Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah

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Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah
رحمة بن جابر بن عذبي الجلهمي أو الجلاهمة
Type Captain
Born c. 1760
Place of birth Kuwait
Died 1826
Place of death Qatar
Allegiance Al Jalahma clan
Years active 1800s
Rank Captain
Base of operations Persian Gulf
Commands Al-Manowar

Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah (Arabic: رحمة بن جابر بن عذبي الجلهمي أو الجلاهمة‎; c. 1760–1826) was an Arab ruler in the Persian Gulf and was described by his contemporary, the English traveller and author, James Silk Buckingham, as ‘the most successful and the most generally tolerated pirate, perhaps, that ever infest any sea.’[1]

As a pirate his reputation was for being ruthless and fearless, and he wore an eye-patch after he lost an eye in battle. He is the earliest documented pirate to have worn an eye-patch.[2] He is described by the former British adviser and historian, Charles Belgrave, as 'one of the most vivid characters the Persian Gulf has produced, a daring freebooter without fear or mercy'[3] (perhaps paradoxically his first name means 'mercy' in Arabic).

He began life as a horse dealer and he used the money he saved to buy his first ship and with ten companions began a career of buccaneering. So successful was he that he soon acquired a new craft: a 300-ton boat, manned by 350 men.[4] He would later have as many as 2000 followers, many of them black slaves. At one point his flagship was the 'Al-Manowar' (derived from English).[5]


Early life[edit]

He was born in Qurain (modern day Kuwait) around 1760. Rahmah's father, Jabir bin Utub, led their tribe from Kuwait to Zubarah in Qatar around 1766.[6][7] While his tribe migrated with the Al Khalifa, the two tribes had a subsequent falling out after the Al Khalifa refused to share the economic gain made from trade ventures. Nonetheless, Rahmah's father fought against the Persians in Bahrain alongside the Al Khalifa in 1783, but returned to Qatar after the Al Khalifa annexed Bahrain.[7] Rahmah eventually settled in Khor Hassan in Qatar, which would serve as his base of operation against the Al Khalifa.[7]

Alliance with the Saudis[edit]

Rahmah's alliances with regional powers tended to be on the basis of shared opposition to the Al Khalifa: he formed an alliance with the first Saudi dynasty when it conquered Bahrain, and he founded and relocated to the fort of Dammam in 1809. Though some of his exploits were deemed piratical by the British, J G Lorimer, a British historian, remarks on Rahmah's scrupulously correct conduct and his compliance with the laws of warfare. He generally avoided encounters with British cruisers so that he would not incur their anger.[8] In 1809, after the British expedition of the Pirate Coast, many Qasimi refugees fled to Khor Hassan. Rahmah, the leader of Khor Hassan, reached a compromise with the British in which he agreed not to harbor any fugitivites in return for the sparing of the town.[8] The British also sent a warning to the Saudi amir demanding that he prevent Rahmah from launching any attacks on the British.[8]

He influenced the Saudis to launch invade Bahrain in 1809. This greatly strengthened his position in Qatar, rendering him the most powerful tribal leader in the peninsula.[8] Within a short duration, Rahmah had captured eighteen Utub vessels. However, in 1811, the combined forces of the sultan of Oman and the Al Khalifa successfully reclaimed Bahrain. Rahmah retreated to his fort in Dammam.[9]

Alliance with the Omanis[edit]

In 1816 he allied himself with the rulers of Muscat in their failed invasion of Bahrain,[10] and broke his alliance with the Saudis. The Saudis then destroyed the fort of Dammam in July 1816, and he took refuge in Bushehr, bringing around 500 families with him. Said bin Sultan proposed that he become a subject of Muscat and settle in Oman, but Rahmah refused. He moved back to Dammam in 1818.[11] He proffered assistance to the British in their 1820 expedition of Ras al-Khaimah.[9]

Death and legacy[edit]

He died in his ship Al-Ghatroushah, in a sea battle against the Al-Khalifa ships. Rahmah lit the gunpowder kegs with his eight-year-old son by his side, killing all of his men and the Al-Khalifa men that were raiding his ship, preferring to die by his own hand than to die by the hands of Al-Khalifa.

Rahmah's legacy lasted long after his death; in the 1960s Charles Belgrave wrote of how old men in the coffee shops throughout the region would still talk of his exploits.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ James Silk Buckingham, Travels in Assyria, Media, and Persia, Oxford University Press, 1829, p366
  2. ^ Lampe, Christine (2010). The Book of Pirates. Gibbs Smith. p. 14. 
  3. ^ Charles Belgrave, The Pirate Coast, G. Bell & Sons, 1966 p. 122
  4. ^ a b Charles Belgrave, p122
  5. ^ Charles Belgrave, p126
  6. ^ Heard-Bey, Frauke (2008). From Tribe to State. The Transformation of Political Structure in Five States of the GCC. p. 39. ISBN 978-88-8311-602-5. 
  7. ^ a b c Althani, Mohamed (2013). Jassim the Leader: Founder of Qatar. Profile Books. p. 28. ISBN 978-1781250709. 
  8. ^ a b c d Casey, Paula; Vine, Peter (1992). The heritage of Qatar. Immel Publishing. p. 36. 
  9. ^ a b Casey, Paula; Vine, Peter (1992). The heritage of Qatar. Immel Publishing. p. 37. 
  10. ^ Charles Belgrave, p128
  11. ^ "'Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf. Vol I. Historical. Part IA & IB. J G Lorimer. 1915' [792] (947/1782)". qdl.qa. Retrieved 19 January 2015. 

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