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Culture & People


A long tradition of association with other cultures, a stable government and a strong sense of national identity make Bahrain a pleasant place to live. It is one of the few countries in the Gulf where the nationals represent the majority.

Bahrain's population is a young one, with almost half under twenty. Illiteracy has virtually disappeared among young people and a high proportion of Bahrainis speaks English, which is a compulsory second language in schools.

Nearly five-sevenths of the population is Arab, and most are native-born Bahrainis, but some are Palestinians, Omanis, or Saudis. Foreign-born inhabitants, comprising more than one-third of the population, are mostly from Iran, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Britain, and the United States. About three-fifths of the largely Asian labour force is foreign. The population is more than four-fifths Muslim and includes both the Sunni and Shi'a sects, with the latter in the majority.

In short, the present communities may be classified as Al Khalifa, Arab tribes allied to Al Khalifa, the Baharnah (Shi'a Arabs), the Howilla (Sunni Arabs from Persia), Sunni Arabs (from the mainland), Ajam (ethnic Persian Shi'a), Indians who traded with Bahrain and settled before the age of oil (used to be called Banyan), a tiny Jewish community, and a miscellaneous grouping.

In spite of its rapid economic development, Bahrain remains, in many respects, essentially Arab in its culture. Football is the most popular modern sport, while traditional pastimes such as falconry, horse riding, and gazelle and hare hunting are still practiced by wealthier Bahrainis. Horse and camel racing are popular public entertainments.

Traditional handicraft industries enjoy state and popular support. The Bahrain National Museum in Manama contains local artifacts dating from antiquity, such as ivory figurines, pottery, copper articles, and gold rings, many of which reflect various cultural influences from outside Bahrain. There is also a small but flourishing avant-garde art community.


While Islam is the main religion, Bahrainis have been known for their tolerance, and alongside mosques can be found churches, a Hindu temple, a Sikh Gurudwara and a Jewish synagogue. The country is home to several communities that have faced persecution elsewhere.


Arabic is the official language of Bahrain, although a large number of Bahrainis also speak Persian. The two main dialects are Baharna Arabic, spoken by the indigenous Baharna Shia, and Gulf Arabic spoken by the indigenous Sunnis. Persian, Hindi/Urdu, English and Malayalam are also spoken by sections of the population.

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