Ajam of Bahrain

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Iranian Bahrainis
عجم_البحرين (Arabic
ایرانیان بحرین (Persian)
Iranian School in Bahrain 1939.jpg
Iranian School in Bahrain 1939
Total population
(200,000-350,000[citation needed])
Persian, Ajami Arabic[1]
Twelver Shi'a Islam
Related ethnic groups
'Ajam of Kuwait, Persians

Ajam of Bahrain are an ethnic group in Bahrain composed of Shia Bahraini citizens of non-Arab Iranian national background (mainly Persian and Lur Persians). There is also a substantial community of Sunni citizens of Persian descent, although they do not self-identify as Ajam.[2]

The Ajam are mostly bilingual in Persian and Arabic, though speak Persian as their first tongue.


Persian migration into Bahrain goes back to the days of the Sassanid and Achaemenid Persian empire, though in modern times it has been constant for hundreds of years.[3] There has always been a flow of Persian-speaking Shi'a into Bahrain.[4]

In 1910, the Persian community funded and opened a private school, Al-Ittihad school, that taught Persian amongst other subjects.[5]

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 and 1940. It takes 18 hours to arrive at Bahrain by boat from Bushere.[6]

In the Manama Souq, many Persians were clustered in the neighborhood of Mushbir. However they resettled in other areas with the development of new towns and expansion of villages during the era of late Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa. Today, a significant amount of them are based in Muharraq's Shia enclaves and Bahrain Island's modernized Shia towns.

Matam Al-Ajam Al-Kabeer[edit]

Matam Al-Ajam Al-Kabeer in Manama.

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 Elyas Rasti, a rich Persian merchant.[7] Himself an immigrant from the Dashti region of Iran, he organised processions, collected donations and hired orators (Arabic: خطيب‎‎) to speak at the matam.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[8] 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.[8]

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.[7] 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, although in reality the Bushehri family (the children and then the grandchildren of the founders) were always in charge of the Matam until 2003.[7] In 1971, an administrative board consisting of a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and others was set up, all of whom were rich merchants.[7]



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.[10] 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.[10]

Village name Translation
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[10]
Daih (Arabic: ديه‎‎) Village[10]
Karrana (Arabic: كرانه‎‎ The Coast
Diraz (Arabic: دراز‎‎) Long
Manama (Arabic: المنامه‎‎) Derived from two words, meaning I and Speech; Manama is actually derived from Arabic ِAl-Muna'amah (Arabic: المنعمة‎‎) and its people were referred to as Almuna'ami; in the famous Shia book by Sayyed Mohsen Alameen "A'yan Alshia" (أعيان الشيعة) a Shi'a scholar from Manama or Muna'ama was mentioned Shaykh Ali bin Umran bin Fayad Almuna'ami Albahrani (شيخ علي بن عمران بن فياض المنعمي البحراني)
Samaheej (Arabic: سماهيج‎‎) Three fish[10]

The Persian language has had the biggest foreign linguistic influence on Bahrani Arabic.[11] The indigenous Bahrani dialect of Bahrain has also borrowed many words from the Persian language. Some examples are:[10]

  • 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.
Matam Al Ajam, Fareeq Al Makharga, Manama, Bahrain


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.

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  • 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 
  1. ^ Bassiouney, Reem (2009). "5". Arabic Sociolinguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 105–107.
  2. ^ Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia: Glossary. Clive Holes. 2001. Page 135. ISBN 90-04-10763-0
  3. ^ "Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia: Glossary". Clive Holes. pp. XXX. 
  4. ^ "Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia: Glossary". Clive Holes. pp. XXVI. 
  5. ^ Shirawi, May Al-Arrayed (1987). Education in Bahrain - 1919-1986, An Analytical Study of Problems and Progress (PDF). Durham University. p. 60. 
  6. ^ http://www.alwaqt.com/art.php?aid=184648
  7. ^ a b c d e 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. 
  8. ^ a b c 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. 
  9. ^ "Matam Al Ajam Al Kabeer (Grand Mosque of Ajam)". Bahrain Guide. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Al-Tajer, Mahdi Abdulla (1982). Language & Linguistic Origins In Bahrain. Taylor & Francis. pp. 134, 135. ISBN 9780710300249. 
  11. ^ Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia: Glossary. Clive Holes. 2001. Page XXX. ISBN 90-04-10763-0

External links[edit]