The Baharna (Arabic: بحراني ، بحارنة) are a Shia Muslim ethnoreligious group who mainly inhabit the historical region of Eastern Arabia. They are generally regarded by scholars to be the original inhabitants of the Bahrain archipelago. Most Shi'i Bahraini citizens are ethnic Baharna. Regions with most of the population are in Eastern Arabia (Bahrain, Qatif, al-Hasa), with historical diaspora populations in Kuwait, (see Baharna in Kuwait), Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Iran, and Iraq.
The origin of Baharna is uncertain; there are different theories regarding their origins. Several Western scholars believe the Baharna originate from Bahrain's pre-Islamic population which consisted of partially-Christianized Arabs, Persian Zoroastrians, Jews and Aramaic-speaking agriculturalists. According to one historian, Arab settlements in Bahrain may have begun around 300 B.C. and control of the island was maintained by the Rabyah tribe, who converted to Islam in 630 A.D.
There are many gaps and inconsistencies in the genealogies of those claiming descent from the Banu Abdul Qays in Bahrain, therefore Baharna are probably descendants of an ethnically-mixed population. Bahraini society has traditionally divided itself into three genealogical categories in order: ansab (clear genealogies), la ansab (unclear genealogies) and bani khudair (foreigner). Baharna were "la ansab" because they have uncertain ancestry.
The Bahrani Arabic dialect exhibits Akkadian, Aramaic and Syriac features. The sedentary people of pre-Islamic Bahrain were Aramaic speakers and to some degree Persian speakers, while Syriac functioned as a liturgical language. The Bahrani dialect might have borrowed the Akkadian, Aramaic and Syriac features from Mesopotamian Arabic.
Since only little is known about their ancestry, Robert Hay referred to the Baharna as "Arabs without a pedigree". According to Robert Bertram Serjeant, the Baharna may be the Arabized "descendants of converts from the original population of Christians (Aramaeans), Jews and ancient Persians (Majus) inhabiting the island and cultivated coastal provinces of Eastern Arabia at the time of the Arab conquest".
The term Bahrani serves to distinguish the Bahrani people from other Shia in Bahrain, such as the ethnic Persian Bahrainis who fall under the term Ajam, as well as from the Sunni Najdi immigrants in Bahrain who are known as Al Arab ("Arabs").
In Arabic, bahrayn is the dual form of bahr ("sea"), so al-Bahrayn means "the Two Seas". However, which two seas were originally intended remains in dispute. The term appears five times in the Qur'an, but does not refer to the modern island—originally known to the Arabs as "Awal"—but rather to the oasis of Qatif and Hajar (modern al-Hasa). It is unclear when the term began to refer exclusively to Awal, but it was probably after the 15th century.
Today, Bahrain's "two seas" are instead generally taken to be the bay east and west of the island, the seas north and south of the island, or the salt and fresh water present above and below the ground. In addition to wells, there are places in the sea north of Bahrain where fresh water bubbles up in the middle of the salt water, noted by visitors since antiquity.
An alternate theory offered by al-Ahsa was that the two seas were the Persian Gulf and a peaceful lake on the mainland;[which?] still another provided by Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari is that the more formal name Bahri (lit. "belonging to the sea") would have been misunderstood and so was opted against.
Local anecdotal evidence suggests that the Baharna's Arab ancestry is diverse as some word variants spoken in the dialects of the native people of the villages of Bani Jamra and A'ali are only used in places as far as Yemen and Oman.
Language and culture
Thus the elements in the pre-Islamic ethno-linguistic situation in eastern Arabia appear to have been a mixed tribal population of partially Christianised Arabs of diverse origins who probably spoke different old Arabian vernaculars; a mobile Persian-speaking population, possibly of traders and administrators, with strong links to Persia, which they maintained close contact; a sedentary, non-tribal community of Aramaic-speaking agriculturalists; a Persian clergy, who we know for certain, used Syriac as a language of liturgy and writing more generally, probably alongside Persian as a spoken language.