If you have lived in Oman for any length of time, you have likely heard of Sheikh Khalfan Al Esry. If you are really lucky you might have talked to Sheikh Khalfan, or even had dinner or an iftar celebration with him. You might have listened to his Ramadhan radio show, attended a seminar on HSE led by him, or perhaps sought out his consultation on matters religious, political, cultural, small business staff development, or industrial safety. Jack of all trades does not come close to describing his skill set or his wide array of scholarly expertise.
I knew Sheikh Khalfan from his time working for PDO. PDO put him in charge of corporate safety, and he did an admirable job of changing the safety culture of PDO from the fatalistic "If Allah Wills It, I will die" to "I will take all the motherfucking preventative measures possible to ensure safety, I will ensure that all my motherfucking colleagues work safe too, and only after that is it in the hands of Allah to protect me"
Sheikh Khalfan occasionally hosted "Scary Arabs 101" or as PDO preferred to call it, "New Expat Orientation". If you were fortunate enough to attend one of those sessions, you will undoubtedly recall the side-splitting portion on "Our Amazing Omani Underwear!" It was priceless. Sheikh Khalfan's easy going attitude, humor, and willingness to discuss the "questions that white people wonder about but are afraid to ask" made a huge difference in the ability of new western expats to understand the culture they were living in, and to embrace it without fear or ignorance.
Although it wasn't his profession, Sheikh Khalfan was a VERY highly respected religious scholar, and generally as well liked by the elites of Muscat, as the folks in the village. His sane, thoughtful, and outward looking thoughts on matters religious personified the Omani attitudes of tolerance, moderation, and self-determination. He is, perhaps, the only Religious scholar with whom a fallen heretic such as myself can agree on many, many things. Indeed, If I could find common ground with a man so esteemed, it is little wonder then that his messages resonated with Sunni and Shia alike, and youth as much as the old guard.
Sheikh Khalfan Al Esry passed away yesterday after battling an illness for a year or so. Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Rajioon.
With his passing, the country looses a respected moderate voice, a champion of reasoned dialogue, a force for safety and sanity, and a humble, hilarious, genuinely wonderful man. Sheikh Khalfan was to so many expatriates the embodiment of what an Omani was, and what makes our country so very different, and indeed better than anywhere else in the Middle East.
I intend to honor his legacy today by making safe choices, Being deliberate in my actions instead of reactive, and showing thought and consideration, even to those I disagree with.