Spit or Swallow on Little Island

Navigating along the Arab Gulf or Persian Gulf (depending on your political/religious leanings), you will happen upon the Sultanate of Oman. Squeezed in between Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, Oman is famous for two things; Muscatel wine from its capital city Muscat and Little Island off Masirah Island, the only place in the Gulf where it is permissible to drink alcohol.

This is not a loophole allowing alcohol to be drunk in complete contravention of Islamic law, because in fact the Little Island off Masirah Island is a religion-free zone since the agreement of the League of Shannah in 1930.

This Little Island was always seen as a strategic location in between Masirah and mainland Oman. The Masirians were mainly involved in copper mining and fishing and excelled at minding their own business. When the British swept through the Middle East during the first world war, Masirah was included in the British Empire. The British built an airbase. Because Masirah was legally British territory it was subject to British and not Omani law.

When the British left Oman and Masirah Island, Little Island was retained as part of His Majesty’s Empire and then Her Majesty’s Empire to this day. So alcohol may be legally drunk on Little Island without any fear of insulting or breaking religious law.

There are bars but food may not be served on Little Island so guests of Masirah’s only hotel must eat and then catch a ferry for a drink. They then return to Masirah for nuts or potato chips and return to Little Island for another drink. The ferrymen leave every 10 minutes and it takes 5 minutes to cross between islands.

The Omani government has set up an alcohol checking station on Masirah to make sure alcohol is not transported from Little Island. The Omani Swallow Act of 1987 makes it mandatory for each person to swallow before alighting from the ferry.

Please be aware women are also subject to these laws and are obliged to swallow on the demand of the government agents to make sure their mouths are also not full.

As a reaction to this bizarre law, tourists have taken to filling their mouths with alcohol and seeing if they can hold it, without swallowing, for the journey from Little Island to Masirah. Anybody that spits is immediately disqualified and all bets are off. Betting is also illegal so swallowing and paying up needs to be done as quickly as possible before the inspection.

Because of the strict rules against women, some females have taken to spitting overboard in full sight of the inspectors as a protest. Whether you spit or swallow, tourists should be aware that the government has the right to randomly ‘thoroughly’ search anybody leaving the island. So don’t think of hiding any alcohol on you person, anywhere. Punishments are harsh.

Other activities on the island include water sports.

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