Ethnic, cultural and religious groups of Bahrain

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Bahrain is a nation in the Persian Gulf, in a strategical position in relation to the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Iraq and Oman.

The Baharna[edit]

Main article: Baharna

The Baharna are putatively regarded as of the original pre-Islamic inhabitants of Bahrain, however this is disputed between scholars. The pre-Islamic population of Bahrain consisted of Christianized Arabs (mostly Abd al-Qays tribe), Aramean Christians, Persian-speaking Zoroastrians[1] and Jewish agriculturalists.[2][3] According to Robert Bertram Serjeant, the Baharna may be the Arabized "descendants of converts from the original population of Christians (Aramaeans), Jews and ancient Persians (Majus) inhabiting the island and cultivated coastal provinces of Eastern Arabia at the time of the Arab conquest".[2][4] The sedentary people of pre-Islamic Bahrain were mainly Aramaic speakers and to some degree Persian speakers while Syriac functioned as a liturgical language.[3][5]

The Baharna are closely related to the Shia of Qatif, and even speak a similar dialect. Baharna live in Manama, almost all the villages of the main island of Bahrain, several villages in the island of Muharraq in the north and in the island of Sitra to the east. They speak similar dialects, with slight variations between villages, although the villages of Sitra have dialects which differ considerably from those of the main island.

Fishing, palm tree farming and pearl diving were the traditional economic activities of the Baharna.

There are also Shia Arabs concentrated in several neighborhoods in Muharraq city. They originally came from Al-Hasa, they are "Hasawis". They are distinct from the Baharna from villages outside the city proper. As a result of their proximity to surrounding Sunni Arabs and Africans, they speak the Sunni dialect.


Main article: Ajam (Bahrain)

The Shia Persians of Bahrain are a significant and influential ethnic minority whose ancestors arrived in Bahrain in the early 20th century as laborers, artisans and merchants. There are large communities in Muharraq and Manama. Persians maintain a distinct culture and language, but have long since assimilated into Bahraini culture; they tend to identify themselves more as Persian Bahrainis or Bahrainis than Iranians. Almost all are bilingual in Arabic and Persian, with school, work and daily affairs conducted in Arabic and Persian usually relegated to the family domain. Almost all have possessed Bahraini citizenship since birth; in most cases their parents, and in some cases their grandparents, are also holders of Bahraini citizenship.


The native Sunni population has been historically compartmentalized into the three groups listed below, all of whom which now are now a minority due to the massive influx of foreigners Bahrain saw in the early 21st century.


Main article: Huwala

The Huwala are the descendants of Sunni Iranians who migrated to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf during the 19th century. Many of them originally lived in Awadhiya (a neighborhood in Godaibiya) and Hoora, both which are now nearly exclusively only populated by foreigners of Filipino, Indian and Bengali origins, however they later resettled in Muharraq Island and Riffa.[6]


The urban Arabs are mostly descendants of Sunni Arabs from central Arabia who were traditionally pearl-divers, merchants, sailors, traders and fishermen in the pre-oil era. The urban Arabs are the most influential ethnic group in Bahrain, they hold most government positions and the Bahraini monarchy are ethnic urban Arabs. Urban Arabs have traditionally lived in areas such as Zallaq, Muharraq, Riffa and Hawar islands.


Most Bahrainis of African descent originate from East Africa and have traditionally lived in Muharraq Island and Riffa.[7]

South Asians[edit]

The immigration of South Asians to Bahrain started in the late quarter of the 19th century and today Pakistanis, Bangladehis, and Indians combined form the largest expatriate groups in Bahrain.


Indians form 31% of Bahrain's total population and the majority of the public sector. Most of them are either Hindus or Christians. There are multiple schools that were established in the country in the 20th century that offer the CBSE curriculum, the oldest of which is The Indian School which was first established in 1950.[8]


Pakistanis roughly compose about 7% of Bahrain's population with a population of 80,160. A 2011 estimate claims that 10,000 of them serve in security forces.[9] The vast majority of Pakistanis in Bahrain are Muslim.


Bangladesh recognized and established diplomatic ties with Bahrain in 1974,[10] although Bangladeshi expatriates started arriving decades before that. Today, there are about 125,000 Bangladehis living in Bahrain.[11]


  1. ^ "E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 5". M. Th. Houtsma. 1993. p. 98. 
  2. ^ a b "Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia: Glossary". Clive Holes. 2001. pp. XXIV–XXVI. 
  3. ^ a b "Tradition and Modernity in Arabic Language And Literature". J R Smart, J. R. Smart. 2013. 
  4. ^ Robert Bertram Serjeant (1968). "Fisher-folk and fish-traps in al-Bahrain". SOAS. p. 488. 
  5. ^ "The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity". Averil Cameron. 1993. p. 185. 
  6. ^ الهولة في البحرين ج ٧
  7. ^
  8. ^ "The Indian School". Indian School. Retrieved 5 February 2013. 
  9. ^ Bahrain agrees to augment defence ties with Pakistan, By Baqir Sajjad Syed, 30 Mar 2011, Dawn
  10. ^
  11. ^