Bahrain - pearl of Gulf

Bahrain (Arabic: ‏البحرينal-Baḥrayn; Persian: ‏بحرینBahreyn), officially the Kingdom of Bahrain (Arabic: مملكة البحرينMamlakat al-Baḥrayn) is a small island country situated near the western shores of the Persian Gulf. It is an archipelago with Bahrain Island the largest land mass at 55 km (34 mi) long by 18 km (11 mi) wide. Saudi Arabia lies to the west and is connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway while Iran lies 200 km (124 mi) to the north across the Persian Gulf. The peninsula of Qatar is to the southeast across the Gulf of Bahrain. The planned Qatar Bahrain Causeway will link Bahrain and Qatar and become the world's longest marine causeway. The population in 2010 stood at 1,234,571, including 666,172 non-nationals.

Bahrain is believed to be the site of the ancient land of the Dilmun civilization and later came under the rule of successive Parthian and Sassanid Persian empires. The country was one of the earliest areas to convert to Islam in 628 AD. Following a period of Arab rule, Bahrain was occupied by the Portuguese in 1521, who in turn were expelled in 1602 by Shah Abbas I of the Safavid empire. In 1783, the Bani Utbah tribe captured Bahrain from the Qajars and has since been ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family, with Ahmed al Fateh the first hakim of Bahrain. In the late 1800s, following successive treaties with the British, Bahrain became a protectorate of the United Kingdom. Following the withdrawal of the British from the region in the late 1960s, Bahrain declared independence in 1971.

 

Inhabited since ancient times, Bahrain occupies a strategic location in the Persian Gulf. It is the best natural port between the mouth of the Tigris, Euphrates Rivers and Oman, a source of copper in ancient times. Bahrain may have been associated with the Dilmun civilisation, an important Bronze Age trade centre linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. It was later ruled by the Assyrians and Babylonians. It came under the control of Persians and then Arabs, under whom the island first became Nestorian Christian and then Islamic.

From the 6th to 3rd century BC, Bahrain was added to the Persian Empire by the Achaemenian dynasty. By about 250 BC, the Parthians brought the Persian Gulf under its control and extended its influence as far as Oman. During the classical era, the island's Hellenic name was Tylos, named when Nearchus discovered it while serving under Alexander the Great during Alexander's Asia campaign. In order to control trade routes, the Parthians established garrisons along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf. In the 3rd century AD, 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 comprised the southern Sassanid province along with the Persian Gulf's southern shore.

The Sassanid Empire divided their southern province into the three districts of Haggar (now al-Hafuf province in Saudi Arabia), Batan Ardashir (now al-Qatif province in Saudi Arabia) and Mishmahig (which in Middle-Persian/Pahlavi means "ewe-fish") which is present-day Bahrain.Early Islamic sources describe the country as inhabited by members of the Abdul Qais, Tamim, and Bakr tribes who worshipped the idol Awal from which the Arabs named the island of Bahrain Awal for many centuries. However, Bahrain was also a center of Nestorian Christianity, including two of its bishoprics.

 

Traditional Islamic accounts state that Al-ʿAlāʾ Al-Haḍrami was sent as an envoy to the Bahrain region by the prophet Muhammad in 628 AD and that Munzir ibn-Sawa al-Tamimi, the local ruler, responded to his mission and converted the entire area.

In 899 AD, 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 AD 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 a 976 AD defeat by the Abbasids the Qarmations 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.

In 1521, the Portuguese allied with Hormuz and seized Bahrain from the Jabrid ruler Migrin ibn Zamil, who was killed during the takeover. Portuguese rule lasted for around 80 years, during which time they depended mainly on Sunni Persian governors. The Portuguese were expelled from the islands in 1602 by Abbas I of the Safavid dynasty of Persia which gave impetus to Shia Islam. For the next two centuries, Persian rulers retained control of the archipelago, interrupted by the 1717 and 1738 invasions of the Ibadhis of Oman. During most of this period, they resorted to governing Bahrain indirectly, either through the city of Bushehr or through immigrant Sunni Arab clans. The latter were tribes returning to the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf from Persian territories in the north who were known as Huwala (literally: those that have changed or moved). In 1753, the Huwala clan of Nasr Al-Madhkur invaded Bahrain on behalf of the Iranian Zand leader Karim Khan Zand and restored direct Iranian rule.

 

In 1783, Nasr Al-Madhkur, ruler of Bahrain and Bushire, lost the islands of Bahrain following his defeat by the Bani Utbah tribe at the 1782 Battle of Zubarah. Bahrain was not new territory to the Bani Utbah; they had been a presence there since the 17th century. During that time, they started purchasing date palm gardens in Bahrain; a document shows that 81 years before arrival of the Al-Khalifa, one of the shaikhs of the Al Bin Ali tribe (an offshoot of the Bani Utbah) had bought a palm garden from Mariam bint Ahmed Al Sindi in Sitra island.

The Al Bin Ali were the dominant group controlling the town of Zubarah on the Qatar peninsula, originally the center of power of the Bani Utbah. After the Bani Utbah gained control of Bahrain, the Al Bin Ali had a practically independent status there as a self-governing tribe. They used a flag with four red and three white stripes, called the Al-Sulami flag in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and the Eastern province of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Later, different Arab family clans and tribes from Qatar moved to Bahrain to settle after the fall of Nasr Al-Madhkur of Bushehr. These families and tribes included the Al Khalifa, Al-Ma'awdah, Al-Fadhil, Al-Mannai, Al-Noaimi, Al-Sulaiti, Al-Sadah, Al-Thawadi, and other families and tribes.

 

The Al Khalifa family moved to Bahrain in 1797. Originally, they lived in Umm Qasr where they preyed on the caravans of Basra and pirated ships in the Shatt al-Arab waterway until Turks expelled them to Kuwait where they remained until 1766. In the early 19th century, Bahrain was invaded by both the Omanis and the Al Sauds. In 1802 it was governed by a twelve-year-old child, when the Omani ruler Sayyid Sultan installed his son, Salim, as Governor in the Arad Fort. In 1820, the Al Khalifa tribe were recognised by Great Britain as the rulers ("Al-Hakim" in Arabic) of Bahrain after signing a treaty relationship. However, ten years later they were forced to pay yearly tributes to Egypt despite seeking Persian and British protection.

In 1860, the Al Khalifas used the same tactic when the British tried to overpower Bahrain. Writing letters to the Persians and Ottomans, Al Khalifas agreed to place Bahrain under the latter's protection in March due to offering better conditions. Eventually the Government of British India overpowered Bahrain when the Persians refused to protect it. Colonel Pelly signed a new treaty with Al Khalifas placing Bahrain under British rule and protection.

Following the Qatari–Bahraini War in 1868, British representatives signed another agreement with the Al Khalifas. It specified that the ruler could not dispose of any of his territory except to the United Kingdom and could not enter into relationships with any foreign government without British consent. In return the British promised to protect Bahrain from all aggression by sea and to lend support in case of land attack. More importantly the British promised to support the rule of the Al Khalifa in Bahrain, securing its unstable position as rulers of the country. Other agreements in 1880 and 1892 sealed the protectorate status of Bahrain to the British.

Unrest amongst the people of Bahrain began when Britain officially established complete dominance over the territory in 1892. The first revolt and widespread uprising took place in March 1895 against Sheikh Issa bin Ali, then ruler of Bahrain.Sheikh Issa was the first of the Al Khalifa to rule without Persian relations. Sir Arnold Wilson, Britain's representative in the Persian Gulf and author of The Persian Gulf, arrived in Bahrain from Muscat at this time. The uprising developed further with some protesters killed by British forces.

 

In 1911, a group of Bahraini merchants demanded restrictions on the British influence in the country. The group's leaders were subsequently arrested and exiled to India. In 1923, the British replaced Sheikh Issa bin Ali with his son. Some clerical opponents and families such as al Dossari left or were exiled to Saudi Arabia and Iran. Three years later the British placed the country under the de facto rule of Charles Belgrave who operated as an adviser to the ruler until 1957. Belgrave brought a number of reforms such as establishment of the country's first modern school in 1919, the Persian Gulf's first girls school in 1928 and the abolition of slavery in 1937. At the same time, the pearl diving industry developed at a rapid pace.

In 1927, Rezā Shāh, then Shah of Iran, demanded sovereignty over Bahrain in a letter to the League of Nations. A move that prompted Belgrave to undertake harsh measures including encouraging conflicts between Shia and Sunni Muslims in order to bring down the uprisings and limit the Iranian influence. Belgrave even went further by suggesting to rename the Persian Gulf to the "Arabian Gulf"; however, the proposal was refused by the British government. Britain's interest in Bahrain's development was motivated by concerns over Saudi and Iranian ambitions in the region.

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