Jews in Sohar Oman

Records of the Jews in Sohar Oman stretch back to as early as AD 950 when Buzurq ibn Shahriyar wrote about the Jewish merchant Ishaq bin Yahuda in his book “Book of the Wonders of India.” According to this text, Ishaq bin Yahuda traded between Sohar and China some 50 years earlier, where on a visit to Sohar he apparently had goods valued in excess of 3 million Dinars.

Bertram Thomas describes Jews living west of Sohar during the initial period of Islam, one of whom met Amr bin Al As, the Prophet’s representative to Oman.

Monument Jewish Cemetery Sohar Oman
Monument Jewish Cemetery Sohar Oman

Wellstead described the Jews arriving in Muscat in 1828, from the ‘exactions and tyranny of Daud Pacha’, the Governor of Iraq. He said ‘There are about twenty families of Jews at Sohar, who have a small synagogue. They are of the same class as those of Yemen, and, like them, subsist by lending money at interest to the people. The Arabs call them ” Vad Sarah,” the ” Children of Sarah” .

Thomas wrote in 1931 about bricks in Sohar following his visit “A small, square, shallow burned brick is a feature of Sahar architecture; it is found nowhere else in the Batinah, nor is it any more made here, its manufacture being popularly ascribed to Jews.”

Today the fort in Sohar has those bricks, but also they are to be found near the town centre in the Jewish cemetery.

Graves Jewish Cemetery Sohar Oman
Graves Jewish Cemetery Sohar Oman

This cemetery is not large at around 9,000sqm, and contains the visible remains of probably just over 100 graves, though the size of walled enclosure suggests there may be more. Most of the graves are collapsed with the effects of animal burrows and flood damage undermining the brickwork. The graves are aligned southwest-northeast and above the surface are some 8 layers of the fired bricks, stepped inwards so that the grave appears to be surmounted by a low oblong vault. The bricks have a lime-mix mortar, which is still securing the bricks even if the underlying soil has been burrowed away. At least some of the graves appear to have had an external plaster. Under the surface at least some graves have brick vault, suggesting the community was relatively wealthy with money to add extra longevity to a grave.

Inscriptions Jewish Cemetery Sohar Oman
Inscriptions Jewish Cemetery Sohar Oman

On the western end of the cemetery is a structure about 7m long, just under 3M wide and perhaps 4m high. It is some form of the memorial wall, with small horizontal shafts, some with rood interior supports, between the front and rear. This structure may have had plaster on its lower half.
The cemetery is walled, in keeping with most cemeteries in Oman, and has a padlocked entrance.

Author: Tony Walsh

Book author including the current Bradt guide to Oman – edition 4