Bahrain (Kingdom of Bahrain)
|Flag of Bahrain|
Bahrain is the site of the ancient Dilmun civilization. It has been famed since antiquity for its pearl fisheries, which were considered the best in the world into the 19th century. Bahrain was one of the earliest areas to be influenced by Islam, during the lifetime of Muhammad in 628 AD. Following a period of Arab rule, Bahrain was ruled by the Portuguese Empire from 1521 until 1602, when they were expelled by Shah Abbas I of the Safavid dynasty. In 1783, the Bani Utbah clan captured Bahrain from Nasr Al-Madhkur and it has since been ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family, with Ahmed al Fateh as Bahrain's first hakim.
In the late 1800s, following successive treaties with the British, Bahrain became a protectorate of the United Kingdom. In 1971, it declared independence. Formerly an emirate, Bahrain was declared an Islamic constitutional monarchy in 2002. In 2011, the country experienced protests inspired by the regional Arab Spring. Bahrain's ruling Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa royal family has been criticised for violating the human rights of groups including dissidents, political opposition figures, and its majority Shia Muslim population.
Bahrain developed the first post-oil economy in the Persian Gulf, the result of decades of investing in the banking and tourism sectors; many of the world's largest financial institutions have a presence in the country's capital. It consequently ranks 35th in the Human Development Index and is recognised by the World Bank as a high-income economy. Bahrain is a member of the United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement, Arab League, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Bahrayn is the dual form of Arabic Bahr ("sea"), so al-Bahrayn originally means "the two seas". However, the name has been lexicalised as a feminine proper noun and does not follow the grammatical rules for duals; thus its form is always Bahrayn and never Bahrān, the expected nominative form. Endings are added to the word with no changes, as in the name of the national anthem Bahraynunā ("our Bahrain") or the demonym Bahraynī. The medieval grammarian al-Jawahari commented on this saying that the more formally correct term Bahrī (lit. "belonging to the sea") would have been misunderstood and so was unused.
It remains disputed which "two seas" the name Bahrayn originally refers to. The term appears five times in the Quran, but does not refer to the modern island—originally known to the Arabs as Awal.
Today, Bahrain's "two seas" are generally taken to be the bay east and west of the island, the seas north and south of the island, or the salt and fresh water present above and below the ground. In addition to wells, there are areas of the sea north of Bahrain where fresh water bubbles up in the middle of the saltwater as noted by visitors since antiquity. An alternative theory concerning Bahrain's toponymy is offered by the al-Ahsa region, which suggests that the two seas were the Great Green Ocean (the Persian Gulf) and a peaceful lake on the Arabian mainland.
Until the late Middle Ages, "Bahrain" referred to the region of Eastern Arabia that included Southern Iraq, Kuwait, Al-Hasa, Qatif, and Bahrain. The region stretched from Basra in Iraq to the Strait of Hormuz in Oman. This was Iqlīm al-Bahrayn's "Bahrayn Province." The exact date at which the term "Bahrain" began to refer solely to the Awal archipelago is unknown. The entire coastal strip of Eastern Arabia was known as "Bahrain" for a millennium. The island and kingdom were also commonly spelled Bahrein into the 1950s.