The History of Jews in the Persian Gulf

November 9, 2020 | Nimrod Raphaeli
About the author:

Although there were Jews living in the Arabian Peninsula in Mohammad’s time, for most of medieval and modern history the Arab lands surrounding the Persian Gulf—what is now Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Oman—had only small Jewish communities. Nimrod Raphaeli tells their stories:

Unlike the large Jewish communities in Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, and North Africa, the number of Jews in the Gulf countries never exceeded a few hundred in any one country. . . . Most of the Jews who settled in the Gulf countries, primarily in Kuwait and Bahrain, were of Iraqi origin, and many of them were seeking either to escape military conscription under the Ottoman empire or exploring economic opportunities. Of these Jews, only a few have remained, likely only in Bahrain where the Jewish population numbers around 70. A member of that community, Huda Nonoo, was her country’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2013—making her the first ambassador of the Jewish faith to represent an Arab country.

Jews held important positions in Ahsaa (currently in eastern Saudi Arabia), notably the post of treasurer of the Ottoman empire, which ruled the area through World War I. The post was held by three successive Jews. . . . During their tenure, many of the entries in the financial books were in “Hebrew” (most likely in Arabic written phonetically in Rashi script, which was commonly used by old-generation Iraqi Jews).

Jews had been living in Muscat since at least 1625. In 1673, according to one traveler, a synagogue was being built, implying permanence. The British officer James Wellsted also noted the existence of a Jewish community when he visited in the 1830s.

Read more on MEMRI:

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register Already a subscriber? Sign in now