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Mutrah Corniche During the Visit of Husayn ibn Ali on the 10th of Muharam
Mutrah Corniche During the Visit of Husayn ibn Ali on the 10th of Muharam
Mutrah Corniche During the Visit of Husayn ibn Ali on the 10th of Muharam
Mutrah Corniche During the Visit of Husayn ibn Ali on the 10th of Muharam

Al-Lawatia (Arabic: اللواتية‎, sing. Lawati) is an ethnocultural group primarily based in the province of Muscat, Oman.

Lawatis are a prominent kbilla, tribe, held in much esteem within the gulf, especially in the Muscat area. Many Lawati families of successful merchants of the past are now involved in large multi-faceted corporations participating in the development of the region.


The Lawatia community in Muttrah in Muscat originates from loua’i who was a saudi originated warrior who moved to | Sindhi and married a sindhi women, who eventually gave birth to many kids including: sajwani,eissa,yousef and many more and this is where the names of thr families such as al essa and sajwani and yousef originate from. Most Lawatis converted to Twelver Shia Islam in the 19th century from Ismaili Shia islam .[1]

Demographics and role in the Persian Gulf

The majority of Lawatis reside in Muscat, the capital of Oman, but some live on the coast of Al-Batina. Some Lawati families reside elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.

Traditionally, Al-Lawatia have been known as prominent merchants on the coasts of Muttrah which lies 2 kilometers west of Muscat. They have worked in the incense (بخور), jewelry and clothes business as well as in general trade. The community occupies a gated quarter of Muttrah known as Sur al-Lawatia. The quarter still boasts attractive houses with a unique Islamic architectural view and a large mosque known as Al-Rasul Al-Aadam Mosque or The Greatest Prophets Mosque in reference to Muhammad. The Sur has seen a major exodus in recent decades as Lawatis have moved to more modern neighborhoods as a result of increasing development, the availability of facilities and growing wealth and business of the community. Another great historic monument built by the tribe is Al-Zahra Mosque in the UAE, which was built nearly 300 years ago [2]

There are estimated to be eighty thousand Lawatiyya dispersed over the gulf. In the predominantly Ibadhi Sunni arena of Oman, they make up the majority of the local Shia population. It is believed the Lawatis traveled to Oman many years ago from ancient Hyderabad or even Iran, appearing in Oman as early as the 1600s

Through the 1700s and later, Lawatiyya quickly developed an impressive trade industry in the local Matrah port, selling everything from incense to jewelry. They even began to occupy their own quarter of the harbor called Sur al-Lawatiyya (sur meaning enclosure), which was constructed into beautiful aqua tiled town houses that have been preserved to this day. Many wealthy Lawati families have moved out to suburban areas, but the mosque in Matrah remains the principle Shia mosque for Oman. In the past, religious leaders of the mosque have been recruited from Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain.

History and notable families

The first historical mention of the Lawatis is said to have been by the Omani historian Ibn Ruzayq, who said that notables of the community greeted the first ruler of the currently ruling Al Said dynasty on his arrival to Muscat in the 1740.[3]

At least one Lawati family can be documented through British records as existing in Oman since the 1700s, those were the first group came to serve the British crown

Perhaps one of the most notable political families from the Al-Lawati tribe is Al-Abdulateef family, with names such as Al Hajj Baqer Abdulateef Fadel and Ali Abdulateef Fadel spearheading the tribe into prominence in the early 20th century. Al Hajj Baqer, one of the pioneer merchants in Muttrah and well-respected public figure, lead the tribe as the Lawati sheikh, he enjoyed a strong relationship with the ruling Al Said house particularly Sultan Said bin Taimur. It is widely known that he privately aided the Omani government's efforts in expelling the Saudi contingents from Al Buraimi in 1952.[4]

It is notable that the first woman ambassador from Oman was Khadijah bint Hassan al-Lawati, a Lawati woman appointed to the Netherlands in 1999.

The Al-Muscati surname of some families in Kuwait and Bahrain suggests that they were Muscati immigrants, and are believed to be of Lawati origin. Some Al-Muscati families live in Oman today. They are Lawatis who obtained their surname during the period when they immigrated and lived in Kuwait, before they went back to Oman in the late seventies. Today there are many families and clans within the Lawati tribe including Al-Abdulateef, Al-Nadwani, Al-Saleh, Al-Khabouri, Al-Wardy, Al-Kokar, Dara, Al-Habib and Al-Najwani in Oman. In the U.A.E Al-Lawati families include: Al-Sajwani, Al-Issa, Al-Shalwani, Al-Yousef, Jafar Ali, Al-Aboodi, AL-Kashwani, Al-Buqellah, Al-Fiqerani and Fadhlani. Today there are between 5,000 and 10,000 Lawatis living in Oman.


Verbal history indicates that at one point they were Muslim Shia in various branches. They now follow the Twelver Shia Islam. Consequently, the new adopted doctrine of Twelver/Jaafari grew within the Lawati tribe and the different branches were not accepted. Hence, some retracted while others detached from the community. However, most present-day Lawatis are known to be Twelver Shia Muslims. And with the process of mingling with the other groups, few Lawatis brought up through mixed marriages either following mixed Shia/Sunni or Shia/Ibadhi traditions. However, Laurence Louër, in his book Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf, mentions a different theory of the religious origins of Al-Lawati. According to this theory, the Lawatis were Khoja Ismailis who migrated to Oman from Hyderabad (in present-day Pakistan) in the 19th century, before converting to Twelver Shi'ism following a dispute with the leadership of the community.[5]


The native mother language of Al-Lawaties (Sn. Khojo, Pl. Khoja) is Luwati language which is called in their own tongue as (Khojki). This idiom is genetically and morphologically related to the Sindhi language; a branch of the Indo-European tree. As it also shares common similarities with other spoken languages of the other ethnic groups in Oman (presumed ethnically to be of the same origin) e.g. Zadjali (Jadgali), Maimani and Al Saigh. Elderlies were fluent in both the written and the spoken Khojki.[citation needed]

Arabic as a first language of Oman and all Arabia, is also held tightly by Al-Lawaties in parallel with their mother tongue language Khojki. However, the trend now within this community is to abandon their own native language and more people of the young generation are found not to know how to write nor speak it, most Lawatis today are not as fluent in Kojki as their ancestors as they consider Arabic their mothertongue with Kojki and English relegated to secondary languages.

Sur Al Lawatia

Sur Al Lawatiya, located at the heart of one of Oman’s major tourist hubs, is instantly recognisable by its palatial mansions and gate. For decades, this scenic quarter was closed to all but members and guests of the tribe who lived there, though the reasons for this seclusion were never made official. Today it is no longer officially closed off to visitors, but the isolated walled district continues to fascinate travellers looking to gain a glimpse into the lives of its residents.

A historically secluded town

Muscat’s neighbouring city Muttrah was once the heart of Oman’s trading empire, with a harbour buzzing full of ships bringing cargo from Basra, Persia, India, East Africa and beyond. Fortunes were made by the merchants of this coastal area, and chief among Muttrah’s most skilled traders were the Lawatiya. For centuries they lived in a walled quarter, Sur Al Lawatiya, which is adjacent to the souk. The Sur, as it is known, gained a reputation over the years as Oman’s ‘forbidden city’ because only members of the Lawati tribe were allowed to enter.

While its palatial homes and arabesque designs showcased the prosperity of Oman’s wealthiest merchants, the permanent closure of the Sur’s two wooden gates made it a separate world from the clamour of the souk adjacent to it. No one knows why the walled quarter was closed for so long. Some researchers suggest that, being a small Shiite community, the Lawatis preferred to seclude themselves, like their coreligionists in Najaf and Karbala. Others offer a far more practical reason: that it was to allow their women to move in their neighbourhood unveiled.

Very little concrete information is known about its origins, but experts have developed fascinating hypotheses around Sur Al Lawatiya’s origins. Some believe the walled quarter was originally the site of a Portuguese garrison, built at a time when their colonial empire included parts of Oman.

According to The Architecture of Oman by Salma Damluji, ‘The Portuguese are thought to have originally founded the settlement, since a Portuguese garrison is recorded there in the 17th century. It is possible that after the Portuguese were expelled the area was given over by the Sultan to the Hyderabadi community (known as Lawatiya or Luwatiya).’

Is Sur Al Lawatiya still forbidden today?

The seclusion and relative isolation of the Sur has spurred the imaginations of many travellers. Today its gates might be open, but strangers are still not welcome by residents – a sign at the gates even forbids ‘foreigners’. Why this is remains unknown, just like the origins of the walled quarter.

While researchers continue to piece together the puzzle of Sur Al Lawatiya, travellers will no doubt remain fascinated by the potential secrets lurking behind its walls. Anyone visiting Muttrah’s popular harbour and bustling souk should take the time to glance at the magnificent homes of the Sur and let their minds wander to the men and women who built them – if they manage to make it in.


  1. ^ Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf. By Laurence Louër. pg 147.
  2. ^ Al-Lawati, Jawad bin Jaafar bin Ibrahim Al-Khabouri. The Omani Role in the Indian Peninsula: The Role of Bani Sama Ibn Loaey (Al-Lawatia). Muscat, Oman: Dar Al-Nubala, 2001.
  3. ^ Ibn Ruzayq, Humaid. Al-Deya’a Al-Shay’e Bil Lama’an, Muscat (الضياء الشائع باللمعان – ابن رزيق)
  4. ^ قدوة الفقهاء والعارفين السيد حسين العالم بن أسد الله الموسوي: سيرة حياته الربانية وشرح سياحاته العرفانية - تقي بن السيد حسين الموسوي
  5. ^ Laurence Louër (2008) Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf. Columbia University Press, pp. 147


This page was last edited on 14 May 2020, at 18:43
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