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History of Bahrain: Arabs, Portuguese and Persians - Colonialism in Bahrain

Rise of the Arab Tribes:

In 1058 AD, a Shia rebellion against the remaining Qarmatian puppet rulers resulted in the complete annihilation of Qarmatian politics and the ascendency of Uyunids to the leadership. This dynasty is of the Abdul Qays tribe of Eastern Arabia, they had ruled from 1076 to 1235. The Unyunids were not much significant as they were mostly seen as Vassels for the Seljuks at the time. The Unyunids had relied heavily on the Power of Banu Amir Tribes. Banu Amir itself is a very large and old confederation of Arab tribes, mostly based in the Nejd (Central) region of Arabia. A prominent tribe amongst this confederation was the Banu Uqyal tribe, which had “branches” throughout Arabia. So powerful it was, that it had kicked out the Unyunids from power in 1230s (this was after an invasion from the Kingdom of Fars), thus establishing the Usfurids dynasty.

The dynasty was named Usfurids, in homage of its founder, Usfur ibn Rashid — gained control over eastern Arabia, including the islands of Bahrain. The late Middle Ages were a time of chronic instability with local disputes allowing various Persian-based Arab Kingdoms based in Qais, Qishm and Hormuz to involve themselves in Bahrain's affairs.In 1330, the islands became tributary to the rulers of Hormuz, which obviously was a Persian kingdom at the time.

According to some historians, I’ll take Juan Cole as an example, it was said that under Sunni rule that Twelver Shiaism became established in Bahrain, as Shia Bahrainis gradually moved away from the radical side of Ismaili Qarmatian sect to the more quietist Twelver or Imami branch, a process which the Sunni rulers encouraged (in order to prevent Partisan Activities) . But even in the 14th century, the North African traveller Ibn Battuta visiting Qatif around 1331, found it inhabited by Arabs whom he described as "extremist Shi`is" (rafidiyya ghulat, which mind you was an insult), which I presume is how a 14th century Sunni would describe Ismailis. Ibn Battuta also noted the great wealth of the area thanks to the pearling industry.
In the 1400s, another branch of Bani Uqyal tribe took control of Bahrain, led by Zamil ibn Jabir, who founded the Jabrid dynasty which promoted Sunni Malikism actively.

A rough sum-up of their events would be ;

“Their most prominent ruler was Ajwad ibn Zamil, who died in 1507. He was described by his contemporaries as having been "of Najdi origin." Ajwad's elder brother had earlier established the dynasty in the early 15th century by deposing and killing the last Jarwanid ruler in Qatif. At their height, the Jabrids controlled the entire Arabian coast on the Persian Gulf, including the islands of Bahrain, and regularly led expeditions into central Arabia and Oman. One contemporary scholar described Ajwad ibn Zamil as "the king of al-Ahsa and Qatif and the leader of the people of Najd." Following his death, his kingdom was divided among some of his descendants, with Migrin ibn Zamil (possibly his grandson) inheriting al-Hasa, Qatif, and Bahrain. Migrin fell in battle in Bahrain in a failed attempt to repel an invasion of Bahrain by the Portuguese in 1521.”
The Jabrid kingdom collapsed soon afterwards on the mainland, after an invasion of al-Hasa by the Muntafiq tribe of Basrah, and later by the Ottoman Turks.

The Portuguese arrive:

It is believed that the First Portuguese traveller to visit Bahrain was Duarte Barbosa in 1485. He was a Portuguese writer and Portuguese India officer between 1500 and 1516–17, with the post of scrivener in Cannanore factory and sometimes interpreter of the local language (malayalam). His "Book of Duarte Barbosa" (Livro de Duarte Barbosa) is one of the earliest examples of Portuguese travel literature, written circa 1516, shortly after the arrival in the Indian Ocean. In 1519 Duarte Barbosa embarked on the first expedition to circumnavigate the world, led by his brother-in-law Ferdinand Magellan, dying in 1521 at the feast of rajah Humabon in Cebu at the Philippines.
The Portuguese Empire

At one point, in 1481, Bahrain was visited by the renowned Arab Cartographer Ahmed Bin Majid, who was best known for helping Vasco De Gama (the Portuguese navigator) reach India from Africa. The Wikipedia article gives a good description of his visit in Bahrain:
He gave a contemporary account of the country that the first Portuguese would have seen: "In Awal (Bahrain) there are 360 villages and sweet water can be found in a number of places. A most wonderful al-Qasasir, where a man can dive into the salt sea with a skin and can fill it with fresh water while he is submerged in the salt water. Around Bahrain are pearl fisheries and a number of islands all of which have pearl fisheries and connected with this trade are 1,000 ships"

After the whole mingling with the Portuguese for some years, it was expected that they would soon forcefully invade Bahrain and take over the island. That happened in 1521 when a Portuguese commander, Antonio Correira, invaded with his army (approved by the King of Portugal at the time) in order to take control of the wealth from the Pearl Industry. This invasion had also resulted in the final demise of Jabrid dynasty (It is said that Correira’s coat of arms features the beheaded head of the last King of the Jabrids, King Murqin). After the invasion, Correira was said to have ruled Bahrain for the next few decades (but overall, Portuguese rule lasted for 80 years).

But, the legacy that the Portuguese left here was the Qal’at al Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) which they’ve built in the Karbabad district of Bahrain, in accordance with the ruling system at the time (A fort rules over an area, etc..). This Fort still stands and, surprisingly, it is now a UNESCO Heritage site!

The Safavid Empire:

The Portuguese were viewed as brutal overseers, so hated that once they had executed the island’s richest traders in 1602. This sparked an uprising against the Portuguese regime. What was interesting at the time was that this coincided with many regional disputes between the Portuguese and other European Powers in the region. During the massive confusion that swept the region, the Persian Ruler Shah Abbas I of the Safavid Empire, invaded the island (generally seen with support from the people) and had absorbed the island into the Safavid Empire.
A portrait of Shah Abbas I (Mid)
Bahrain was controlled under Safavid control from 1602 – 1717 AD. During this time, the Safavids , wary of how the Portuguese were kicked out due to Unpopularity, had tried to control Bahrain, not by force but through ideology. Indeed, the Safavid era of Bahrain was another spiritual renaissance for Bahrain as it had led to the rise of many influential Shia clerics and other Ullema. Indeed, many Shia clerics were brought
to Persia to help convert the populace.

An example of one such cleric would be Yusuf ibn Ahmed al-Bahrani , who was a renown and influential scholar at his time, who had also been said to have adopted the Akhbari school of thought, which was different from the Usuli school of thought that was adopted by the State. Thus, for a brief period, a Shia Schism had emerged where the followers of Al Bahrani were centred in the Western side of Bahrain , around Diraz especially. But the majority who followed the Usuli thought were centered around Bilad al Qadeem, then Capital of Bahrain. Later in his life, he would be the top scholar in the city of Karbala, then a prestigious city where scholars had studied the Islamic studies. A book that al Bahrani had written is available if you'd like to read - An Account of the Life of the Author and the Events That Have Befallen Him, Autobiography of Yūsuf al-Bahrānī (1696–1772) from Lu’lu’at al-Baḥrayn, featured in Interpreting the Self, Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition, Edited by Dwight F. Reynolds, University of California Press Berkeley 2001
Map of the Safavid Empire

However, the Safavids' strategy was in many ways too successful: the power and influence of the religious class meant that they had a great deal of autonomy, and it was the subsequent tension between Safavid state and the clergy that drove Bahrain's theological vitality. Part of this flourishing was borne of the Bahraini clerics' adherence to conservative Akhbari Shiaism, while the Safavids encouraged the more state-centric, Usulism. Attempts by the Persians to reign in the Bahraini ulema were often counterproductive, and ended up strengthening the clerics against their local land-owning Bahraini rivals who challenged the clerics' control over the lucrative pearl trade. While the Portuguese themselves favoured the Sunni over the Shia, the Safavids were said to have favoured the Shia.


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