Bahrain was home to Dilmun, an important Bronze Age trade centre linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. Bahrain was later ruled by the Assyrians and Babylonians.
From the sixth to third century BC, Bahrain was part of the Achaemenid Empire. By about 250 BC, Parthia brought the Persian Gulf under its control and extended its influence as far as Oman. The Parthians established garrisons along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf to control trade routes.
During the classical era, Bahrain was referred to by the ancient Greeks as Tylos, the centre of pearl trading, when the Greek admiral Nearchus serving under Alexander the Great landed on Bahrain. Nearchus is believed to have been the first of Alexander's commanders to visit the island, and he found a verdant land that was part of a wide trading network; he recorded: "That on the island of Tylos, situated in the Persian Gulf, are large plantations of cotton trees, from which are manufactured clothes called sindones, of strongly differing degrees of value, some being costly, others less expensive. The use of these is not confined to India, but extends to Arabia." The Greek historian Theophrastus states that much of Bahrain was covered by these cotton trees and that Bahrain was famous for exporting walking canes engraved with emblems that were customarily carried in Babylon.
Alexander had planned to settle Greek colonists on Bahrain, and although it is not clear that this happened on the scale he envisaged, Bahrain became very much part of the Hellenised world: the language of the upper classes was Greek (although Aramaic was in everyday use), while Zeus was worshipped in the form of the Arabian sun-god Shams.Bahrain even became the site of Greek athletic contests.
The Greek historian Strabo believed the Phoenicians originated from Bahrain.Herodotus also believed that the homeland of the Phoenicians was Bahrain. This theory was accepted by the 19th-century German classicist Arnold Heeren who said that: "In the Greek geographers, for instance, we read of two islands, named Tyrus or Tylos, and Aradus, which boasted that they were the mother country of the Phoenicians, and exhibited relics of Phoenician temples." The people of Tyre in particular have long maintained Persian Gulf origins, and the similarity in the words "Tylos" and "Tyre" has been commented upon.However, there is little evidence of any human settlement at all on Bahrain during the time when such migration had supposedly taken place.
The name Tylos is thought to be a Hellenisation of the Semitic Tilmun (from Dilmun). The term Tylos was commonly used for the islands until Ptolemy's Geographia when the inhabitants are referred to as Thilouanoi.Some place names in Bahrain go back to the Tylos era; for instance the name of Arad, a residential suburb of Muharraq, is believed to originate from "Arados", the ancient Greek name for Muharraq.
In the 3rd century, Ardashir I, the first ruler of the Sassanid dynasty, marched on Oman and Bahrain, where he defeated Sanatruq the ruler of Bahrain. At this time, Bahrain was known as Mishmahig (which in Middle-Persian/Pahlavi means "ewe-fish").
Bahrain was also the site of worship of an ox deity called Awal. Worshipers built a large statue to Awal in Muharraq, although it has now been lost. For many centuries after Tylos, Bahrain was known as Awal. By the 5th century, Bahrain became a centre for Nestorian Christianity, with the village Samahij as the seat of bishops. In 410, according to the Oriental Syriac Church synodal records, a bishop named Batai was excommunicated from the church in Bahrain. As a sect, the Nestorians were often persecuted as heretics by the Byzantine Empire, but Bahrain was outside the Empire's control, offering some safety. The names of several Muharraq villages today reflect Bahrain's Christian legacy, with Al Dair meaning "the monastery".
Bahrain's pre-Islamic population consisted of Christian Arabs (mostly Abd al-Qays), Persians (Zoroastrians), Jews, and Aramaic-speaking agriculturalists. According to Robert Bertram Serjeant, the Baharna may be the Arabised "descendants of converts from the original population of Christians (Aramaeans), Jews and Persians inhabiting the island and cultivated coastal provinces of Eastern Arabia at the time of the Muslim conquest". The sedentary people of pre-Islamic Bahrain were Aramaic speakers and to some degree Persian speakers, while Syriac functioned as a liturgical language.
Time of Muhammad
Muhammad's first interaction with the people of Bahrain was the Al Kudr Invasion. Muhammad ordered a surprise attack on the Banu Salim tribe for allegedly plotting to attack Medina. He had received news that some tribes were assembling an army in Bahrain and preparing to attack the mainland. But the tribesmen retreated when they learned Muhammad was leading an army to do battle with them.
Traditional Islamic accounts state that Al-Ala'a Al-Hadrami was sent as an envoy during the Expedition of Zayd ibn Harithah (Hisma) to the Bahrain region by the prophet Muhammad in ad 628 and that Munzir ibn Sawa Al Tamimi, the local ruler, responded to his mission and converted the entire area.
In 899, the Qarmatians, a millenarian Ismaili Muslim sect, seized Bahrain, seeking to create a utopian society based on reason and redistribution of property among initiates. Thereafter, the Qarmatians demanded tribute from the caliph in Baghdad, and in 930 sacked Mecca and Medina, bringing the sacred Black Stone back to their base in Ahsa, in medieval Bahrain, for ransom. According to historian Al-Juwayni, the stone was returned 22 years later in 951 under mysterious circumstances. Wrapped in a sack, it was thrown into the Great Mosque of Kufa in Iraq, accompanied by a note saying "By command we took it, and by command we have brought it back." The theft and removal of the Black Stone caused it to break into seven pieces.
Following their 976 defeat by the Abbasids, the Qarmatians were overthrown by the Arab Uyunid dynasty of al-Hasa, who took over the entire Bahrain region in 1076.The Uyunids controlled Bahrain until 1235, when the archipelago was briefly occupied by the Persian ruler of Fars. In 1253, the Bedouin Usfurids brought down the Uyunid dynasty, thereby gaining control over eastern Arabia, including the islands of Bahrain. In 1330, the archipelago became a tributary state of the rulers of Hormuz,though locally the islands were controlled by the Shi'ite Jarwanid dynasty of Qatif.In the mid-15th century, the archipelago came under the rule of the Jabrids, a Bedouin dynasty also based in Al-Ahsa that ruled most of eastern Arabia.
Arabic is the official language of Bahrain, though English is widely used. Bahrani Arabic is the most widely spoken dialect of the Arabic language, though it differs widely from standard Arabic, like all Arabic dialects. Arabic plays an important role in political life, as, according to article 57 (c) of Bahrain's constitution, an MP must be fluent in Arabic to stand for parliament. In addition, [Balochi language|Balochi]] is the second largest and widely spoken language in Bahrain.The Baloch are fluent in Arabic and Balochi. Among the Bahraini and non-Bahraini population, many people speak Persian, the official language of Iran, or Urdu, an official language in Pakistan and a regional language in India. Nepali is also widely spoken in the Nepalese workers and Gurkha Soldiers community. Malayalam, Tamil, Bangla and Hindi are spoken among significant Indian communities. All commercial institutions and road signs are bilingual, displaying both English and Arabic.
The state religion of Bahrain is Islam and most Bahraini citizens are Muslim. The majority of Bahraini Muslims are Shiites. It is one of three countries in the Middle East in which Shiites are the majority, the other two being Iraq and Iran. Public surveys are rare in Bahrain, but a 2017 national survey found that 62 percent of Bahrainis were Shia and 38 percent were Sunni, which is consistent with most estimates. Although the majority of the country's citizens are Shia, the royal family and most Bahrani elites are Sunni. The country's two Muslim communities are united on some issues, but disagree sharply on others. Shia have often complained of being politically repressed and economically marginalized in Bahrain; as a result, most of the protestors in the Bahraini uprising of 2011 were Shia.
The Muslim population is numbered 866,888 according to the 2010 census.
There is a native Christian community in Bahrain. Non-Muslim Bahraini residents numbered 367,683 per the 2010 census, most of whom are Christians. Expatriate Christians make up the majority of Christians in Bahrain, while native Christian Bahrainis (who hold Bahraini citizenship) make up a smaller community. Alees Samaan, a former Bahraini ambassador to the United Kingdom is a native Christian. Bahrain also has a native Jewish community numbering thirty-seven Bahraini citizens. Various sources cite Bahrain's native Jewish community as being from 36 to 50 people. According to Bahraini writer Nancy Khedouri, the Jewish community of Bahrain is one of the youngest in the world, having its origins in the migration of a few families to the island from then-Iraq and then-Iran in the late 1880s.
Due to an influx of immigrants and guest workers from Asian countries, such as India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, the overall percentage of Muslims in the country has declined in recent years.According to the 2001 census, 81.2% of Bahrain's population was Muslim, 10% were Christian, and 9.8% practised Hinduism or other religions. The 2010 census records that the Muslim proportion had fallen to 70.2% (the 2010 census did not differentiate between the non-Muslim religions). Baha'is constitute approximately 1% of Bahrain's total population.
According to a January 2006 report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Bahrain has the fastest-growing economy in the Arab world. Bahrain also has the freest economy in the Middle East and is twelfth-freest overall in the world based on the 2011 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal.
In 2008, Bahrain was named the world's fastest-growing financial center by the City of London's Global Financial Centres Index.Bahrain's banking and financial services sector, particularly Islamic banking, have benefited from the regional boom driven by demand for oil.Petroleum production and processing is Bahrain's most exported product, accounting for 60% of export receipts, 70% of government revenues, and 11% of GDP.Aluminium production is the second-most exported product, followed by finance and construction materials.
Economic conditions have fluctuated with the changing price of oil since 1985, for example during and following the Persian Gulf crisis of 1990–91. With its highly developed communication and transport facilities, Bahrain is home to a number of multinational firms and construction proceeds on several major industrial projects. A large share of exports consist of petroleum products made from imported crude oil, which accounted for 51% of the country's imports in 2007. Bahrain depends heavily on food imports to feed its growing population; it relies heavily on meat imports from Australia and also imports 75% of its total fruit consumption needs. Since only 2.9% of the country's land is arable, agriculture contributes to 0.5% of Bahrain's GDP.In 2004, Bahrain signed the Bahrain–US Free Trade Agreement, which will reduce certain trade barriers between the two nations. In 2011, due to the combination of the global financial crisis and the recent unrest, the gdp growth rate decreased to 1.3%, which was the lowest growth rate since 1994.
Access to biocapacity in Bahrain is much lower than world average. In 2016, Bahrain had 0.52 global hectares of biocapacity per person within its territory, much less than the world average of 1.6 global hectares per person.[ In 2016 Bahrain used 8.6 global hectares of biocapacity per person - their ecological footprint of consumption. This means they use 16.5 times as much biocapacity as Bahrain contains. As a result, Bahrain is running a biocapacity deficit.
Unemployment, especially among the young, and the depletion of both oil and underground water resources are major long-term economic problems. In 2008, the jobless figure was at 4%, with women over represented at 85% of the total. In 2007 Bahrain became the first Arab country to institute unemployment benefits as part of a series of labour reforms instigated under Minister of Labour, Dr. Majeed Al Alawi.
As a tourist destination, Bahrain received over eight million visitors in 2008. Most of these are from the surrounding Arab states although an increasing number hail from outside the region due to growing awareness of the kingdom's heritage and its higher profile as a result of the Bahrain International F1 Circuit.
The kingdom combines modern Arab culture and the archaeological legacy of five thousand years of civilisation. The island is home to forts including Qalat Al Bahrain which has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Bahrain National Museum has artefacts from the country's history dating back to the island's first human inhabitants some 9000 years ago and the Beit Al Quran (Arabic: بيت القرآن, meaning: the House of Qur'an) is a museum that holds Islamic artefacts of the Qur'an. Some of the popular historical tourist attractions in the kingdom are the Al Khamis Mosque, which is one of the oldest mosques in the region, the Arad fort in Muharraq, Barbar temple, which is an ancient temple from the Dilmunite period of Bahrain, as well as the A'ali Burial Mounds and the Saar temple. The Tree of Life, a 400-year-old tree that grows in the Sakhir desert with no nearby water, is also a popular tourist attraction.
Bird watching (primarily in the Hawar Islands), scuba diving, and horse riding are popular tourist activities in Bahrain. Many tourists from nearby Saudi Arabia and across the region visit Manama primarily for the shopping malls in the capital Manama, such as the Bahrain City Centre and Seef Mall in the Seef district of Manama. The Manama Souq and Gold Souq in the old district of Manama are also popular with tourists.
In January 2019 the state-run Bahrain News Agency announced the summer 2019 opening of an underwater theme park covering about 100,000 square meters with a sunken Boeing 747 as the site's centerpiece. The project is a partnership between the Supreme Council for Environment, Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA), and private investors. Bahrain hopes scuba divers from around the world will visit the underwater park, which will also include artificial coral reefs, a copy of a Bahraini pearl merchant's house, and sculptures. The park is intended to become the world's largest eco-friendly underwater theme park.
Since 2005, Bahrain hosts an annual festival in March, titled Spring of Culture, which features internationally renowned musicians and artists performing in concerts. Manama was named the Arab Capital of Culture for 2012 and Capital of Arab Tourism for 2013 by the Arab League and Asian Tourism for 2014 with the Gulf Capital of Tourism for 2016 by The Gulf Cooperation Council. The 2012 festival featured concerts starring Andrea Bocelli, Julio Iglesias and other musicians.
Islam is the main religion, and Bahrainis are known for their tolerance towards the practice of other faiths.Intermarriages between Bahrainis and expatriates are not uncommon—there are many Filipino-Bahrainis like Filipino child actress Mona Marbella Al-Alawi.
Rules regarding female attire are generally relaxed compared to regional neighbours; the traditional attire of women usually include the hijab or the abaya. Although the traditional male attire is the thobe which also includes traditional headdresses such as the keffiyeh, ghutra and agal, Western clothing is common in the country.
Although Bahrain legalized homosexuality in 1976, many homosexuals have since been arrested.
The modern art movement in the country officially emerged in the 1950s, culminating in the establishment of an art society. Expressionism and surrealism, as well as calligraphic art are the popular forms of art in the country. Abstract expressionism has gained popularity in recent decades.Pottery-making and textile-weaving are also popular products that were widely made in Bahraini villages. Arabic calligraphy grew in popularity as the Bahraini government was an active patron in Islamic art, culminating in the establishment of an Islamic museum, Beit Al Quran. The Bahrain national museum houses a permanent contemporary art exhibition. The annual Spring of Culture festival run by the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities has become a popular event promoting performance arts in the Kingdom. The architecture of Bahrain is similar to that of its neighbours in the Persian Gulf. The wind tower, which generates natural ventilation in a house, is a common sight on old buildings, particularly in the old districts of Manama and Muharraq.
Literature retains a strong tradition in the country; most traditional writers and poets write in the classical Arabic style. In recent years, the number of younger poets influenced by western literature are rising, most writing in free verse and often including political or personal content. Ali Al Shargawi, a decorated longtime poet, was described in 2011 by Al Shorfa as the literary icon of Bahrain. In literature, Bahrain was the site of the ancient land of Dilmun mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Legend also states that it was the location of the Garden of Eden.
The music style in Bahrain is similar to that of its neighbors. The Khaliji style of music, which is folk music, is popular in the country. The sawt style of music, which involves a complex form of urban music, performed by an Oud (plucked lute), a violin and mirwas (a drum), is also popular in Bahrain.Ali Bahar was one of the most famous singers in Bahrain. He performed his music with his Band Al-Ekhwa (The Brothers). Bahrain was also the site of the first recording studio amongst the Persian Gulf states.
Bahrain is the first nation other than United States of America to host International Mixed Martial Arts Federation World Championships of Amateur MMA. Bahrain have recorded an influx in global athletes visiting the nation for Mixed Martial Arts training during 2017.
In 2018, Cricket was introduced in Bahrain under initiative of KHK Sports and Exelon. Bahrain Premier League 2018 comprised six franchise squads of 13 resident cricketers competing in the T20 format. The teams were SRam MRam Falcons, Kalaam Knight-Riders, Intex Lions, Bahrain Super Giants, Four Square Challengers and Awan Warriors.
Association football is the most popular sport in Bahrain. Bahrain's national football team has competed multiple times at the Asian Cup, Arab Nations Cup and played in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, though it has never qualified for the World Cup. Bahrain has its own top-tier domestic professional football league, the Bahraini Premier League. Basketball, rugby and horse racing are also widely popular in the country. The government of Bahrain also sponsors a UCI WorldTeam cycling team, Bahrain–Merida, which participated in the 2017 Tour de France.
Brave Combat Federation is a Bahrain-based Mixed Martial Arts promotion which has hosted events in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and India. Bahrain MMA Federation (BMMAF) has been set up under the patronage of Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa and the jurisdiction of the Sports Minister, Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. The development of MMA in the nation is convened through KHK MMA, which owns Brave Combat Federation which is the largest Mixed Martial Arts promotion in the Middle East. Bahrain will be hosting Amateur World Championships 2017 in association with International Mixed Martial Arts Federation. Bahrain will be the first Asian and Arab country to host the amateur MMA championship.
Bahrain has a Formula One race-track, which hosted the inaugural Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix on 4 April 2004, the first in an Arab country. This was followed by the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2005. Bahrain hosted the opening Grand Prix of the 2006 season on 12 March of that year. Both the above races were won by Fernando Alonso of Renault. The race has since been hosted annually, except for 2011 when it was cancelled due to ongoing anti-government protests. The 2012 race occurred despite concerns of the safety of the teams and the ongoing protests in the country.The decision to hold the race despite ongoing protests and violence has been described as "controversial" by Al Jazeera English, CNN,AFP and Sky News. The Independent named it "one of the most controversial in the history of the sport".
In 2006, Bahrain also hosted its inaugural Australian V8 Supercar event dubbed the "Desert 400". The V8s returned every November to the Sakhir circuit until 2010, in which it was the second event of the series. The series has not returned since. The Bahrain International Circuit also features a full-length dragstrip where the Bahrain Drag Racing Club has organised invitational events featuring some of Europe's top drag racing teams to try to raise the profile of the sport in the Middle East.
On August 3, 2020, the Kingdom of Bahrain bought a minority stake in the Paris F.C., a team that plays in France’s second tier. Bahrain’s entry into the soccer club came with people criticizing that the country is trying to whitewash its horrific human rights record and this is another way of buying influence in Europe.
Staple foods include fish, seafood and shellfish dishes, often accompanied with rice. Fish dishes are cooked in several ways, such as steamed, grilled, wrapped in banana leaves, baked, salted and smoked. Curry dishes with rice are also a significant aspect of the country's cuisine.
Additional food staples include coconut, breadfruit, mangoes and kordonnyen fish. Dishes are often garnished with fresh flowers.
- Chicken dishes, such as chicken curry and coconut milk.
- Coconut curry
- Dhal (lentils)
- Fish curry
- Saffron rice
- Fresh tropical fruits
- Ladob is eaten either as a savoury dish or as a dessert. The dessert version usually consists of ripe plantain and sweet potatoes (but may also include cassava, breadfruit or even corossol) boiled with coconut milk, sugar, nutmeg and vanilla in the form of a pod until the fruit is soft and the sauce is creamy. The savoury dish usually includes salted fish, cooked in a similar fashion to the dessert version, with plantain, cassava and breadfruit, but with salt used in place of sugar (and omitting vanilla).
- Shark chutney typically consists of boiled skinned shark, finely mashed, and cooked with squeezed bilimbi juice and lime. It is mixed with onion and spices, and the onion is fried and it is cooked in oil.
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