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October 12, 2017 No.
7127

Bahraini Shura Council Member Reviews History Of Bahraini Jews And Their Contribution To Their Country

Recently, the Bahraini daily Akhbar Al-Khaleej published an article by Dr. Mansour Sirhan, a member of Bahrain's Shura Council, titled "Bahrain's Jews in Modern and Recent History." In it, Dr. Sirhan stressed that Bahrain, throughout its history, both before and after the advent of Islam, has offered equality, tolerance and respect for all religions, including Judaism, and focused on the history and heritage of Bahrain's Jews and their great contribution to the country in the economic, social and educational spheres. He stressed that Bahrain's Jews had enjoyed good relations with their Muslim neighbors and had even held senior positions in state apparatuses. Differentiating between Judaism and Zionism, he noted that in 1948 some Jews had been unjustly attacked by Bahrainis because the latter were not aware of this difference.

It should be noted that Dr. Sirhan's article was published against the backdrop of recent demonstrations of Bahraini openness towards the Jews. On September 17, 2017, Prince Nasser bin Hamad Aal Khalifa, the son of Bahraini King Hamad bin 'Issa Aal Khalifa, attended an event at the Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. During the event, the prince, on behalf of his father the king, signed a declaration drawn up by the king himself that called on all religions to respect one another and also for respect for every person's right to practice his or her own faith.[1]


Dr. Mansour Sirhan. Source: Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain)

The following are excerpts from Dr. Mansour Sirhan's article:[2]   

"Throughout its history, both ancient and modern, Bahrain has been known as a tolerant country. In the pre-Islamic era, tribes and groups of diverse religions, both revealed and man-made, lived upon its soil... including Christians, Jews, pagans and Zoroastrians. All lived in peace and harmony…

"When Islam arrived in [Bahrain] with its tolerant principles and sublime values, most of the people of Bahrain adopted it without [coercion by] war but out of personal conviction… A few groups of Christians, Jews, and polytheists remained. As time passed some of them adopted Islam while others emigrated to various countries…

"[The first group of] Jews who came back to settle in Bahrain arrived in the 19th century... [Most of them were] Arabs of Iraqi origin, who settled in Bahrain because of its similar customs and heritage. A few of Jews came from southern Iran. The second group [of Jews] arrived in Bahrain in the first decade of the 20the century and was known as the Baghdad Group, due to its origin...

"In the 1940s the Jews in Bahrain numbered between 300 and 1,300.[3] The data shows that these years were a prosperous period for the Jews in Bahrain. Most maintained personal ties with the [Muslim] locals and were esteemed and respected by the general public for their good traits and fair attitude. They were not radical at all; on the contrary, tolerance formed an inseparable part of their lifestyle. They were integrated into society as upright citizens. When Bahrain's first municipality, Manama, was founded  in 1919 during the era of Sheikh 'Issa Bin 'Ali Aal Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain at that time, and the first municipal council was elected, the government of Bahrain chose a member of the Jewish community to serve as a council member.

"Many Jews in Bahrain excelled in the sphere of commerce, trading in tobacco, perfumes, textiles, women's clothing and grain. [The Jews of Bahrain] helped to bring the first radios to the country at a time when the local merchants hesitated to do so... Members of the Jewish community also played an important role in introducing television sets, and were thus instrumental in encouraging the people of Bahrain to interact with modern life.

"The Jews of Bahrain were mostly interested in commerce, finance and banking... Historical sources mention a Jew named Salman Zalouf, who worked as an arithmetic teacher in Bahraini state schools and was beloved by his students for his methods of teaching and his treatment of them, which instilled in them a love of math... Mas'ouda Shaul was known for sowing women's clothing... and after her death it was discovered that she had bequeathed some of her money to the poor and to orphans in Bahrain, regardless of their religion... [Another renowned Jewish woman was] Flora Jan, who worked as a midwife... and delivered [the babies of] many Bahraini women at all hours... She sacrificed her health [to render] this important human service, and when she grew too old to work... the women of Bahrain rewarded her and took care of her...   

 "The Jews of Bahrain sent their children to both state and private schools. They did not have their own private schools. They learned Hebrew in the synagogue that was established in Manama in 1930. They had their own cemetery in Manama, and several of them opened traditional coffee shops as meeting places open to all...

"In 1948, the Zionists took over Palestine and some Bahrainis, who did not understand the difference between Judaism as a sacred monotheistic religion and Zionism – which is a political movement – attacked the homes of the peaceful Jews in an unjustified outburst of anger. The Jews fled [and sought shelter among] their Muslim neighbors, and the latter, whether Sunni or Shi'ite, took them in and showed them respect... The synagogue was attacked and their sacred Torah scrolls were stolen, so the synagogue was closed down that year. Thirty-seven years later, one of the locals met David Nonoo, one of the heads of the Jewish community in Bahrain. [The local] confessed that he had stolen the Torah scroll and gave it back unharmed...

"After 1948, the number of Jews in Bahrain diminished. Some of them emigrated to Palestine and others to Europe or the U.S. The Bahraini government warned the Jews who emigrated to Palestine that they would not be allowed to return to Bahrain. Today there are only 36 Jews in Bahrain, who enjoy their rights as Bahraini citizens. They are known for their love for the Bahraini kingdom, in which they were born and raised, and for their respect for the customs and heritage of Bahraini society, of which they are part.

"Since the criteria for holding office in Bahrain are talent and good citizenship, regardless of religion or sect, Houda Nonoo, a Jew, was appointed Bahrain's ambassador to the U.S., and came back to her homeland of Bahrain after completing her term in office. Nancy Khedauri, also a Jew, is currently a member of [Bahrain's] Shura Council. Bahrain thus underscores its tolerant nature both in its ancient past and in the present."

 

[1] For the Bahraini king's declaration, see Wiesenthal.com/atf/cf/%7B54d385e6-f1b9-4e9f-8e94-890c3e6dd277%7D/BAHRAIN_DECLARATION.PDF, dated July 3, 2017.

[2] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), September 18, 2017.

[3] According to the article, the first figure comes from the diary of the British Charles Belgrave (1894-1969), who served as advisor to the rulers of Bahrain from 1926 until 1957, and the second was presented by Abraham Cohen, a Jew from Baghdad who immigrated to Bahrain in the early 20th century.