For Defense, Integrity and Identity: The Significance of the Khanjar in Oman
Tracing the History of the Khanjar
By: Ruqyah Sweidan, Arab America Contributing Writer
Tracing back thousand of years into the history of the Khanjar, we find that humans have developed tools for vast purposes. Even though people around the world are all different from each other, basic needs are an essential similarity. For Arabs, there is great pride in displaying these artifacts. Daggers, specifically, are significant to Omani culture and can be seen in art, fashion, history, and many other platforms.
The first uses of the Khanjar – the Arabic word for dagger – can be traced to the Third Millennium BCE, for both ceremonies and other practical purposes. While Khanjars today are curved and broad in shape, archaeological evidence shows that they were mostly straight. The reason for the change in shape is vague, but it started to appear in the fifteenth century CE. Today, the weapon continues to display symbolic importance as the national emblem that rests upon the upper corner of a green, red, and white striped flag. To Omanis, this image reminds them of the battles that were fought to win the peace of their country.
Khanjar Making Process
A Khanjar can take from a few weeks to several months to make. Measurements also average about five or six inches. Lager ones are known as a Nizwa, and smaller ones are mainly for children. The process to make these daggers is quite rigorous, as Omanis who make them full time are left with worn hands. Firstly, the leather is cut to the length and shape preferred by the wearer. Then, teak wood is fixed to the leather after it is cut and cleaned. Afterward, the silver is added, starting with the “tooms”, which holds the Khanjar, the “qarn” (hilt) at the top, then the “toq” beneath it, and ending at the “sidr” (chest). From there, sprouting floral patterns are carved.
The Khanjar is additionally made of precious materials. Based on the craftsmanship, family customs and traditions of the area, the dagger’s blade is usually made with gold, silver, copper or brass. The more expensive of these metals is likely reserved for royalty. According to the Islamic tradition, when an animal is killed, all parts are used to maximize sustainability. Thus, the hilt of some Khanjars is made with ivory from rhinoceros or elephants.
Significance of the Khanjar
Today, other materials, such as wood, plastic and camel bone, are more frequently used for cost efficiency and ease of production. In accordance with Islamic tradition, these animals were killed in the halal way. This means that it is done humanely with a Khanjar to the neck. Traditionally, Omani men wear the Khanjar, held with a belt around their waist over the traditional white long dishdasha. Historically, it was worn everyday as an essential part of fashion. Presently, Omanis wear a Khanjar for weddings, the Islamic holiday of Eid funerals, and on formal occasions like meeting officials. Those who wear the Nizwa wear their straight up and the Sur slanted to the side.
When Omanis fought in wars, they fortified themselves and stored supplies in castles and forts. As per Arab chivalry and Islamic duty to preserving life, these men also used these places to shelter women and children. In such situations, the khanjar served as a basic weapon that could be used in an emergency. For instance, two Khanjars could be used by a person to climb the fort or castle if the people inside were in danger. It was additionally an essential tool for self defense if the soldier lost his sword or spear.
Future of the Khanjar
To this day, Omanis continue to advocate for remembering this history both in Oman and in America. Khanjar making is a sacred art, and several families have carried on the tradition for centuries. Museums bolster original Khanjars and beautify their craftsmanship as authentic Omani art. Omanis and Omani Americans today talk about their appreciation of the skill. They also realize the magnitude of responsibility for teaching it to their decedents. Khanjar making requires time, focus, attention to detail and care toward the previous materials being used. To honor the labor is to honor the tradition.