Reaching the Nations

Bahrain

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 741 square km.  Bahrain consists of a small archipelago off the Arabian Peninsula in the Persian Gulf,.  The surrounding sea creates a humid climate with mild temperatures in the winter and hot, humid conditions in the summer.  Most of the islands are low elevation plains with little variation.  The King Fahd Causeway connects Bahrain with Saudi Arabia and another causeway is planned connecting Bahrain to Qatar.  Drought and dust storms are natural hazards whereas desertification, oil spills, the damage to the ocean ecosystems from human activity are environmental issues.  Bahrain is divided into five administrative governorates. 

Population: 728,709 (2009). Population estimates range to as high as 1.05 million because of undocumented and seasonal workers.

Annual Growth Rate: 1.292% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 2.5 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy: 72.67 male, 77.78 female (2009)

Peoples

Bahraini: 62.4%

Non-Bahraini: 37.6%

Between 200,000 and 550,000 foreigners reside in Bahrain.  Indians are the largest non-Bahraini group.  Other large ethnic groups include Iranians, Pakistanis, and Westerners. 

Languages: Arabic (48-69%), Farsi (5-7%), Urdu (3-4%), English (2-3%), Filipino languages (2-3%), Kurdish (2-3%), Malayalam (2-3%), Tamil (2-3%), Telugu (1-2%), other (3-33%).  Arabic is the official language.  No language has over one million speakers.

Literacy: 86.5% (2001) 

History

The island of Bahrain is believed by some scholars to be the paradise land of Dilmun referred to in early Sumerian writings. Various ancient civilizations controlled or influenced Bahrain, including the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians.  Since the birth of Christ, the islands have been controlled by Persians, Sassanids, Qarmatians, and Portuguese.  Islam arrived shortly after its advent in the seventh century.  Bahrain returned to Persian rule around 1600 AD until the al-Khalifa family took the island and signed treaties with the British to ensure its protection from neighboring nations.  Bahrain became a British protectorate and gained independence in 1971.  Greater modernization occurred in the 1970s and 1980s due to Bahrain's abundant oil reserves and efforts to diversify the economy.  Bahrain has become a banking center in the Middle East in the past several decades.  Tensions between the Sunni and Shi'a Muslims persist over differences in theology, wealth, and government representation.

Culture 

Bahrain's tolerance for non-Arabs and non-Muslims has produced a more cosmopolitan atmosphere than in many Gulf States.  Different religious groups peacefully coexist but Islam is the primary influence on culture.  Education has become increasingly emphasized due to competition for employment.  Car racing has become increasingly popular in recent years following the completion of the Bahrain International Circuit, the first racing track in the Middle East.  Tourism has grown in recent years.  Bahrain has one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the Middle East due to the sizable non-Muslim population and tourism.  Polygamy is legal but not widely practiced.

Economy

GDP per capita: $38,400 (2009) [82.8% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.895

Corruption Index: 5.4

Bahrain competes with Malaysia as a center of banking in the Muslim world.  Oil profits continue to drive the economy despite the shrinking size of oil reserves which are among the smallest in the region.  Oil related activities account for 70% of government revenue and 11% of the GDP.  High unemployment among native Bahrainis (15% in 2005) is a problem which has not been resolved.  Industry accounts for 58% of the GDP and employs 79% of the workforce.  Primary industries include oil extraction and refining and aluminum smelting.  Services produce 42% of the GDP and employ 20% of the workforce.  Limited agriculture produces fruit, vegetables, and poultry.  Primary trade partners include Saudi Arabia, Japan, the United States, and China. 

Corruption is lower than many Middle Eastern nations but has worsened in recent years due to Bahrain's role as an international financial center.  Money laundering is a serious concern.[1] 

Faiths

Muslim: 81.2%

Christian: 9%

Other: 9.8%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic   140,000

Latter-Day Saints   281  1

Religion

99% of ethnic Bahrainis are Muslim.  Shi'a Muslims constitute the majority but make up poorer classes.  The Shiite majority dates to Persian control of Bahrain from 1603 to 1783, when the Sunni Al Khalifa family came to power.  Friction between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims is pronounced due to economic and social differences.  These groups have historically lived separate from each other but greater mingling now occurs.  Half the foreign workers are Muslim whereas the remainder includes Christians, Hindus, Bahai's, Buddhists, and Sikhs.   

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution does not limit individuals from choosing, practicing or changing their religious affiliation.  Islam is the state religion and Islamic holidays are national holidays.  Government prohibits the persecution or discrimination of religious sects.  Non-Muslims can practice their religions with little government interference.  Some Christian congregations have failed to receive government recognition.  Religious groups must receive a license from the government to assemble; however, unregistered congregations of some faiths meet without government interference.  Bahraini authorities do not restrict Christians from distributing or selling of religious literature.  Religious violence or conflict occurs primarily between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims.[2]

Largest Cities

Urban: 89%

Manama, Muharraq, Riffa, Hamad Town, A'ali, Isa Town, Sitrah, Budaiya, Jidhafs, Al-Malikiyah.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

One of the 10 largest cities has a congregation.  83% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities. 

LDS History

Church members have lived in Bahrain since the 1970s.  A group functioned prior to the creation of the Bahrain Branch in 1978.  In 1976, there were eight adults and eight children in the Bahrain Group.[3]  Four members were received by the Emir of Bahrain in 1989 and cordially welcomed to Bahrain from other Middle Eastern nations for Church leadership meetings.[4]  The Church has been legally recognized since at least 2001. [5]  Many stake activities for the Manama Bahrain Stake, which includes some congregations in surrounding nations, occurred in Bahrain prior to the stake relocating to Dubai, United Arab Emirates due to the level of religious freedom and its central location for members in other Gulf States.  Currently the LDS Church in Bahrain plays a crucial role in the operation of the Church in Saudi Arabia.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 281 (2008)

In 1988, the Bahrain Branch grew to 35 members.  In 2001, members came from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Philippines, and South Africa.[6]  By 2007 there were 76 members, growing to 281 in 2008.  The large increase in membership in 2008 may be due an increase in members in the military.

Congregational Growth

Branches: 1 Groups: 1

In 2000, Bahrain became part of the Europe Central Area. and in the late 2000s was assigned to the newly created Middle East/Africa North Area.  The Bahrain Branch is the only independent congregation in Bahrain and pertained to the Manama Bahrain Stake, formerly known as the Arabian Peninsula Stake, prior to its relocation to Dubai, United Arab Emirates in 2011.  In 2011, the Manama Bahrain District was formed and includes branches in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.   A group operates to meet the needs of American military stationed in Bahrain. 

Activity and Retention

Very few converts have joined the Church in Bahrain as most members have temporarily arrived for employment.  Active membership is likely between 100 and 150, or 36-53% of total membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Arabic, English, Farsi, Hindi, Telugu, Tagalog, Tamil, Urdu.

All LDS scriptures are available in Arabic and Tagalog.  Book of Mormon translations have been completed for Hindi, Telugu, and Urdu; only Book of Mormon selections are available in Farsi.  Most Church materials are available in Arabic and Tagalog whereas Hindi, Telugu, Urdu, and Farsi have more limited Church materials.  Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony are available in Farsi.  The only Church materials in Malayalam are Gospel Fundamentals and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony. The Liahona annually has 12 issues in Tagalog, four in Telugu, three issues in Urdu, and one issue in Hindi.

Meetinghouses

Church meetings for the Bahrain Branch likely occur in a rented space.

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has not reported any humanitarian projects conducted in Bahrain.  Some local members may have carried out service projects.

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Unlike most Middle Eastern nations, Bahrain does not prohibit proselytism.  However, open proselytism is not permitted due to cultural restrictions on proselytizing Muslims.  There do not appear to be any major limitations on conducting missionary work or distributing religious literature among non-Muslims.  Muslims have access to non-Islamic religious materials, although very few have become Christians.  The level of religious freedom has made Bahrain the headquarters for Church activities in the region through the Manama Bahrain Stake.

Cultural Issues

Church meetings are held on Fridays, the Islamic day of worship.  Bahrain's cosmopolitan atmosphere provides opportunity for the Church to reach individuals from a wide variety of nationalities and backgrounds.  Muslims have greater potential opportunity to learn about the Church in Bahrain than in many other Gulf States, although active mission outreach among Muslims has not been pursued due to cultural restrictions.  Converts who were formerly Muslim will likely experience less persecution and ostracism than many other Arab nations, but mission outreach among this religious group remains a sensitive issue.  Those engaged in polygamous relationships must divorce polygamous spouses and be interviewed by a member of the area presidency in order to join the Church. 

National Outreach

Bahrain's urbanized population reduces logistical challenges in reaching the entire population.  Most reside within 15 miles of Manama, reducing the number of needed congregations to administer such a small geographic area.  Membership size and activity have not yet required the creation of additional congregations for different sections of the Manama metropolitan area. 

Christians are likely the most receptive religious group to the Church and number nearly 100,000.  Little effort to reach other Christian groups appears to have occurred despite few restrictions.  No full-time missionaries are assigned to Bahrain, leaving these responsibilities to local members, most of whom are transient expatriates with no knowledge of Arabic or other local languages.  Many expatriates have only limited contact with native peoples and often tend to socialize primarily with other expatriates, resulting in few opportunities for sharing the gospel with native peoples. Local and area LDS leadership may have instituted restrictions regarding how, when and where members may speak and teach non-members about the Church to respect local cultural sensitivities.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Few converts appear to have joined the Church in Bahrain.  Member activity and convert retention primarily reflect the strength,  doctrinal understanding, and habits of church attendance of the nations from which members relocated.  

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The greatest ethnic tensions are between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims.  Most members come from North America, Europe, or the Philippines, making member-missionary work among these groups most favorable.  Iranians, Kurds and other predominately Muslim ethnic groups present challenging for outreach as these groups have few or no Church members.

Language Issues

Church materials are available in most languages spoken by migrant workers and Bahrainis, although church services are conducted in English, and few members are proficient in Arabic or other local languages.  Kurdish is the only language with a significant number of speakers without any Church materials. 

Leadership

Although the Manama Bahrain District is headquartered in the country, insufficient active membership and limited leadership prevent the creation of more than one branch.  Present branch and stake leaders are English-speaking expatriates; there appear to be few if any native Bahraini LDS leaders.

Temple

Bahrain pertains to the Frankfurt Germany Temple district.  Temple trips occur rarely as most members are transient expatriates with more convenient access to temples when returning to their native lands to visit or at the conclusion of their assignments.  A future, closer temple may meet the needs of LDS members in Bahrain, perhaps in the United Arab Emirates, although such needs are presently limited by the small number of church members. 

Comparative Growth

The size of LDS membership is comparable to many Middle Eastern nations, but growth has been slow despite an organized presence for many decades.  Only Kuwait appears to have seen as slow growth as Bahrain; both these nations have had a branch and a military group for many years. 

Other Christian groups meet the needs of their members who relocate to Bahrain with little effort to grow their congregations.  Some Christian groups also use Bahrain as a headquarters for the region due to its tolerance towards religious minorities. 

Future Prospects

Greater religious freedom in Bahrain than in many other Arab nations provides meaningful potential for future growth, although considerable vision and effort will be needed to harness this potential.  Government efforts to reduce unemployment rates among Bahrainis by allowing fewer foreign workers into the country may slow future membership growth as fewer members relocate to Bahrain. 

Although open proselytism in Bahrain is legal among both Muslims and non-Muslims, the assignment of full-time missionaries is unlikely at present due to cultural limitations and regional geopolitical concern, and so growth in coming years will depend primarily on member-missionary efforts.  Member-missionary outreach is limited by primary reliance of LDS members on English, the lack of proficiency of most members in Arabic and other local languages, social circles of members that are largely confined to the expatriate community, and the transient nature of expatriate workers without long-term commitment to the region. The need and opportunity exist for organized LDS outreach among non-Muslims, including Christians, Hindus, Buddists, and Sikhs, who together constitute nearly 20% of the population.  Future growth and transition from a transient expatriate membership to indigenous membership with stable local leadership will depend on efforts to reach out to native Bahrainis.  


[1]  Mahdi, Mazen.  "Bahrain minister ousted over corruption charges," The National Newspaper, 22 March 2010.  http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100323/FOREIGN/703229820/1002

[2]  "Bahrain," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127345.htm

Platt, [3]  Joseph B.  "Our Oasis of Faith," Ensign, Apr 1988, 39

[4]  "LDS greeted in Bahrain," LDS Church News, 23 December 1989.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/19451/LDS-greeted-in-Bahrain.html

[5] Shurtliff, Diane.  "Oasis of Faith," New Era, Aug 2001, 34

[6] Shurtliff, Diane.  "Oasis of Faith," New Era, Aug 2001, 34