Ali Salim al Maskiry noticed them with their cameras. He was with his friends, boys his age, at that time and was heading home to get dressed before going to the mosque to pray. Photographer and author Rachael McIver, who had been in the Sultanate for the last 15 years, was showing Danish TV presenters Anne and Anders some sites in Qantab. The documentarians were interviewing Rachael about her life in Oman for their travel documentary “Anne and Anders in the Middle East” which was scheduled to be shown on DR1, Danish National Television channel on Monday, July 22.
Anne and Anders travel to different countries in each of their episodes. According to Rachael, they came to Oman because of the country’s reputation of being the safest and most welcoming of all the Gulf States. To make the film more authentic, the film producers wanted to interview a few locals. They zoomed in to a person driving a truck filled with dates and because Ali and his friends happened to be where they were shooting, Rachael hesitantly approached them and was surprisingly happy to hear that the kid spoke impeccable English.
Anders then asked Ali if they can interview him instead and with Ali never to back down on such occasion, he agreed. Nobody expected that a barely five-minute interview would make Ali an overnight Internet sensation.
The clip of him explaining what it is like to be Muslim, the prayer he has to do and that despite differences in belief, “we are all humans in the end” resonated not only with people within his community and Oman in general but actually put into spotlight the enlightened upbringing of Middle Eastern children seldom seen or understood by people from Europe and the West.
Ali, in a matter of a few minutes, became a brand ambassador for Oman, of how the country is raising kids not only to be warm and accommodating but also as a great example of tolerance.
“You are the best boy in the Middle East,” Anders was heard complimenting Ali for his answers.
Typical for Omanis to be insightful, tolerant
Ali is the son of retired Brigadier Salim Ali al Maskiry and Huwyda al Siyabi. While they are permanently based in Qurum now, the Al Maskiry’s trace their roots back to both Qantab and Ibra.
They were visiting some relatives in Qantab when the interview happened.
“Ask anyone in Qantab and they will know me. We have our family and friends there and we go their regularly to visit our relatives,” Salim shared.
Both Salim and Huwyda shared that they raised their children to be socially aware, to think first before they speak and to be tolerant.
“I think it’s customary for many Omani families to be hospitable. The way Ali answered the interview questions, I think other Omani kids would also answer it in the same way if they are able to communicate well in that language. He speaks coming from this clear understanding of how it is to be a decent human being,” Huwyda shared.
“I make sure that my children have the opportunity to speak to different nationalities and races. The way they speak to their classmates, the way they communicate with my friends — they can be Syrian, Egyptian, American, Indian, European, there’s this understanding that we do not look down on anybody,” Salim shared.
Just like most Omani parents, education is an integral part of the Al Maskiry’s household. For Ali, he is currently enrolled for summer school and enjoys Science because he likes doing experiments.
But while he is impressive in his upbringing and approaches, he is still a kid who gets into trouble with his mother for playing too much online games.
“In that video, Ali was so innocent yet so insightful. A lot of people commented on how he’s fantastic and how he has a lovely message. It showed the value of kids in Oman and the way that they are raised, a reflection as well of their parent’s open-mindedness. It’s not really just on an individual level but I think goes for all Omanis. People complimented his answer because this tolerance and insightfulness, it’s not really how they see the Middle East,” Rachael said.
Rachael also added that once the interview with Ali was over, even the tv presenter noted, “That boy has done more for diplomacy than most adults in the last five years. He nailed it in five minutes. And it is for this reason that the response (to the clip) has been amazing.”
Just a kid
When he grows up, Ali wanted to be an architect or engineer. We wanted to design and build something never seen before.
“I wake up at around six in the morning to prepare for summer school. But I spend about an hour playing Fortnite first. I can prepare fast in the morning,” he said.
While his interview was well-received and has gone viral, it was apparent that it didn’t change him nor it mattered to him.
“My mom tells me that it reached like hundreds of thousands of views on social media like Twitter. They had been approached also by different media to interview me but it didn’t really change anything,” he said.
In school, his classmates also treat him the same way.
“They saw the video and they tell me, ‘I saw your interview,’ but I am just their classmate,” he said.
While Ali might have become a social media star, Huwyda wanted to keep him grounded.
“I am a very strict mother. All my children including Ali, we raise them aware of the value of every baiza. We wanted to keep the balance,” she said.
Huwyda, however, worries about Ali’s newfound fame. She wanted to remind everyone that while Ali is constantly reminded to think before he speaks, he is still a child after all.
“Sometimes we get messages online accusing him of this or that. Some people even questioned whether he is really Omani because he speaks very fluent English and I like for people to know that Ali is full-Omani and both of us his parents are proud of that,” she said.
“This incident, it was all accidental. It just so happened that he was there at that time and had an opportunity to be interviewed and replied to questions well,” she said.
Ali’s father, Salim, couldn’t get any prouder. “Ali is only 12 years old. As a child, he thinks without judging other people. I think at the end of the day, that is really what is important — how we treat each other with respect,” he said.