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Suhar (Sohar) in the Early Islamic Period:

The Written Evidence

In 280/893 the first Imamate of Oman ('Umam) collapsed in civil war and for approximately a century and a half its overseas commerce fell into the hand of foreigners or their vassals. It was during this foreign occupation or the coast that Suhâr (Sohar) underwent the major transformation which led Muqaddasi (p. 92) to describe it as “the hallway of China, the storehouse of the East (Persia) and al-‘Iraq, and the support of al-Yaman”.

It is the artifacts associated with this period of major expansion that archaeologists have discovered when working around the site of present-day Suhar. Up to now, so far as I know (I have not seen the results of Mr. Peter Farries work), nothing significant has been discovered from the earlier period (Williamson 1973; Whitcomb 1975). And yet, as I shall attempt to show from the early Omani written sources, Suhar was the main city of Oman at earlier date and if its remains have not been discovered then this may be because we have been looking in wrong places.


The earliest significant development of suhar is probably connected with the later Sasanid period when the port itself (possibly called something which resembled the name Oman) was developed as a major fortified commercial centre in the Ard al-Hind, that is the Persian maritime empire which extended from Sind to Iraq and incorporated both the Persian and Arab shores of the Gulf and the approaches along the Makran coast on the one side and the Omani and south Arabian coasts on the other. Certainly by the end of the 6th century and up to the conversion to Islam, when the Arabs evicted the Persian ruling classes from Oman, it is clear that Suhar was the main Persian centre on the coast with a standing army based in the fortified quarter of Dastajird: two other coastal sites were also important, Dama at the southern end of the Batina, and Jurrafar ( Jurfar; Jullafar Julfar) which was the main centre on the Arab sib side at the entrance to the Gulf. In the interior power was exercised from the fortified centre Kisra Anushiravan (?) developed at Rustaq (the extraordinary Qal’at al-Kisra is still intact there, whilst the name of Rustaq, although Arabized has never been changed): it was here that the governor for interior affairs headed a semi-feudal, semi-bureaucratic hierarchy of maraziba, asawira, and hanaqira who directly controlled the full Persian territory of Mazun, whilst Through a Julanda appointed from the Shaikhly Shanu’a Azd clan, he directed affairs in the semi-autonomous Arab territory in northern Oman, whose capital was at Tuwam (Burami oasis) and local port at Diba. Another similar semi-autonomous state under the control of the Julanda b. Kartar of the Bani Salima Azd may have incorporated territory both in south-east Oman and on the Persian side of the entrance to the Gulf.

I do not intend to present the detailed evidence for this brief summary of the pre-Islamic period as it a subject I have dealt with elsewhere. The essential point to note is that the basic settlement pattern of Oman was established before the Arabs took control of the country and that this pattern persisted under the new form of Ibadi government, established in Oman at the end of the 2/8th century after the overthrow of Julanda rule. Suhar therefore inherited certain functions and forms which will now be discussed.


In the first place Suhar was the capital of Oman and it was here that governors occasionally appointed by the Caliphate authorities resided. But Suhar was eccentrically placed for control of Omani tribal society which increasingly dominated the home politics of the region. So it was the mountainous interior which became the base for Julanda rule although they maintained some fortifications in Suhar (Jami Ibn Ja'far). On the other hand Suhar remained closely linked with the Omani overseas community living in Basra and Khurasan so that after the collapse of Muhallabite power it became an active centre for the nascent Ibadi movement and the centre from which the first short-lived attempt to establish an Imamate under al-Julanda b. Mas’ud was organized at the very beginning of Abbasid times (J.C. Wilkinson, in press). But when nearly a half century later Julanda power was overthrown and the Imamate fully established, the same reasons that had led the Julanda to develop their capital in the interior also forced the Ibadis to establish their main centre at Nizwa. Yet even though Suhar lost its function capital of Oman, the peculiarities of Ibadi government maintained a decentralized tribal the interior so that none of the bureaucratic, military and courtly functions normally associated with a capital accrued in Nizawa and cosmopolitan Suhar remained the economic capital of Oman and the only town with any real urban development (J.C Wilkinson 1977: 143.


As a cultural and economic centre the role of Suhar may be conveniently examined first from the point of view of its linkages with the rest of Oman and then with respect to its overseas connections. Obviously these two aspects are interdependent and in the period with which we are concerned Suhar’s commercial control over the interior partly arose from its role as an international port. Even so its outward and inward looking functions may be separated, as indeed they have been at various periods of history: when under foreign occupation, for example in the 10th century, Suhar was more or less cut off from the interior of the country whilst conversely from roughly the 7/13th century onwards it entirely lost its status as an international port.

Basically Suhar is agricultural and fishing settlement which forms part of the almost continuous strip of irrigated land along the Batina littoral. It is particularly favoured however, in that it can exploit both the groundwater of the main fan of the Wadi al-Jizzi drainage system on the coast by Zijar wells, whilst also drawing water from the upper part of the fan by means of qanat aflaj, thanks to its proximity to the mountain zone. Local tradition (Miles 1877) ascribes these aflaj to the pre-Islamic period; a priori this is a reasonable assumption since the majority of qanat were built in Oman in the period of Persian occupation and it would be surprising indeed if the Sasanid rulers failed to develop the water potential of their capital area less intensively than they did elsewhere. However, The ibadites in Arabia and Africa. J. Wilkinson (1975) finds archaeological evidence of a major development of these agricultural resources during the period of overseas occupation so that the exact extent of the cultivated area in earlier times must remain an open question for the moment. That the agricultural area was more or less abandoned after the 12th century and not re-developed until the 17th century (Ya’ariba times) is clearly attested both by T. J. Wilkinson’s survey and the written sources discussed by the present writer (1977). The written sources also indicates, albeit indirectly, that the basic agricultural settlement patterns of the area existed in the early Islamic period. Lawa some 30 km to the NW and Majazz, some 25 km to the SE are spoken of in the 2/8th century: the former was seized from its rightful owners by the occupying force at the end of the 3/9th century. Within the Suhar district itself Ghadfan is mentioned as the place where the Basran Imam al-Rabi b. Habib al-Farahidi died (170/786), whilst a part of Suhar called ‘Awtab may have existed before 278/892: Sulan is also attested in the form of a nisba of a prominent ‘alim but admittedly at a later date than proves its existence at the period with which we are particularly concerned. There is absolutely no doubt from the extremely detailed fiqh rulings of the early Imamate period that fishing and agriculture were the main local forms of occupation.

In addition to its own local economy Suhar served as the regional port for Tuwam (i. and., the northern Dhahira and Buraimi oasis), to which it was connected by the Wadi al-Jizzi, and it was also the main administrative centre for these areas and the intervening Jabal Huddan. The dependence of these regions on Suhar is attested right back to the earliest Islamic times by the contents of the Prophet’s reputed letter to the Huddan and Thumala (Ibn Sa'd Tabaqat I ii 35), and is confirmed for the period of the First Imamate by the details associated with the appointment to Suhar and its wilaya in c. 177/794 of the Ibadi missionary who had raised the northern tribes against the Julanda (cf. in particular the Sirat A. Qahtan), as also in the account of the Wali of Suhar’s compaign to deal with Julanda when they revolted and killed the sub-Wali in Tuiwam during al-Muhanna b. Jayfar’s Imamate (226-237/841-851: cf. Sira of A. ‘l-Hawari to the Hadramis). The tribal linkages between Suhar and this hinterland are also clearly brought out both by the history of the development of the civil war at the end of the First Imamate, and by the clan connections given by al-‘Awtabi in his Kitab Ansab al-Arab : further evidence is provided by the diffusion of innovations, as for example when the Qadariya and Murji’a established schools in Suhar in ‘Abd al-Malik b. Humaydi's Imamate (c. 208-226/82341), it was in the Tuwam area that they began to acquire converts (The Tuhfa 138). In this connection it is worth noting that, as a cosmopolitan centre with very close links with Basra, Suhar was the centre of a number of ‘vanguard’ philosophies which displeased the reactionary ‘ulama’ of the interior during the First Imamate.

Another element which entered into the local economy of Suhar from its hinterland was copper from the Wadi al-Jizzi. The antiquity of this mining (and of its relationship to problems of locating Magan) needs no detailing her, particularly as the development of techniques in Oman is currently being investigated by Dr Gerd Weigerber of the Bergbau Museum, Bochum (cf. his preliminary report to an informal meeting held at Ras al_Hamra on 20th Jamuary1977); but that it continued through until at least the early 6/12th century shown not only by Mas’udi’s well-known remarks (I Muruj 242) but also by the Omani fiqh works. The Jami Ibn Ja'far (end of 3/9th to early 4/10th century) has a number of rulings related to mining while in the recension given by the early 6/12th century k. al-Musannaf of Ahmad b. ‘Abdullah al-Kindi there is a specific mention of what are clearly the W. al-Jizzi mines which shows that the owners in Suhar sub-let them for a percentage, seemingly 10%, net of all expenses receivable at Suhar.


When we move from Suhar’s internal economy to consider its development as an international port, we immediately get involved in such vexed questions as when monsoon trade really developed, of the evolution of trade between the Gulf and the East, of how far it was the Arabs and how far the Persians who were responsible, and when direct sailing between China and the Gulf first started. Vast quantities of ink have been spilt over these problems, but now the archaeological evidence from the Gulf (albeit not from Oman) has been judiciously interpreted alongside the written source by Whitehouse and Williamson (1973) who convincingly show the role of the Sasanids in developing trade with the East. Their interpretation, in my opinion, also fits closely with the evidence, hitherto largely passed over, concerning the mechanism of Gulf commerce and whom it involved.

I do not intend to take this question up here, except to point out that the original Sasanid organization of the maritime empire that gave rise to the term Ard al-Hind in the early Arabic sources was essentially supra-national and deliberately broke down barriers between the local inhabitants of the coastal areas lying between Aden, Basra and the Indus. Arabs, Persians and Indians were drawn into a single commercial network so that no distinctions of race, clan or religion were permitted to disrupt trade, whilst the local population, whether of Arab, Persian or indigenous bavasira origin, were impressed into the marine.

The coming of Islam certainly changed this old order as well as shifting territorial and economic organization, but even so the supranational commercial structure persisted: there is ample evidence of this in the detailed information we have about the earliest organization of the Ibadi movement in Basra and how it exploited the profound resentment of this merchant network at the way it was handled by central government, from ‘Uthman’s time onwards (J.C. Wilkinson, in press). The biographies of these early Ibadis are not, of course, written with the aim of describing commercial organization, but they do incidentally provide interesting evidence concerning the perpetuation of the pre-Islamic network and of its adaptation to changing circumstances.

Within the Gulf area three pre-Islamic centres developed as the main ports of the new commercial empire, Ubullah-Basra, Siraf in Fars and Suhar in Oman. Suhar itself had a particular role in that it lay outside the Gulf proper and was located on the edge of the Indian Ocean whose trade was controlled by the monsoons its linkages lay as much with the rest of the Indian Ocean as with the lands bordering the Gulf. The merchants of these ports regularly moved around between them and often had residences in more than one. So whilst the actual trade conducted in each centre depended on the economic structure of their hinterlands and the physical practicalities of navigation and shipping movements, the financing and owner ship of the ships and their cargoes were not territorially bound.

To turn now more specifically to the port of Suhar itself and of the written evidence relating to its commercial development. The general picture shows a major development during the first half of the 3/9th century, commensurate with the general rise of prosperity engendered by the central Caliphate government in Iraq: Siraf clearly seems to have been the more important centre. In the second half of century development would have been affected by certain general conditions influencing maritime trade, notably the collapse of the China trade with the fall of the T’ang dynasty and the sack of Canton in 264/878, the Zanj revolt of southern Iraq in 257/870-1 and the general decline of order in the Gulf.

The former must not be exaggerated. The China trade was only a relatively minor part of the general trade of the Indian Ocean system as the anonymous account of 237/ 851 makes clear (cf. 1811 text, pp. 6 ff.) and in due course it was re-established though a new entrepôt (Lost), probably on the Tenasserim coast of the Malaysian Peninsula (for identification problems see Wheatley 1961: 216-24); in any case it was though Siraf that the main China trade passed in the period under review (Anon. of 237/851, place. Cit.).

The latter is more difficult to assess. Although the actual plundering of Basra would only have presented a temporary set-back the Zanj uprising disturbed conditions in southern Iraq for some time: from the point of view of Sīrāf and Suhăr it probably meant an influx of refugee population . more significant is the situation in the Gulf itself. Ibn Khordādhbeh (p. 60) writing during this time shows the general insecurity of the ‘al-Bahrayn’ coast, and there is evidence from roughly this period of the decline of overland trade (never particularly important in any case) from Qatar and Yabrīn along the Trucial Coast to Oman. On the Persian coast one sees the apparent rise of a number of minor different dynasties controlling their own piece of coast (the Sīfs of the Ibn ‘Umāra, the Āl Saffār, Bani Zuhayr, al-Mazaffar b. Ja'far; cf. Istakhri 1870, edn. Pp. 140-2) and the flamboyant rise of one of these dynasties, the Saffarids.

Now as both the Omani sources, and an independent non Omani source (Istakhri) make clear, all these dynasties, including the Saffarids, are of Omani origin, a point which has not escaped Shaban’s attention (Islamic History ii, p.98). Each, of course, had its own interests and sought to profit from the situation ensuing from the Saffarid rise to power and conflict with the Āl Hanzala b. Tamim, the excessively wealthy dynasty living in the Istakhar area whose interests would have been closely allied with Sīrāf’s. The Bani ‘Umāra, who like the Saffarids belonged to the al-Julandā b. Karkar clan of Bani Salīma origin which had left Oman to settle in coastal Kirmān in pre-Islamic times (albeit keeping friendly contact with these Bani Salīma who had remained in Oman; cf. 'Awtabi Bani Salima), now began to develop their control over the entrance to the Gulf (their main centre was Huzw, opposite qays, whilst their fortified centre of al-Dīkdān further east enjoyed the reputation of being completely impregnable: Istakhri, pp. 116-17, 140-41; Yāqūt Mu’jam al-Buldān, arts. Al-Dīkdān and Huzw; ‘Awtabi, place. Cit.) and they started to tax shipping passing though the Gulf. This situation, coupled to Āl Hanzala attacks, led the Saffarids, who controlled the Sīf B. Saffar, to form a counter alliance with yet another Julandā family who controlled the Ramm al-Kārīyān in Fārs. All this sounds most complicated and perhaps non-conducive to trade. But the point to note is that if this situation is looked at carefully the net result was of distinct benefit to Suhār. The Omanis generally had friendly relations with the Bani ‘Umāra (whose power continued well after the collapse of the Saffarids themselves and their port lay outside the Julandā controlled area around the Strait of Hormuz. Sīrāf, by contrast, was separated from the Indian Ocean by the Julandā barrier. By this I certainly do not mean to suggest that there was a deliberate trade war between the two port, or that the Omanis and the Julandā b. Karkar families deliberately formed an alliance to divert trade: on the contrary the Bani ‘Umāra hold of the entrance to the Gulf was prejudicial to the Suhāris as well to the Sīrāfis. Never-theless, the resolution of these different interests directed trade towards Suhār and removed some of the attraction of Sīrāf. So it is from the middle of the 3/9th century that the organization of entrepôt trade is tilted in favour of Suhār until it finally becomes the great handling centre for trade between the monsoonal and Muslim lands whether within or without the Gulf orbit.

The resulting influence of increasing wealth on the Ibadi-tribal political system of Oman need not be entered into here, but it may be accepted that it was a major contributory cause of the civil war which broke out at the end of the 270s AH: and the appeal of the northerners for Caliphate help after their defeat at Suhār in 278/892, must have seemed like a heaven-sent opportunity for the ‘Abbāsids to take control of coastal Oman and break the ‘Khāriji’ hold over an increasingly important part of their economy.

So much then for the general picture. Let us now turn to a consideration of the local features controlling the growth of Suhār and see what the Omani sources have to say.


Two local elements played a part in the evolution of the port as outlined above, the Omani marine and the socio-economic conditions affecting commerce.

In contrast with evidence relevant to Oman’s mercantile fleet we have little information concerning her naval power for the early Islamic period. To what extent ships from the Sasanid fleet passed into Muslim hands is anybody’s guess but there was clearly some naval support for ‘Uthmān Ibn A. ‘l-‘Āsi al-Thaqafi’s early campaigns against the Persian coast with forces recruited from al-Bahrayn and ‘Umān. On the other hand early attempts by Caliphate forces to deal with the Raja of Sind’s piratical attacks on Muslim shipping were unsuccessful by sea and it was by land that he was eventually subjected in 92/710-11 (Eisl, 2, art Daybul). The first clear evidence that the Omanis were capable of mustering a sizeable Navy is given by the fact that during the short-lived attempt to establish an Imamate at the very beginning of ‘Abbāsid times al-Julandā b. Mas’ud sent an expedition to Soqotra which forced a sulh on the Christians of that island (Jami Ibn Ja'far). The reasons for this expedition are not stated, but it was probably because the inhabitants were attacking Omani and Hadrami shipping operating down the East African coast. This treaty of peace seems to have persisted, for in the Imamate of al-Salt b. Mālik al-Kharūsi the inhabitants rose up and killed the Omani Wāli so that a further expedition, this time it is stated with 101 ships, had to be sent to deal with the situation (The Tuhfa 168).

During the early period of the Imamate the navy was probably very loosely organized and based on recruiting privately owned ships for such expeditions. Mare formal development occurred once the Imamate was fully established. In winter 201/817 the Imam Ghassān b. ‘Abdullāh (192-207/ 808-823) established himself in Suhār and stayed there for some five years, reorganizing the place. Amongst his first tasks was to organize a fleet to suppress the piratical ‘bwārij of Hind’ who had installed themselves in bases around the entrance to the Gulf and were attacking shipping as far as Iraq and Fārs (Tuhfa the 123; cf. So small in fn p. 6 commenting on Kashf, p. 21 1.2). This naval power was considerably extended by the Imām Muhannā b. Jayfar (226-237/ 841-51) who, it is reported, had 300 war ships (The Tuhfa 150).


The specific evidence concerning commercial activities is very sporadic and largely comes from particular cases in fiqh rulings. Most of these simply confirm what we know and so need no detailed discussion. There is plenty of evidence of trade with Sīrāf, Iraq and Sind throughout the 3/9th century and by the middle of the century it is clear that there were Omani communities living overseas beyond the Gulf in Aden and Shihr on the South Arabian coast and at Daybul near the mouth of the Indus. Trade outside these Islamic lands depended on amān agreements, theoretically renewable every year: that there were regular sush agreements with Hind and Zanji is stated. Ibn Ja’far on the other hand says that China was bilād al-harb confirming that by the end of the century Muslims were no longer going there.

Sometimes these ruling throw fascinating light on the problems of commerce. For example in the middle of the century it is clear that one of the problems which arose was that a merchant would hire a place on board a ship at Basra destined for Ceylon (Sirandīb) and then get cold feet or change his mind at Suhār. Whilst it was agreed that no-one could force him to continue his journey and that he should pay such compensation as was conventionally applicable, the problem was what to do with his goods when these were lying at the bottom of the hold and unloading them would cause delays and considerable expense. The answer was that if inspection indeed proved this to be the case, then someone in the ship should be appointed an agent (Wakil) to look after them and the ship’s captain should accept liability for their safe transport, as though the merchant himself were aboard (A. ‘Abdullāh Muhammad b. Mahbūb cited in K. al-Musannaf Bk 21).

Just as there were Omani communities living overseas, so Suhār itself was a pretty cosmopolitan place. Amongst the populations living there early in the Imamate was a sizeable Jewish community and what was fairly clearly a semi-mercenary force from Sind; the latter took part in the expedition against the Julandā of Tuwām already mentioned, but conducted themselves in a way that far from being in accordance with the Ibadi ideal about how such expeditions should behave (Sīra of A. ‘l-Hawāri to the Hadramis). Indeed the whole question of government of Suhār was a headache to the pious ‘ulamā’ of interior Oman for it was full of foreigners and rife with heresies. The attempt by the Wāli A. Marwan to impose a rigid, pious rule on the inhabitants during Muhannā’s Imamate was not a success and he was removed when al-Salt came to power. Such clashes between the population and the wālis were not infrequent during the part of al-Salt’s reign also (cf. A. ‘lMu’thir, K. al-Ahdāth; Ahmad b. ‘Abdullāh al-Kindi, K. al-Ihtidā ')

Whilst the local sources only provide limited evidence concerning actual commercial activities they provide a wealth of information on the commercial code governing the city. There are really two aspects of this subject; the rules of commercial transaction and the taxation régime.

The former is a huge subject and there is scope for a major study of the regulations concerning such matters as loans and advances, options, pre-emptions, transport contracts and the like, based on the early Ibādi fiqh literature. I personally have studied this material from the point of view of land law, but what I have seen from the commercial law confirms my impression gained from the former that the Ibādis were not concerned with legal dogma but of bringing existing practices within the framework of basic Islamic principles and of ensuring fair dealings. Provided these two conditions could be met customary law was perfectly acceptable and decisions would be made by reference to «the just views of those who understand these things».

Taxation law, however, was not an ad hoc matter and was a fundamental concern of Ibādi jurisprudence which insisted on a rigid adherence to the basic principles of Islamic taxation and utterly condemned what is euphemistically referred to else where as mukūs (Forand 1966). As Ibn Khaldūn (iv 489-90) indicates, financial arrangement-b were extremely fvourable to the merchants, and this is confirmed by the enormous fortunes that were made at Suhār during the Būyid period, DESPITE a far less Favourable tax regime.

The basic code laying down the rules for taxation of foreign merchants was decided by consensus of the leading ‘ulama’ when the Imām Chassān b. ‘Abdullāh was living at Suhār between 201-206 AH. The full rulings, however, emerged during al-Salt’s Imamate when he appointed the greatest early Ibādi jurist, A. ‘Abdullāh Muhammad (son of the last Basran Ibādi ‘Imām Mahbūb b. al-Rahil) Qādi of Suhār in 249 AH. This position he occupied until his death in 260/873. the vast mass of his rulings concerning taxation (and other relevant matters) may be found incorporated in the Jāmï of Ibn Ja’far which dates to the end of the 3/9th century, in recension in the Jāmï of A. ‘l-Hasan al-Bisyāni dating to the early 5/11th century, and in a general compilation called K. Manthūrat al-Ashyākh. A few interpretations in the following account may have been added by these later authors but the main aspects were laid down by A. ‘Abdullāh.


The fundamental principles are as follows:

Muslim merchants pay a tax of 2 ½ % on their liquid resources and a monetary assessment of their stock, so long as this wealth has been held for a complete taxation year (hawl). Loans and advances are deductible. Certain good are not held to be merchandise until they are actually traded: these are basically natural products of the sea like pearls and amber and of wild plants such as frankincense and dyes. Jewel-lery is a debatable issue, but the ruling seems to be that if it is specie held in a disguised form then it is taxable. In a partnership agreement tax is not liable until the good have been in the possession of both parties for a year. A distinction is drawn between the personal effects and the trading capital of a merchant who comes to reside in Oman. No distinction is drawn between goods that come by land or by sea; the latter are treated as though they came by land so taxi is only due after possession for a year.

Christian Arabs pay double the rate of Muslims.

Dhimmis pay the jizaya (details omitted). If a dhimmi comes from overseas and resides less than three months he dated to the time of his arrival. If a dhimmi goes overseas to another Muslim country he pays his dues there: if he goes to a polytheist land then he is liable for taxation if he leaves family or property in Oman; otherwise he is exempt for the time he is absent.

There is a special régime for Jews and goods of Jewish origin (details omitted).

Merchants from polytheist countries (IU. from lands which are basically dār al-harb so that trade only occurs as the result of reciprocal temporary agreements under the amān terms already mentioned. The main rules are as follows:

The basic view is that polytheist merchants should pay the same tax as their rulers apply to the Muslim merchants in their lands. Suhār seems to be the only place in Oman where these merchants are allowed to trade.

Polytheist goods destined for Muslim merchants in Oman. Taxis paid the moment the goods era sold or converted into any other form (i. and. manufactured). If the goods are not sold then they become liable for taxation after the completion of the hawl (year).

Transit goods destined for other Muslim countries (specifically Fārs and Iraq, i. and. Sīrāf and Ubullah-Basra) are not taxable: transit is determined as being less than one year.

Transit goods between two polytheist countries (and. g. presumably, Hind and Zanj) passing though Suhār pay tax; no period of grace accorded.

Omani Muslim traders operating overseas. Omani Muslim traders may reside overseas but they should not live permanently in polytheist countries. When a merchant returns home he is liable for zakāt tax on all the time he was away. There is some dispute about whether he is liable for an incomplete year (and. g. if he has been away for five years seven months) but the original ruling on this was reversed and it was decided he is only liable for each completed year: in the same way if he makes mors than one trip abroad during the year he is not liable to pay tax until his hawl year is completed.

An Omani may discharge his zakāt liability to the poor in a place like Shihr and if he shows that he has been taxed in Shihr or Yemen then his liability is discharged. An Omani does not pay tax on good held by him for Muslim traders living overseas (Iraq and Aden specified).

Non-Omani Muslim merchants. The basic ruies applying to Omani apply also to non-Omanis ; that is they do not pay tax until the goods have been in their possession for a year in Oman.

From these rulings just two points will be elaborated here. The first is that there were clearly three types of overseas area trading with or through Oman: each gave rise to its own set of ruling. The first was comprised by those lands which were non-Muslim and had not entered into a permanent peace agreement (i. and. peace) with the dār al-Islām. Here the basic ruling was reciprocal taxation by special agreement, theoretically renewable annually. The dār al-Islām itself divided into two parts; those places where the ‘true Muslim’ rule of the Ibādis prevailed and those places where the rulers were unconstitutional (jabābira, Sultans etc.). At the period under review the former included southern Arabia and this is why the zakāt obligation could be discharged in Shihr or Aden. Taxation taken elsewhere was not true zakāt and so the Omanis were not exempt from its payment when they returned. Even so, it is clear from the above taxation rulings that there must have been some sort of understanding about such matters as double taxation and transit goods between the Omanis and other governments controlling the Gulf ports.

The second point is to draw attention to the fact that Suhār was considered the international port of Oman. This is not to say that goods did not pass though some of the other minor ports; but that the main Indian Ocean trade had to pass through it. Whether this was deliberate policy or simply regularized an existing situation matters little. Suhār was a major international port in the 3/9th century and it had no rival in Omani territory.


The question that now arises, is why have we found no physical traces of early Suhār? A number of reasons suggest themselves, as for example that the old site was relatively small compared to the expansion of the 10th century and that in fact the pottery remains do include the development of the first Imamate period (the pottery dating evidence appears not to be too precise, in any case). But if this is so it still strange that nothing earlier has been found, whereas in Sīrāf, of whose early history the sources speak little, the site has nevertheless yielded important vestiges from the Sasanid period (Whitehouse and Williamson 1973 and literature cited therein).

My suggestion is that we have been looking in the wrong place. Let us take the following factors into consideration.

Suhār is located in a more or less continuous strip of cultivation on an open coastline. There are no intrinsic advantages in the site of the present town, whether from the point of view of water supply, agriculture or port facilities.

It is standard practice in the history of Islamic countries for a new régime to develop a news quarter somewhat separate from the old town when taking over an important centre. With major new development of Suhār’s entrepôt trade and its agricultural hinterland in the 10th century it is reasonable to think that the focus of the town may have shifted.

The vast majority of settlement on the Batina coat is constructed of barasti (palm fronds) so that in the early period the only area of permanent building would have been small and more or less confined to the old fortified quarter of Dastajird and perhaps some of the sūq area; whether the fort which we know existed there in the early Islamic period was the same as this Sasanid one or separate is unfortunately not clear. (It is possible, of course, that the old fort complex underlies the present one in which case it not surprising it has not been discovered).

Suhār was devastated several time during the 3/9th century (The Tuhfa 123, 163-6 inter alia) . Fires destroyed everything between ’the two creeks’ at least once and possibly twice at the beginning of this period (201 and 208 AH). All but the fort was swept away in Spring 251/865 by the wadi Sulān in the worst flooding ever known in Omani history (this also destroyed Damā, the other main fortified centre at the other end of the Batina) and there is even a record of an earthquake there in Jum. II 265/879 (a period of extraordinary seismic activity throughout the Middle East; cf. Shaban 1979:79).

The details of these devastations perhaps give us some clue about where to look, although I do not know the topography of the region sufficiently well to come to any firm conclusions. The reference to the creeks (khawr) indicates, perhaps, that the main area of barasti dwelling was between Khawr al-Sūq and Khawr Qutn, a little to the north of the present main town, in the area of al-Hadīra and kūrān. The reference to the damage caused by the Wadi Sulān, some 10 km north of present-day Suhār, also indicate a more northerly siting of the main built-up area, perhaps within the area called Sulān today (which lies between kūrān and the Wadi Sulān).

Finally attention is drawn to Miles report (1877:41) of the ruined town a little inland and to the NW of Suhār whose abandonment the locals associate with the history of the conversion to Islam. One is ill advised to ignore such local traditions in Oman.

Perhaps then we should be looking further inland for the Sasanid site of what the Arabs came to call Suhār and that the early Islamic settlement was slightly further north than the area developed in the 10th century as shown on Williamson’s (1973) map. The move to the latter area might have occurred after the disastrous flood of 251/865, which would fit in with the pottery evidence. Be that as it may, I hope I have shown that Suhār has a long history as an important centre, dating back at least into the 4th century AD, and that it showed considerable growth during the period of stability provided by the First Ibādi Imamate in Oman from the very beginning of the 3/9th century. If we have not found the site then we should start looking elsewhere.



Williamson (1973) only used the better known ‘classical’ sources for his reconstruction of the history of Suhar. These are relatively late and contain little of value for period discussed in this paper: in any case they must be read in conjunction with the local source if a correct interpretation even of the 4/10th century history is to be achieved. For the earlier period the local and other Ibadi sources provide virtually the only written information that exists for the early history of Oman. Il is not intended to enter into a detailed description of the nature of these works as they are discussed by the present writer in two articles in Arabian Studies III and IV. Suffice it to say that the primary sources are virtually all either polemic works or fiqh, with the exception of the late 5/11th century Kitab Ansab al-’Arab of Salma b. Muslim al-'Awtabi al-Suhari. The biographical element in then have Been reassembled in a number of later works, whilst a sort compressed histoire événementielle of the Imamate probably first began to be assembled in the late 6/12th century: this was interrupted under the Nabahina muluk and restarted in the 10/16th century (the Kashf al-Ghumma etc.) By far and away the most important secondary source for Omani political history is the Tuhfat al-A’yan of ‘Abdullal b. Humayd al-Salimi written early in the present century. For socio-economic history there is no alternative to a study of the fiqh sources and al-Awatabi

Dastajird was an extremely common name with a wide geographical distribution throughout the Sasanid empire (cf. Yaqut al-Buldan Mu'jam, art. Dastajird).

Cf. J. C. Wilkinson 1972, 1975 and 1977 (notably Ch. WE).

The Jabal Huddan is the mountain area between the Jabal Yahmad to the SE and the J. Kinda to the north in the old regional terminology associated with the original Arab settlement pattern (cf. J. C. Wilkinson 1977: fig. 33).

The Musannaf also indicates that the mine belonging to the people of Izki was operating in its author’s time. This mine was presumably part of the very ancient mining complex around the W. al’-Andam head-waters area (Hastings et al. 1975). The ‘Dark Ages’, which saw the collapse of much of the old economic prosperity in Oman, probably led to the final shutting of the Omani mines, although an attempt to restart mining occurred during A. Nabhan Ja'id b. Khamis al-Kharusi’s life (1734/5-1822-cf. BK al-Sahifa al_Qahtaniya. WE: this would accord with Niebuhr’s reports quoted in Williamson 1973: 3 fn 2).

In connection with the China trade it is worth noting that just as the term ‘Chinese ships’ in the anonymous treatise of 237/851 may be interpreted as ships of the China trade or Chinese ships, so care must be taken to interpret the terms used to describe merchants involved in the China trade. For example a reexamination of the texts of Darjini and Shammakhi (which draw from the early 3/9th century K. A. Sufyan Mahbub b. al-Rahil) used for Lewicki’s 1935 article shows that whilst it is specifically stated that A. ‘Ubayda al-Sughir actually went to China on a trading trip, probably some time towards the middle of the 2/8th century, Nazr al-b. Maymun was one of the financiers of the China trade merchants (it wa s musir rajul an tujjăr min al-sin: Darjni, p. 273; cf. Shammăkhi, p. 103), active somewhere about the middle of the second half of that century: This might even be held as evidence of the development of the China trade since it implies several merchants and aspecialist financial organization.

In both cases we have evidence of individuals arriving from Basra; it was as a result of this attack that the famous Omani grammarian, Ibn Durayd, moved back home for a number of years.

The caravanserai at present-day al-Jumayra, near Dubai, excavated by a team from the American University of Beirui, and which I identify with the al-Sabkha of the earliest Arab geographers (Wlkinson 1964) appears to have been disaffected by this time. Qatar, which should probably be identified with a settlement in the northwest corner of the present-day Qatar Peninsula (Wüstefeld 1874: 183) was also abandoned, perhaps in this century (verbal information Miss Beatrice de Cardi). These changes may be due to a decline in the power of the ‘Abd al-Qays confederation.

This family descended from ‘Urwa, brother of the great unitarian Khawārij hero A. Bilaal Mirdas; their uprising against the oppressive régime of ‘Ubaydallāh ibn Ziyād eventually led to a most satisfactory martyrdom in 61 AH (cf. J. C. Wilkinson, in press, for a new interpretation of Khāriji developments in this period).

This is not theoretical legal abstraction but rather ‘case law’ theoretical formalization of the shārī a by the Ibādis does not really reach maturity until the 5/11th century.

The taxation year started in Ramadān because this was the date the Imamate came into existence with the overthrow of the Julandā in Ram. 177 A (Bayān al-Shar’ Bk 68).



Works marked* are manuscripts in the Ministry of National Heritage collection in Muscat. Most of these works had not been given an acquisition number when I was working there; where a number is quoted it is the temporary acquisition number which may well have been changed with the organization of the library. The abbreviation J. M. refers to the collection of documents called Jwahar al-Muqtasir to which I refer in my recent article in Arabian Studies IV. Also relevant to these manuscripts is the article by Dr Rex Smith in the same volume and my earlier article (1976) in Arabian Studies III entitled «Bio-bibliographical Background to the Crisis Period in the Ibādi Imamate».

Ahmad b. ‘Abdullāh al-kindi (first half 6/12th century),

*a) K. al-Musannaf, (c. 41 vols.), numerous mss.

*b) K. al-Ihtidā ', in J. M.; also Ms. 372.

Anon. of 237/851, a )M. Reinaud, Relationship Voyages ..., 2 vols., Paris 1845 (Arabic text 1811).

b) J. Sauvaget, Akhbār as sun wa-l-Hind, Paris 1948.

Anon. K. Manthūral al-Ashyākh, Ms. 882.

Al-'Awtabi, Salma b. Muslim (late 5/11th to early 6/12th cebtury), K.Ansāb al-'Arab, B.N. Paris, Mss. Arab 5019.

Al-Darjīni (A. 'L-' Abbas Ahmad b. Sa'id, d. c. 670 Ah), K. Tabaqat alMashāyikh bi'l-Maghrib, 2 vols., Constantine 1974.

*A. 'L-Hasan al-Basyāni (was. Bisyawi, mid 5/11th century), Jamie ', Ms. 361. *A. 'L-Hawari, Muhd b. al-Hawāri (end 3/9th early 4/10th century). Sīra to the Hadramis in J. M.

*Ibn Jua’far, (A. Jaabir Muhd ​​b. Ja'far, end of 3/9th century ), Jamie, 3 vols., various mss. In Nat Min. Her. Collection, Muscat; also in Maktabat al-Qutb, Beni Isguen.

Ibn Khaldūn, Kitāb al-'iber, Bulaq 128 AH.

Ibn Khordādhbeh (Khrradādhbih), al-Masālik wa'l-mamālik, and. M. J. of Goeje, Suffer 1889 (BGA, WE).

Ibn Ruzayq (Humayd b. Muhd., d. 1873) Sahīfa al-al-Qahtānīya, Rhodes House, Oxford, Mss. Afr. S. 3.

Ibn Sa'd, Tabaqāt al-Kitab al-kabīrāt, ed H. Sachau et al., Suffer 1905-17.

Al-Istakhri, Fairy tale should not be al-, and. M. J. of Goeje. Suffer 1870 (BGA, I)

Kasshf al-Ghumma (ch. 33)., and. As doctoral dissertation by H. Klein, Hamburg 1938.

Al-Mas'udi, Murūj al-dhahab, ed and transl. C. B. de Meynard and P. of Courteille, Paris 1861-77.

*Muhammad b. Ibrāhīm al-Kindi (late 5/11th century), Bayān al-Shar’, 72 see. Numerous sets in Min. of Nat. Her. Collection, Muscat. Al-Muqaddasi, Ahsan al-al-Aqālīm Taqāsīm in Ma'rifat, 2BGA nd ed. (M. J. of Goeje), Suffer 1906.

*A. ‘l-Mu’thir al-Salt b. Khamīs (end of 3/9th century), K. alk-Ahdāth wa sifāt, in J. M.

*A. Qahtan Khālid b. Qahtan (early 4/10th century), Sira, in J. M. al-Sālimi (Abdullāh b. Humayd/Hummayid, d. 1914), Tuhfat A'yān bi al-Ahl Sīrat 'Uman, 2 vols., Cairo, 1380/1961 and.

Al-Shammākhi (A. 'L-' Abbas Ahmad, d. 928 AH), K. al-Siyar, Cairo 1884.

Forand, P.G. (1966) Notes on ‘Ušr and Maks. Arabica XIII: 137-41. Hastings, A, Humphries, J. H., and Meadow, R. H. (1975) Oman in the Third Millennium BCE. IF 1: 9-56.

Leiwicki, T-(1935) The first Arab traders in China. Year Orjentalistyczny XI: 173-86.

Miles, S. B. (1877) On the Route between Sohār and el-Berymī in Oman… JASB XLVI : 41-60.

Shaban, M. A. (1976) Islamic History : A New Interpretation. Pt. 2, A.D 750-105 (A. H. 132-448). Cambridge.

Wheatley, (1961) The Golden Khersonese. Kuala Lumpur (Reference is to 1966 reprint).

Whitcomb, D. S. (1975) The Archaeology of Oman: a Preliminary Discussion of the Islamic Periods. IF 1: 123-58.

Whitehouse, D. and Williamson, A (1973) Sasanian Maritime Trade. Iran XI : 29-9.

Wilkinson, J. C. (1964) A Sketch of the Historical Geography of the Trucial Oman down to the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century. Geographical journal, CXXX: 337—9.

Wilkinson, J. C. (1972) Arab-Persian Land Relationships n late Sasānid Oman. Percent. Without. Arabian Studies VI: 40-51.

Wilkinson, J. C. (1975) The Julandā of Oman. IF 1: 97-108.

Wilkinson, J. C. (1977) Water and Tribal Settlement in South-East Arabia, Oxford.

Wilkinson, J. C. (in press) the Early Development of the Ibādi Movement in Basra. G in H. A. Juynboll, and., The Formative Period of Islamic History (600-750).

Wilkinsqon, The ibadites in Arabia and Africa. J. (1975) Sohar Ancient Fields Project: Interim Report No. 1. IF 1: 159-66.

Williamson. A. (1973) Sohar and Omani Seafaring in the Indian Ocean Muscat.

Wüstefeld, F. (1874) Bahrain and Jemāma. Described by geographers Arzbischen. Göttingen.

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