Bahrain - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Kingdom of Bahrain
Formation 1971 / 1971
Population 800,000 / 2930 people per sq mile (1133 people per sq km)
Total area 239 sq. miles (620 sq. km)
Religions Muslim (mainly Shi’a) 99%, Other 1%
Ethnic mix Bahraini 63%, Asian 19%, Other Arab 10%, Iranian 8%
Government Mixed monarchical – parliamentary system
Currency Bahraini dinar = 1000 fils
Literacy rate 91%
Calorie consumption Not available
BEKXahrain’s history undoubtedly goes back to the roots of civilization, and it is one of the 15 Middle Eastern countries called “the cradle of humanity.” The main island probably broke away from the Arabian mainland around 6000 B.C.E. and has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The recorded history of Bahrain goes back about 5,000 years, when it was known as Dilmun to the Sumerians, who founded the first great civilization of the Middle East. The name means “the sacred land” or the “land of life,” which probably refers to the numerous springs that made the main island of the archipelago so attractive compared to the vast tracts of blistering desert sands that comprise the Arabian mainland. Three temples built during the era of the Dilmun trading empire have been excavated. All three were dedicated to Enki, the god of wisdom and sweet water.
Bahrain remained a major trading and commercial center throu2+4ghout the succeeding centuries. It was visited, and occasionally occupied, by Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Portuguese, and finally the British.
In 1783 local Arabs ended two centuries of Persian domination.
Their descendants, the Al-Khalifa Dynasty, have remained in power since then. In 1816 Bahrain became a British Protectorate with governmental authority shared by the ruling Shaikh and a British adviser.
In 1968 the British withdrew military forces from the Gulf area. In March of that year Bahrain joined the mainland states of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which were also under British protection, to form the Federation of Arab Emirates. However the interests of Qatar and Bahrain proved incompatible with those of the smaller shaikhdoms, and both withdrew from the federation.
On August 15, 1971, Bahrain became fully independent.
A new treaty of friendship was signed with the United Kingdom, and Shaikh Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa (1933–99) assumed the title of emir. Bahrain became a member of the Arab League and, later that same year, the United Nations. In December 1972 elections were held for a constituent assembly.
This assembly produced a new constitution, which went into effect on December 6, 1973. In 1975 the shaikh suspended the constitution and dissolved the national assembly. Bahrain was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which was formed in 1981 with neighboring Persian Gulf countries.
During the 1980s and 1990s relations with Qatar were strained by a dispute over the Hawar Islands and the large natural gas resources of the Dome field (in the shallow sea between both countries). In the late 1980s a causeway was built connecting Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. During the 1991 Gulf War coalition forces were allowed extensive use of Bahraini territory. In 1993 a consultative council, or shura, was appointed to replace the dissolved national assembly.
Shaikh Isa, who had ruled since 1961, died in 1999. His son Shaikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa (b.
1950) became the new ruler and moved gradually toward increased democracy for Bahrain.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Bahrain is an archipelago of 33 low-lying islands in the Arabian Gulf, just east of Saudi Arabia’s shore.
The capital is on the largest island, which also has most of the country’s population. The island’s limestone bedrock ascends gently toward the central peak, familiarly called Jebel Dukhan (“Mountain of Smoke”) because it is surrounded by a misty haze on hot, humid days. Though its top is only 450 feet above sea level, it seems higher due to the flatness of the surrounding plains. Land use varies from extensive urban development and diligently cultivated areas in the north to sandy desert spreading south, east, and west from Jebel Dukhan. Here actual desert conditions prevail with sparse vegetation. Horticulture and agriculture flourish in the north, dependent on freshwater supplies from artesian wells or desalination plants. Dates, almonds, pomegranates, figs, citrus fruit, and a wide range of vegetables are grown here. Another striking feature of the Bahrain landscape is the immense quantity of man-made stony tumuli, or burial mounds. Bahrain has cool winters with sparse rainfall and hot summers with high humidity.
The summer season lasts from June to September.
It is generally hot and dry but humid.
Temperatures range from 100° to 108°F and the average humidity from 67 to 82 percent. The weather is often influenced by low pressure over Pakistan, which causes dry, northwesterly winds, known locally as al barah, “to blow in,” lowering the humidity and creating pleasant weather conditions.
Bahrain’s economy is heavily dependent on crude oil, but the government is looking for new sources of income. Oil was found in 1931, and oil revenues have financed extensive modernization projects, particularly in health and education.
The relatively high living standards of Bahrain are based on oil revenues, but resources are expected to be fully depleted by the year 2010. Bahrain is expected to be the first Persian Gulf nation to run out of oil.
The country’s major industry is the large oil refinery on the island of Sitra, which processes local oil as well as oil from Saudi Arabia transported through pipelines. The country also has a big aluminum smelter that runs on natural gas.
Bahrain has become a major regional banking and communications center, besides offering services for insurance and financing. Bahrain houses numerous multinational firms, and the government actively encourages foreign investment. The U.S.
Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf, is also based in Bahrain.
Agriculture is practiced on a small scale; springs in the northern parts of the main island provide good conditions for crop cultivation. Bahrain was once a major center of pearl harvesting as well, but the stocks declined during the 20th century.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Bahrain offers a unique blend of ancient and modern values. The capital city of Manama, with its skyscrapers and lights, may project a flashy image, but outside the city life is unremarkably traditional.
Modern skyscrapers jostle with magnificent mosques, and numerous air-conditioned shopping malls vie for customers with souks (traditional markets with narrow winding streets lined with shops) selling myriad items.
Traditional arts and crafts are very much alive in parts of Bahrain: dhows (fishing boats) are built on the outskirts of Manama, Muharraq, cloth is woven at Bani Jamrah, and exquisite pottery is fashioned at Aali.
Islam is the state religion, but freedom to worship is enjoyed by Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and Christians. Bahrain’s population is 85 percent Muslim.
Shia Muslims are a majority (70 percent) of the population, but the Sunni dominate in government, military, and security forces. Most of the Shia are descendants from the Persians who once ruled Bahrain (Bahaareynehgaan).
Arabic is the official language, although English is widely spoken.
The island’s location is ideal for water sports such as windsurfing, fishing, sailing, yachting, and pearl diving, and Bahrainis are avid fans of Formula One motor races, horse racing, and golf. Falconry, an ancient art, is a traditional sport of the Gulf ruling classes.
Most of Bahrain is desert, so there is little agriculture, and the country must import much of its food.
The cuisine is primarily Arabic or Middle Eastern, and lamb, various seafoods, dates, pomegranates, and rice are common ingredients. Baba ghanoush, an eggplant spread, is very popular. Perhaps the best-known traditional dishes in Bahrain are machbous, fish or meat served with rice, and muhammar, a sweet brown rice served with sugar or dates. Traditional street food like shawarma (lamb or chicken carved from a large rotating spit and served in pita bread) and desserts such as baklava are common. (Baklava is a very sweet dessert made of layers of flaky pastry filled with a mixture of ground nuts and sugar. The pastry is sliced, baked, and brushed with honey syrup flavored with lemon or rosewater).
Snack foods such as sambousas (crisp pastries filled with meat, cheese, sugar, or nuts) and small fried potato cakes are popular and can be bought in the souks. The traditional gahwa (Arabic coffee), served in a finjan (small cup), is strong and ubiquitous.
Etiquette dictates that guests must accept a second cup if it is offered.
The birth of a child calls for celebrations in the Muslim community of Bahrain, because a child is considered a token of Allah’s mercy, especially if the child is male. After the birth babies are immediately washed to remove impurities. The first sound that a baby hears has to be its father (or any male relative) whispering the call to prayer, or adhan, into its right ear and then the left. This is thought to help the baby understand its duty to Allah at the very outset of its life.
COMING OF AGE
Circumcision is not mentioned in the Koran, but many Muslims consider it essential nonetheless, and the Hadith (a book of commentaries on the Koran) records it as a practice enjoined by all past prophets.
Significantly it is also known as tahara in Arabic, which means “purification.” The age for this practice varies from region to region and even from family to family, but usually the age of seven is preferred, although it is known to be performed as early as the seventh day after birth or as late as puberty.
In the Muslim families of Bahrain a boy’s circumcision is a cause for celebration, and there is a good deal of festivity, music, and food, and many guests visit the parents’ home.
In Bahrain, as in other traditional Islamic societies, most marriages are arranged by the couples’ families, sometimes with the help of professional matchmakers.
Before the wedding takes place, the two families decide on a sum of money or quantity of household goods that the groom’s family must give to the bride.
This provides security to the bride just in case the marriage fails. Weddings usually take place in the bride’s home and are performed by an imam.
The bride and the bridegroom sit in separate rooms during the marriage ceremony. Two witnesses—one from the bride’s family and one from the groom’s family—are present during the entire ceremony. The actual ceremony begins with the imam reciting relevant passages from the Koran.
The imam then speaks about the duties of marriage and asks the bride and the bridegroom individually if they agree to the marriage. Once they have agreed, the bride, the groom, and the two witnesses sign a marriage contract that confirms their agreement.
The Koran says that a man may marry up to four wives, provided he can treat them all equally.
However most men in Bahrain marry only one wife.
If a marriage fails to work, the Koran says that Muslims are allowed to divorce but only as a last resort.
First the couple must try to resolve their problems.
If this does not work, each spouse must choose a friend or relative for counseling. If this too fails, they must wait for four months before they can end their marriage.
Bahrain observes the same funeral rites as Muslim countries throughout the world. Since death is unpredictable, Muslims are exhorted always to be prepared for the inevitable. The dying person is encouraged to declare his or her faith.
Muslims are always buried, never cremated.
Muslims are taught to treat the dead body with gentleness and respect. The body is ritually washed and draped before burial, which takes place soon after death. After the person dies, the face is turned toward Mecca, the arms and legs are straightened, and the mouth and eyes closed. Then the body is covered with a sheet. The dead person’s friends and acquaintances gather to offer prayers for the deceased.
For the burial the wrapped body is laid directly at the bottom of the grave, on its right side; once again its face must be turned toward Mecca. The grave is sealed and then covered with dust. Although graves are dug by gravediggers, the task of filling them with earth is carried out by the relatives. Attendants at funerals cover their heads with a cap or hat as a mark of respect.
The burial customs prevalent in ancient Bahrain can be gleaned from the awe-inspiring burial mounds at Aali village. This is probably the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world. The site has an estimated 170,000 burial mounds dating back to between 3000 B.C.E. and 600 C.E. Each mound covers a stone-built chamber, which forms the grave.
These burial mounds are found all over the countryside.