they only marry within a small social circle. They are also generally monogamous (one wife, one husband). In the past, marriages were arranged, but, increasingly, individual choice is becoming acceptable. Children are seen as the family's greatest asset. They receive inheritances patrilineally (inherited by the next male family member). In this system, boys inherit more than girls. The value of young girls is seen in their ability to have children and bond families through marriage.
Despite the teachings of Islam, traditions that uphold different social classes still persist. The manner of dress has become one of the distinguishing factors of class. Women wear veils both when they are in town and at home. When boys become men, they change their headgear and begin wearing daggers.
What are their beliefs?
Being Muslims, the Mahra follow the teachings of the prophet Mohammed. They believe that the only way to God is through following the teachings of their holy book, the Koran. Their Muslim religion is a religion of works based on these five "pillars" of faith: (1) A Muslim must affirm that "there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet." (2) Five times a day he must pray while facing Mecca. (3) He must give an obligatory percentage (very similar to tithes) on an annual basis. (4) He must fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year. (5) He must try to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his life.
What are their needs?
The Mahra in Oman are practically all Muslim. At present, there are very few Christian believers within their communities. A profession of faith in Jesus may cost a Mahra his family, his honor, his job, and sometimes his life. Evangelization will be challenging due to the nature of the Arabs' lifestyle and belief system.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to open the doors of Oman to the preaching of the Gospel.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to call people who are willing to go and share the love of Christ with the Mahra.
* Pray that God will give Mahra believers boldness to share Christ with their families and friends.
* Ask God to raise up an army of intercessors who will stand in the gap for the Mahra of Oman.
* Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Mahra.