Ajam of Bahrain
|Persian, Bahrani Arabic, Persian Gulf Arabic|
|Twelver Shi'a Islam|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Persians, Ajam of Kuwait, Iranian people|
The Persians of Bahrain (Arabic: فرس البحرين) are an ethnic group in Bahrain composed of Shia Bahraini citizens of non-Arab Iranian origin (mainly Persian and Lurs). There is also a substantial community of Sunni citizens of Persian and Kurdish origin, although they are not identified as Ajam. The number of Sunni Bahrainis of Persian and Kurdish origin is unknown.
The Ajam are mostly bilingual in Persian (including Ajami dialect) and Arabic. In the Manama Souq, many Persians were clustered in the neighborhoods of Mushbir, Fireej Karimi, Fireej Shehabi, Mahaley Laki, Sangaki, etc. however they resettled in other areas with the development of new towns and expansion of villages during the era of late Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa.
The presence of Persians in Bahrain began when the Greek Seleucid kingdom which was ruling Bahrain at the time fell and the Persian Empire successfully regained Bahrain, but it is often believed that mass immigration of Persians started during the 1600s when Abbas I of Persia regained Bahrain. After settling in Bahrain, some of the Persians were effectively Arabized. They usually settled in areas inhabited by the indigenous Baharna, probably because they share the same Shia Muslim faith, however, some Sunni Persians settled in areas mostly inhabited by Sunni Arab immigrants such as Hidd and Galali. In Muharraq, they have their own neighborhood called Fareej Karimi named after a rich Persian man called Ali Abdulla Karimi.
From the 6th century BC to the 3rd century BC, Bahrain was a prominent part of the Persian Empire by the Achaemenids, an Iranian dynasty. Bahrain was referred to by the Greeks as "Tylos", the centre of pearl trading, when Nearchus discovered it while serving under Alexander the Great. From the 3rd century BC to the arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD, Bahrain was controlled by two other Iranian dynasties, the Parthians and the Sassanids.
In the 3rd century AD, the Sassanids succeeded the Parthians and controlled the area for four centuries until the arrival of Islam. Ardashir, the first ruler of the Iranian Sassanid dynasty marched to Oman and Bahrain and defeated Sanatruq (or Satiran), probably the Parthian governor of Bahrain. He appointed his son Shapur I as governor of Bahrain. Shapur constructed a new city there and named it Batan Ardashir after his father. At this time, Bahrain incorporated the southern Sassanid province covering the Persian Gulf's southern shore plus the archipelago of Bahrain. The southern province of the Sassanids was subdivided into three districts; Haggar (now al-Hafuf province, Saudi Arabia), Batan Ardashir (now al-Qatif province, Saudi Arabia), and Mishmahig (now Bahrain Island) (In Middle-Persian/Pahlavi it means "ewe-fish").
By about 130 BC, the Parthian dynasty brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman. Because they needed to control the Persian Gulf trade route, the Parthians established garrisons along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf. through warfare and economic distress, been reduced to only 60. The influence of Iran was further undermined at the end of the 18th century when the ideological power struggle between the Akhbari-Usuli strands culminated in victory for the Usulis in Bahrain.
An Afghan invasion of Iran at the beginning of the 18th century resulted in the near collapse of the Safavid state. In the resultant power vacuum, Oman invade Bahrain in 1717, ending over one hundred years of Persian hegemony in Bahrain. The Omani invasion began a period of political instability and a quick succession of outside rulers took power with consequent destruction. According to a contemporary account by theologian, Sheikh Yusuf Al Bahrani, in an unsuccessful attempt by the Persians and their Bedouin allies to take back Bahrain from the Kharijite Omanis, much of the country was burnt to the ground. Bahrain was eventually sold back to the Persians by the Omanis, but the weakness of the Safavid empire saw Huwala tribes seize control.
In 1730, the new Shah of Persia, Nadir Shah, sought to re-assert Persian sovereignty in Bahrain. He ordered Latif Khan, the admiral of the Persian navy in the Persian Gulf, to prepare an invasion fleet in Bushehr. The Persians invaded in March or early April 1736 when the ruler of Bahrain, Shaikh Jubayr, was away on hajj. The invasion brought the island back under central rule and to challenge Oman in the Persian Gulf. He sought help from the British and Dutch, and he eventually recaptured Bahrain in 1736. During the Qajar era, Persian control over Bahrain waned and in 1753, Bahrain was occupied by the Sunni Persians of the Bushire-based Al Madhkur family, who ruled Bahrain in the name of Persia and paid allegiance to Karim Khan Zand.
During most of the eighteenth century, Bahrain was ruled by Nasr Al-Madhkur, the emperor of Bushehr. The Bani Utibah tribe from Zubarah exceeded in taking over Bahrain after a war broke out in 1782. Persian attempts to reconquer the island in 1783 and in 1785 failed; the 1783 expedition was a joint Persian-Qawasim invasion force that never left Bushehr. The 1785 invasion fleet, composed of forces from Bushehr, Rig and Shiraz was called off after the death of the ruler of Shiraz, Ali Murad Khan. Due to internal difficulties, the Persians could not attempt another invasion. In 1799, Bahrain came under threat from the expansionist policies of Sayyid Sultan, the Sultan of Oman, when he invaded the island under the pretext that Bahrain did not pay taxes owed. The Bani Utbah solicited the aid of Bushire to expel the Omanis on the condition that Bahrain would become a tributary state of Persia. In 1800, Sayyid Sultan invaded Bahrain again in retaliation and deployed a garrison at Arad Fort, in Muharraq island and had appointed his twelve-year-old son Salim, as Governor of the island. 
Immigration to Bahrain in the early 20th century
In 1910, the Persian community funded and opened a private school, Al-Ittihad school, that taught Farsi amongst other subjects. According to the 1905 census, there were 1650 Bahraini citizens with Persian ancestry. Historian Ali Bushahri estimates that the Persian population is about 100,000 or 20% of 550,000 Bahraini citizens.
Nasser Hussain says that many Iranians fled their native country in the early 20th century due to a law king Reza Shah issued which banned women from wearing the hijab, or because they feared for their lives after fighting the English, or to find jobs. They were coming to Bahrain from Bushere. This was between 1920 to 1940. It takes 18 hours to arrive at Bahrain by boat from Bushere.
Matam Al-Ajam Al-Kabeer
Matam Al-Ajam Al-Kabeer (Arabic:مأتم العجم الكبير) is the first Persian Matam and the largest such matam in Bahrain. The matam was founded in Fareej el-Makharqa by Ali Kazim Bushehri, a rich Persian merchant. Himself an immigrant from the Dashti region of Iran, he organised processions, collected donations and hired orators (Arabic: خطيب) to speak at the matam. Construction started in 1882 as a specialized building where Ashura, a holy day in Shia Islam, would be marked with processions, ceremonial flagellation and passion plays commemorating the death of Imam Hussain. The matam is still used for this purpose.
It was originally built with simple construction material such as palm tree trunks and leaf stalks. The matam was formally established in 1904 where it was decided that the matam would be renovated with rocks, clay and cement. Initially in the 1890s, the matam was primarily supported by Persian merchants, with two-thirds of the donation coming from the Bushehri and Safar family, respectively. For much of the 20th century, the matam had relied on yearly donations of money and land from rich and poor members of the Persian community and from waqf revenue. The matam also had an emergency relief fund that was to be distributed to the poor and to needy individuals; the matam provided financial aid and shelter to people following the collapse of the pearling market in the 1930s.
Upon the death of Ali Kazim Bushehri in 1932, Abdul Nabi Bushehri, himself a Persian immigrant from Bushehr and a well-respected figure in the Persian community, took control of the matam. Unlike his cousin, Bushehri ran the matam with other notables of the Persian community, forming a de facto board. Upon Bushehri's death in 1945, the board took over. In order to prevent confusion, the board appointed a board to run the matam, although there were prominent names among them Bushehri, Biljeek, Ruyan, Kazerooni and others . In 1971, an administrative board consisting of a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and others was set up, all of whom were rich merchants.
They speak southern Persian dialects distinctive to the cities they have originated from, e.g.: Lari, tajiki kalani, lori kalani, etc. For example:
- "Why" in official Persian dialect is "baráye che" (Persian: برای چه؟) while in southern Persian dialect is "seche" (Persian: سیچه؟)
- "Money" in official Persian dialect is "Púl" (Persian: پول) while in southern Persian dialect is "payse" (Persian: پِیسه)
- "Do you want water?" in official Persian dialect is "áb mikháhi" (Persian: آب می خواهی؟) while in southern Persian dialect is "ow mikhay" (Persian: اُو مي خای؟)
In addition to this, many names of villages in Bahrain are derived from Persian. These names were thought to have been as a result influences during the Safavid rule of Bahrain (1501–1722) and previous Persian rule. City and Village names such as Manama, Karbabad, Salmabad, Karzakan, Samaheej, Tashan, Duraz, Barbar, Demistan, Karrana, Shakhura, Shahrekan, and Jurdab were originally derived from the Persian language, suggesting that Persians had a substantial effect on the island's history.
|Shakhura (Arabic: شاخورة )||Stable of Kings|
|Jurdab (Arabic: جرداب )||Whirlpool|
|Shahrekan (Arabic: شهركان )||Old Town|
|Salmabad (Arabic: سلماباد )||Inhabited Peace or Forever Peace|
|Karbabad (Arabic: كرباباد||Derived from a plant name|
|Demistan (Arabic: دمستان)||Comes from the word Dabistan, meaning school|
|Daih (Arabic: ديه)||Village|
|Karrana (Arabic: كرانه||The Coast|
|Diraz (Arabic: دراز)||Long|
|Manama (Arabic: المنامه)||Derived from two words, meaning I and Speech|
|Samaheej (Arabic: سماهيج)||Three fish|
The Persian language has the biggest foreign linguistic influence on Bahraini Arabic. The indigenous Bahrani dialect of Bahrain has also borrowed many words from the Persian language. Some examples are:
- Chandal (woods used in constructing the roof of old buildings)
- Baadgeer (towers with single or two, three or four sided openings above dwellings in order to let wind air into the building to create a current and hence cool the air inside the lower floor rooms)
- Surwaal - trousers.
- Jurab - socks.
- Sirdaab - cellar
- Tannuur - coal oven.
One of the notable local delicacies of the Persians in Bahrain is mahyawa, consumed in Southern Iran as well, is a watery earth brick coloured sauce made from sardines and consumed with bread or other food. Persians are known and are famous in Bahrain for bread-making. Another local delicacy is "pishoo" made from rose water (golab) and agar agar. Other food items consumed are similar to Persian cuisine.
- Karim Fakhrawi, the co-founder of Al-Wasat, considered one of the more popular newspapers in Bahrain by winning numerous awards.
- Ghada Jamshir (Arabic:غادة جمشير), women rights activist
- Zainab Al Askari(Arabic:زينب غلوم العسكري), author and actress
- Fuccaro, Nelida (2005), "Mapping the transnational community: Persians and the space of the city in Bahrain c.1869-1937", in Al-Rasheed, Madawi, Transnational Connections and the Persian Gulf, Routledge, pp. 39–74, ISBN 978-0-415-33135-7
- Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia: Glossary. Clive Holes. 2001. Page 135. ISBN 90-04-10763-0
- Life and Land Use on the Bahrain Islands: The Geoarcheology of an Ancient ... by Curtis E. Larsen p. 13
- Bahrain by Federal Research Division, page 7
- Robert G. Hoyland, Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam, Routledge 2001p28
- Security and Territoriality in the Persian Gulf: A Maritime Political Geography by Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh, page 119
- Conflict and Cooperation: Zoroastrian Subalterns and Muslim Elites in ... By Jamsheed K. Choksy, 1997, page 75
- Yoma 77a and Rosh Hashbanah, 23a
- Juan Cole, Sacred Space and Holy War, IB Tauris, 2007 p52
- Are the Shia Rising? Maximilian Terhalle, Middle East Policy, Volume 14 Issue 2 Page 73, June 2007
- Bashir 1979, p. 7.
- Autobiography of Sheikh Yusuf Al Bahrani published in Interpreting the Self, Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition, Edited by Dwight F. Reynolds, University of California Press Berkeley 2001
- The Autobiography of Yūsuf al-Bahrānī (1696–1772) from Lu'lu'at al-Baḥrayn, from the final chapter An Account of the Life of the Author and the Events That Have Befallen Him featured in Interpreting the Self, Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition, Edited by Dwight F. Reynolds, University of California Press Berkeley 2001 p221
- Charles Belgrave, The Pirate Coast, G. Bell & Sons, 1966 p19
- Ahmad Mustafa Abu Hakim, History of Eastern Arabia 1750–1800, Khayat, 1960, p78
- Bashir 1979, p. 46.
- Bashir 1979, p. 47.
- James Onley, The Politics of Protection in the Gulf: The Arab Rulers and the British Resident in the Nineteenth Century, Exeter University, 2004 p44
- Shirawi, May Al-Arrayed (1987). Education in Bahrain - 1919-1986, An Analytical Study of Problems and Progress. Durham University. p. 60.
- Khuri, Fuad Ishaq (1980). Tribe and state in Bahrain: The transformation of social and political authority in an Arab state.. United States of America: University of Chicago Press. p. 160. ISBN 0-226-43473-7.
- Fuccaro, Nelida (2005). Mapping the Transnational Community: Persians and the Space of the City in Bahrain, c. 1869-1937. Routledge. pp. 48, 49. ISBN 9780415331357.
- "Matam Al Ajam Al Kabeer (Grand Mosque of Ajam)". Bahrain Guide. Retrieved 15 November 2012.
- Al-Tajer, Mahdi Abdulla (1982). Language & Linguistic Origins In Bahrain. Taylor & Francis. pp. 134, 135. ISBN 9780710300249.
- Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia: Glossary. Clive Holes. 2001. Page XXX. ISBN 90-04-10763-0
- Ajam Al Bahrain
- Ajam Al Bahrain Group
- Forum for Bahrain Ajam
- Ajam AlBahrain
- Matam Al Ajam Al Kabeer, officially recognised in 1881
- Matam Al Ajam Al Kabeer