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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Bahrain

Ethnicity

Only about half of the people living in Bahrain are actually citizens. The other half is made up of immigrants, most of whom are temporary workers who generally return home after a few years. Nearly every citizen in Bahrain is an ethnic Arab, which makes them closely related to the other Arab people, including those living in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Arabian Peninsula countries. The Arabs of Bahrain are also related to the Arabs of other Middle Eastern and North African countries.

Among the non-citizens, most are from the region of South Asia or the Far East; the Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Filipinos are the largest of these groups. There are also temporary immigrants from Europe, North American and elsewhere, however few of these people every gain citizenship and most return to their home countries (or elsewhere) after a few years.

Language

Arabic is the only official language in Bahrain. The written form of the language is called Modern Standard Arabic (written in the Arabic script), which gives the language consistency across countries from a written perspective. The spoken dialects of Arabic are so drastic from location to location that Arabic speakers in Bahrain may not even understand Arabic speakers from a country further away, like Morocco. Obviously the dialect of Arabic in Bahrain is most closely related to the dialects spoken in nearby countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Arabic is a Semitic language; other closely related Semitic languages include Amharic (Ethiopia) and Hebrew. More distantly related are languages like Berber (North Africa) as well as historic languages including Phoenician and ancient Egyptian.

There are a number of ethnic minorities that speak less common languages, including Farsi, Urdu, and others. For most of these people, Arabic is also learned and is the most common language of communication between groups. English is the most commonly taught second language in the country and many people in the country are completely fluent in English.

Religion

Nearly every citizen of Bahrain is a Muslim as over 80% of the country prescribes to this religion. Among the other 20%, about half are Christian and half adhere to other religions. There are numerous non-citizens in the country as well; among these people numerous religions are common, including Christianity and Hinduism.

Islam (the name of the religion, whose followers are called Muslims) is a monotheistic religion, whose holy book is called the Qur'an. The Qur'an is believed to be the word of God spoken through the prophet Muhammad from 609-632 CE (Common Era is preferred over AD (Anno Domini or "year of the Lord") since the Islamic world doesn't believe Jesus was the messiah). Islam believes Muhammad was the last prophet sent to earth by God, the last in a long line of prophets, which includes Moses, Abraham, and Jesus among others.

Muslims follow five pillars of their faith: testimony, prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. These pillars, and other tenants of their faith, can give great structure to their lives as some foods, like pork, are forbidden and every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day. However, the level of participation in each of these pillars and to what degree Islam influences an individual's life varies from person to person and community to community. Generally speaking, Bahrain is fairly liberal in how they practice Islam.

Most Muslims are Sunni, which is the branch of Islam that closely follows the teachings of Muhammad and accepts Abu Bakr as the first Caliph (a ruler of an Islamic community); the Sunni Muslims are sometimes referred to Orthodox. Shia Muslims believe only God can chose who heads the Islamic community and believed it was Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law who was first chosen; Ali became the first Imam (according to Shia Muslims, this term only refers to the leaders of the faith, to Sunni Muslims Imam is often times used in reference to the prayer leader in mosques).

This page was last updated: May, 2014