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Education in the Arabian Peninsula during the first half of the Twentieth Century

Between Modern and National Education: The ‘Ajam Schools of Bahrain and Kuwait

Lindsey Stephenson

Résumés

Dans les premières décennies du XXe siècle, le discours moderniste islamique a donné lieu à des transformations du secteur éducatif au Moyen-Orient et dans l'océan Indien. Au retour de leurs voyages transocéaniques, les marchands du Golfe ont apporté avec eux des idées pour mettre en place un enseignement « moderne » dans les villes portuaires de la péninsule Arabique. Les objectifs initiaux n'étaient pas nécessairement nationalistes, ni même arabistes. Il s'agissait plutôt pour eux d’aider à développer, par l’enseignement, les compétences nécessaires à l’intégration dans un environnement moderne et organisé, tout en maintenant les identités islamiques traditionnelles. Alors que la mise en place de l'éducation moderne a jusqu’ici principalement été présentée comme étant l’œuvre de marchands arabes de la région, cet article démontre que les écoles « ‘Ajam » de Bahreïn et du Koweït ont très tôt été parties prenantes de ce mouvement. En retraçant les débuts de leur développement dans les années 1910 et 1920 jusqu'aux années 1930, l’auteur éclaire l'orientation initiale de ces écoles et la façon dont elles ont répondu à l'influence du projet moderniste et nationaliste de l’État iranien.

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Introduction

1Long before oil revenues began drastically to alter life in the Arabian Peninsula, modern transformations were well underway in the major port towns all around the Gulf. Throughout the region, modern institutions were not passively experienced and accepted, but rather the subject of conversations and political projects through which the people of the towns actively shaped the direction of the development of their societies. Furthermore, the conversations about how to develop local institutions at the turn of the 20th century was deeply engaged with global conversations about Islamic modernity, through Gulf networks stretching from Bombay to Basra to Cairo.

  • 1 Sayyid ‘Umar ‘Āṣim and Ḥāfiẓ Wahba are two examples of Islamic modernist teachers (from Izmir and (...)

2One of the major preoccupations of Islamic modernism was with the shape of “modern education” for Muslims. Around the Indian Ocean, the Muslim merchants and pilgrims flowing between these centers and smaller ones like Ḥaḍramaut, Zanzibar, Batavia, Bahrain, and Bushehr came in contact with these ideas through religious teachers, the rapidly increasing number of publications, and by word of mouth. They brought these ideas home and began to open new, modern schools, sometimes recruiting teachers they met in major metropolises to teach in these schools.1

  • 2 My choice of the word “‘Ajam” to describe these communities who migrated from Iran to the western (...)

3The extant literature on early modern schools — albeit slim — has focused on those established by Arab merchants. This article discusses two of the earliest modern schools in the Arab countries of the Gulf, which were established by the ‘Ajam communities in Bahrain and Kuwait,2 and puts the existing historiography of modern schooling in the Gulf into conversation with new information from Persian language sources, including several reports from the Iranian Ministry of Education in the 1920s.

  • 3 During this time, tens of thousands of people migrated from the southern shores of Iran to Kuwait, (...)

4Through close reading of these previously unexplored Persian language sources, I trace the trajectory of modern schools in Manama and Kuwait built by migrants from Iran in the first forty years of the 20th century.3 They were established contemporaneously to the more well‑known “Arabic” modern schools, and the early sources I use here suggest that they were guided by a similar Islamic modernist vision. While the information they provide is still limited, they illuminate how the ‘Ajam schools — which have previously been understood as serving only “Iranians” or “Persians” — were local initiatives and functioning within their particular local contexts rather than as strictly ghettoized Iranian outposts of the Iranian state. By following the development of the schools in both Bahrain and Kuwait through the end of the 1930s, I show how their individual trajectories reflect the unique relationships between the two Arab states and the migrants from Iran.

Modern Schools in the Gulf

  • 4 Fortna argues that modern education in the Ottoman Empire was neither inherently “secular” nor “We (...)
  • 5 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 116–120.

5The concept of schooling was not new to the Gulf in the 20th century. Modern schools did however depart in many ways from the traditional schooling institution, the kuttāb, which focused on classical Islamic literature for the purposes of reading the Qur’an. In the earliest modern schools, there was expansion of the curricula to include new subjects. But their incorporation did not (at least initially) entail doing away with religious education.4 Students continued to memorize the Qur’an and study tajwīd (proper recitation), but this was alongside new subjects such as arithmetic, geography, and history. In more stark contrast to the kuttāb‑s there also tended to be an emphasis on foreign languages, physical fitness and hygiene.5

  • 6 Ibid., p. 464.

6Beyond the changes in the curriculum, modern schools introduced new educational structures and methods. Fixed curricula marked an important departure from the kuttāb‑s because it meant that students of different levels would attend separate classes.6 Rather than all students being grouped together to learn the same material, in modern schools, children were put into classrooms separated roughly by age or ability. There were multiple teachers for different subjects, and success in standardized exams was required to continue to the next level. The materiality of the classroom was also changed. From the furniture to the writing utensils, paper, and books, modern schooling also took a particular physical form.

7The first modern schools in the Gulf were projects spearheaded by missionaries and merchants. The fear of encroachment of Western influence — from either missionaries or the British government — was a major impetus for locals to develop modern institutions that did not threaten the Islamic heritage and beliefs. The education of modern Muslims was also a subject specifically addressed by Muslim reformists from Egypt to Indonesia, and the influence of those ideas very quickly made their way to the Gulf.

  • 7 The Legislative Council instated free public education in Kuwait in 1938. See Al-Rashoud, 2016, p. (...)
  • 8 Al-Rumaihi, 1973, p. 185; al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 106.
  • 9 Although girls attended the traditional kuttāb, the first modern and locally-run girls’ school in (...)

8Prior to the expansion of government services to include free public schools in the late 1930s, education had been in the hands of social organizations and private individuals.7 The very first modern school to be opened in the region was the American Mission School, established in Bahrain in 1892 by American missionaries.8 It was a very small school restricted to female students and predominantly attended by Iranian migrants. By contrast, the local schools that followed were primarily for boys.9

  • 10 Al-Rashoud, 2016, p. 59–67. Riḍā visited Kuwait in May 1912 on his way back to Cairo from Bombay.
  • 11 Tārīkh al-Taʿlīm fī Dawlat al-Kuwayt, vol. 1, 2002, p. 105–115. The organizers later rescinded the (...)
  • 12 Al-Rashoud, 2016, p. 66–67.

9In Kuwait, the doors of the first modern school, al‑Mubārakiyya, opened in 1911. It was the brainchild of prominent, well‑traveled and foreign‑educated Kuwaiti merchants and religious scholars — and possibly an attempt to head‑off the first missionary school in Kuwait established in 1913. The Kuwaiti Amīr Shaykh Mubārak was reportedly oblivious to the project and did not commit any funds. The Mubārakiyya School was founded by Kuwaiti merchants operating in Basra and Bombay who had become familiar with Islamic modernist ideas. The school’s committee even initially sought assistance from the famous Egyptian Islamic modernist preacher Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā via a Kuwaiti merchant in Bombay requesting that Riḍā set up the school’s curriculum and appoint its teachers.10 However, because the Mubārakiyya School was met with criticism from local ulama-s, most of the modern changes that it implemented were related to the organization and methods of education, while remaining fairly traditional in its content.11 The content of the curriculum did fluctuate from time to time by changes in staffing, as there were no official textbooks. As Al‑Rashoud notes, “[when the Egyptian teacher Hafiz] Wahba arrived in 1914, he introduced the nontraditional subjects of geography, history, and geometry for the first time” but these were discontinued after his departure the following year and until the 1920s.12

  • 13 IOR/R/15/1/713/2: Administration Report 1921, p. 65.
  • 14 Al-Rashoud, 2016, p. 71. These updates to the curriculum were similar to others appearing across t (...)

10Due to the stagnation of the curriculum of al‑Mubārakiyya, many of the initial merchants who had supported it decided to open a second modern school, al‑Aḥmadiyya, in 1921.13 Al‑Aḥmadiyya was an attempt to follow through with the kind of modern schooling that the Mubārakiyya School had been envisioned to offer. This time, the school, led by two influential Islamic modernist ulama-s in Kuwait, Shaykh Yūsuf bin ‘Isā al‑Qinā‘ī and ‘Abd al‑‘Azīz al‑Rushayd, had the active support of the Amīr, Shaykh Aḥmad al‑Jābir al‑Ṣabāḥ (1921–1950). They instituted the teaching of modern subjects, prime among them being English and geography.14

  • 15 In his dissertation, Rumaihi remarks that the official date given by the Bahrain Government for th (...)
  • 16 The Government of Bahrain Administrative Report for the Years 1926–1937 recalls that many members (...)
  • 17 Khouri, 1980, p. 89; al-Rumaihi, 1973, p. 193.

11In the same year, 1921, what has been labelled the first modern school in Bahrain, al‑Hidāya al‑Khalīfiyya, was opened on Muharraq Island.15 It was an initiative at the hands of the ruler’s son Shaykh ‘Abdallāh b. ‘Isā al‑Khalīfa upon his return from a visit to Cairo, and supported by merchants from local tribes who backed the ruling family.16 While the exact curriculum at the time is unclear, teachers were reportedly brought in from Egypt and Syria, with Ḥāfiẓ Wahba serving as the first headmaster until his deportation by the British the following year.17 Presumably Wahba introduced similar subjects to the Hidāya School that he had to al‑Mubārakiyya School in Kuwait several years earlier.

  • 18 IOR/R/15/1/750/1, The Government of Bahrain Administrative Report for the Years 1926–1937, p. 31.

12In the late 1920s, Shaykh ‘Abdallāh, who had become the head of the education committee, opened several other schools, such as the Ja‘fariyya School in Manama and a school for girls in Muharraq, but both were met with controversy. By 1933 the Ja‘fariyya School in Manama had become the Manama boys’ school. At this time the school, along with its Muharraq equivalent, taught modern subjects such as English, history, geography, and mathematics.18

Merchants and Migrants

  • 19 Crystal, 1990, p. 41.
  • 20 See for example IOR/R/15/1/750/1, The Government of Bahrain Administrative Report for the Years 19 (...)

13That the merchants in Kuwait were the initiators of these projects, while in Bahrain the ruling family led the way, is symptomatic of other societal developments in both countries. While 20th‑century institutional changes in Bahrain were most often implemented by the British or the ruling family, in Kuwait it was the merchants who were primarily responsible for leading efforts to reform the town.19 In the early 20th century, Kuwait’s wealthiest merchants, who were from similar Najdī backgrounds, often banded together to force the Amīr into taking action. The British in Bahrain were not particularly interested in promoting modern education, fearing political agitation by foreign Arab teachers. They did however begin to support technical education in the mid-1930s when they realized that an educated population would support the growth of the oil industry — in which they were heavily invested.20

  • 21 Fuccaro, 2009, p. 73–75.

14In Bahrain the situation was further complicated by the diversity of the merchant class, and more importantly the geographical separation between the two major centers of commerce, Manama and Muharraq. Muharraq Island was the seat of government of the al‑Khalifa rulers and the residence of loyal tribes. As such, when Shaykh ‘Abdallāh opened the first modern school, he situated it in Muharraq. Manama on the other hand was a more diverse center of trade whose merchants and laboring population came from a range of places with which Bahrain had important trading networks; in particular Najd, southern Iran, and the western coast of India in addition to merchants from the agricultural hinterlands of Bahrain. Fuccaro has explained how the lack of strong government in Manama led to merchants becoming community leaders. As patrons of the growing numbers of migrants due to the pearling boom in the late 19th century, the merchant‑patrons became organizers of communal life, but also intermediaries between new migrants and the rulers.21

  • 22 Fuccaro, 2009 and 2011; Onley, 2005 and 2009.
  • 23 For further details on the waves of Iranian migrants arriving in Bahrain and Kuwait in the late 19 (...)
  • 24 Onley, 2009.

15Amongst these diverse merchants, the Iranians were amongst the wealthiest and most connected at a time of economic prosperity and increased British involvement.22 For many Iranian merchants who migrated to Bahrain in the late 19th century,23 close proximity to the British brought them lucrative connections to overseas markets as well as local contracts in Bahrain.24 As we will see, their connectedness to developments beyond Bahrain inspired the local Iranian ‘Ajam merchants to establish what may in fact have been the first locally run modern school in Bahrain — opening as early as 1913.

Historiography of ‘Ajam Schools

  • 25 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 141.
  • 26 In this context Ajam refers to Iranians who are local to Bahrain, and particularly in the context (...)

16Before we proceed to interventions in the history of these schools, it is important to take stock of the state of the historiography. Historical memory in Kuwait and Bahrain has preserved the knowledge of local schools predominantly attended by people who migrated from Iran, operating prior to the 1940s. In each case, Manama and Kuwait, a single school is the repository of this memory. In Bahrain it is colloquially called Madrasat al‑‘Ajam25 (‘Ajam School),26 and in Kuwait al‑Madrasa al‑Ja‘fariyya (the Ja‘fariyya School). What we know about the schools comes from either local or Western sources.

  • 27 Such as Ashkanānīs multiple volumes of afaāt min al-Dhākira (2008–2011), and the encyclopedic c (...)
  • 28 Other interview-based publications such as Al-Loughani’s interview-based works on various district (...)

17In both cases, extant information about the schools is gathered by locals who conduct interviews with former pupils and teachers.27 Such interviews often include questions about who the teachers were, who fellow students were, where the school was located, and sometimes what the tuition was.28 Information about the curriculum or ideological leanings of the schools is almost entirely absent.

18The Western sources are predominantly either British imperial records or missionary reports and contain different kinds of information. The British Political Agents in Bahrain make mention of the ‘Ajam School from time to time, particularly in the 1920s and 30s. The comments are generally restricted to information about inter‑communal relations amongst the Iranians, or about how the activities of the school are perceived by the Bahraini government.

  • 29 Neglected Arabia, No. 142, July, August, September 1927. ‘Abd al-Ḥusayn al-Sayyid Zāhid al-Mūsawī’ (...)
  • 30 Neglected Arabia, No. 142, July, August, September 1927.
  • 31 IOR R/15/5/195 273. From Political Agent, Kuwait to Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Bushir (...)
  • 32 Calverley, 1958, p. 14.

19In the case of Kuwait, we have even less information. Sources prior to 1940 only mention Iranian or “Persian” schools in passing. Neglected Arabia, a journal published by the Dutch Reformed Church in America, reported in 1927 that there were three Persian schools teaching “writing and arithmetic in addition to the reading of the koran [sic].”29 It further mentioned that eight other Persian schools taught Qur’an only.30 A report three years later by the British Political Agent also noted eleven Persian schools.31 Eleanor Calverley, a medical missionary in Kuwait from 1911 to April 1929, also mentions that there are three “Persian” schools.32 However, in neither case do we have a complete picture of the trajectory of the schools. The dearth of details for the Kuwait school and the early years of the Bahrain school have led to their being written off as kuttāb-s.

The ‘Ajam School of Bahrain

  • 33 Other journals circulating throughout the Ottoman Empire, Russian Empire, and the Indo-Malay world (...)
  • 34 Parvin, abl al-Matīn, p. 431–434.

20The history of Iranian schools in Bahrain is deeply tied to the presence of Iranian merchants involved in the Indian Ocean and the discourse on modern education that circulated around the Muslim world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Debates about modernity, reform, and education that appeared on the pages of Arabic‑language publications such as Rashīd Riḍā’s Cairo‑based journal al‑Manār (“The Lighthouse”) are well known. However, non‑Arabic publications also hosted debates and spread information about the development of Islamic modernist projects.33 One such publication, the Persian‑language newspaper abl al‑Matīn (“The Strong Rope”) is critical for contextualizing the development of the ‘Ajam Schools of Bahrain and Kuwait. abl al‑Matīn was a weekly publication that was based in Calcutta from 19 December 1893 to 9 December 1930 and was sympathetic towards Pan‑Islamism. It circulated throughout Persia, India, Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Ottoman Empire.34 Through the pages of abl al‑Matīn reformists were in conversation with others across the Muslim world — Jamāl al‑Dīn al‑Afghānī’s columns for al‑Manār often appeared in translation.

  • 35 As a widely circulated newspaper, it was also a proponent of and advocate for modern education thr (...)
  • 36 The designation hijrī-qamarī is a way of distinguishing the hijrī date in the Iranian calendar cal (...)
  • 37 It is referred to as the “mother of the schools of the south [of Iran].” See Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016 (...)

21Although articles and commentary addressed affairs in all of Iran, there was a particular emphasis on Shiraz and Bushehr — areas which had particularly strong ties to Bahrain.35 When the first modern school Madrese‑ye Sa‘ādat‑e opened in Bushehr in 1899 (1317 hijrī‑qamarī),36 it was featured in abl al‑Matīn. The school appears to have been well known by the readers of the paper as it was referred to many years later as Madrese‑ye Sa‘ādat without any reference to its location. The Sa‘ādat school was successful and its model influential as the first modern school to be opened in Bushehr province.37

  • 38 Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016, p. 42. He specifically mentions Mīrzā ‘Abbās Irānī and Mīrzā ‘Alī Dashtī.
  • 39 abl al-Matīn (18 Rabī‘ al-Thānī 1332gh / 16 March 1914, SH 33), p. 10–11; Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016.
  • 40 Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016, p. 42. He also mentions that the Cultural Administration of Bushehr contrib (...)

22When Iranian merchants living in Bahrain established the ‘Ajam School there, they relied on the expertise from Sa‘ādat School in Bushehr, often inviting their instructors to teach in Bahrain.38 While very few sources exist to explain the context of the establishment of the ‘Ajam School sometime around August of 1913, it was established by merchants from the Bushehr province, and more specifically at the urging of ajjī Ḥasan Dashtī.39 The newspaper abl al‑Matīn reported that when ajjī Ḥasan Dashtī decided that there should be a school for the ‘Ajam in Bahrain, it took him seven months to convince the other founders to join him in his quest. These merchants were aware of and likely involved in the activities of the Sa‘ādat School in Bushehr, given that the “Establishing Committee” of the ‘Ajam School was mentioned in the weekly minutes of the Sa‘ādat School in 1914.40

  • 41 Bushehri, p. 1.
  • 42 The initial headmaster, a certain Agā Shaykh ‘Abd al-Karīm, was not up to the task.

23After a few months of holding classes on the steps of the Ma’tam al‑‘Ajam (the Shi‘i mourning house of the ‘Ajam community of Manama), the school moved into an ‘arīsh (a hut built from dry palm fronds).41 In March 1914, abl al‑Matīn published an article by Shaykh ‘Alī Āl ‘Aṣfūr celebrating the opening of the school. By September of the same year a second article was published mentioning that Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥasan (one of the ‘Ajam School’s founders) had sent for Agā Mīrzā ‘Alī Dashtī, who had been teaching in the Sa‘ādat School in Bushehr, to come and run the school in Bahrain.42 The article further noted that Mīrzā ‘Alī Dashtī and his son Agā Mīrzā Maḥmūd (who had completed his studies at Sa‘ādat) had already made significant headway at the school in Bahrain.

  • 43 abl al-Matīn (18 Rabī‘ al-Thānī 1332gh / 16 March 1914, SH 33), p. 10–11.

24As was previously mentioned, information regarding the idea for the founding of the school is scarce. However, the article from abl al‑Matīn in March 1914 introducing the school gives us some insight. The article, penned by Shaykh ‘Alī Āl ‘Aṣfūr explains that the fathers of the ‘Ajam in Bahrain had not been afforded the “blessing of education”. Their lives had been concerned only with trade because their livelihood depended on it. But now things were changing. They were on a mission to change the uslūb (method) of education so that the children would not be like their bad bakht (unfortunate) fathers.43

  • 44 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p.106. Here al-Khalīfa is likely referring to the King’s Order in Council.
  • 45 Ibid., p. 106.

25Al‑Khalīfa, a Bahraini historian and member of the ruling family, has another theory regarding the school’s founding. Her account centers on the school’s humble beginnings on the steps of the Ma’tam as telling of its rushed beginnings. She maintains that the ‘Ajam were in a hurry to establish the school prior to the British issuance of the “colonial law” (qānūn al‑musta‘marāt) in 1913 that would put Bahrain directly under British India.44 There is no question of the close timing of the school’s opening in August and the issuance of the Bahrain Order in Council of 1913 on August 12th. Al‑Khalīfa’s version of the story is that one Muḥammad Ardakānī (an Iranian previously banished from Bahrain due to his publications opposing British involvement there) sent word to the ‘Ajam of Bahrain that the “colonial law” was changing to put British India in direct control there.45 While al‑Khalīfa says this warning is what drove the rushed opening of the school, the connection between the two is unclear. The Order in Council of 1913 primarily laid out rules pertaining to British jurisdiction over foreign subjects. These laws certainly impacted the ‘Ajam, who were by then considered “foreigners,” and subject to British representation. But the extent to which opening a school for the ‘Ajam boys would stave off British control is not explained in detail by al‑Khalīfa.

  • 46 Ibid., p. 110.
  • 47 Ibid., p. 162.

26Regardless of the story behind the school’s founding, its connection to the modern discourse of i (reform) is apparent from the very early days of the school as its first formal name is recorded as “Mubārakeh‑ye Iṣlāḥ” (Blessings of Reform) in 1915. At this point the school had moved from the ʿarīsh into a more permanent structure in the Fāḍil District of Manama, which the school rented from an Arab from Bushehr named ajjī Jum‘a Nāṣir Bū Rashīd Būshihrī.46 A receipt from 1915 notes the purchase of new items like benches, desks, and prayer rugs.47

  • 48 Khojasteh, 1338, Arabic translation in al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 141.
  • 49 Bushehri, p. 1.

27By 1923 the ‘Ajam School had become an established institution in Manama. After a period of collecting donations from a number of the ‘Ajam merchant families, the building was finally constructed in the Ḥammām district, by Zār Ḥaydar Bannā in 1923.48 This building remained its home until it was officially closed in 1996.49

  • 50 Iranian National Archives (INA), 297–11197, p. 164wm.

28In addition to moving into the permanent building, 1923 was a transformative year for the school in several other ways. Prior to this date, the school seems not to have been registered as an Iranian government school. According to paperwork from the Southern Ports District to the Ministry of Education, 17 July 1923 is the official date on which the school opened, with no mention of its prior activities.50 It is at this point that the school begins to exhibit the influence of the central Iranian government, and goes beyond being a project of local ‘Ajam merchants.

  • 51 Stephenson, 2018. For details regarding the nationalization program, see p. 115–144.
  • 52 INA, 297–1197, p.1 wm–265wm.

291923 marks a point of transition for the Iranian state as well, with Reza Khan’s rise to power as Prime Minister and two years later his crowning as Reza Shah. His reign marked the beginning of major centralizing campaign by the government at Tehran. The second half of the 1920s was characterized by a number of projects to infuse the territory of Iran with a national identity, and also to connect the provinces through infrastructure. In the 1920s, and especially after 1925, a number of government schools were opened across the south of Iran as a part of the nationalization and modernization program of the central state.51 In line with this vision, many of the schools boasted sports teams and foreign language classes.52 Several also held mixed gender classes.

30The ‘Ajam School of Bahrain, which after 1931 was officially called “Ittiḥād‑e Millī” (National Union), is listed and reported on in the same manner as these other schools under the jurisdiction of the Southern Ports District. While the opening year is only reported as 1923, it is clear from the number of students, books, and even sports teams that the school had been running much longer. On paper, the variety of its activities, and also the fact that it is already operating in a facility owned by the school rather than a rented building, more closely resembled the profile of the merchant‑run Sa‘ādat School in Bushehr. However, the more independent and self‑steered nature of the school began to fade as the Iranian government began to assign the curriculum directly.

  • 53 Payk-i Khojasteh was named after the editor, Mostafa Khojasteh, but it is a play on words because (...)
  • 54 Some sources report “Naqī” while others report “Taqī.”
  • 55 The paper notes that he was send by the head of the Ministry of Education in Bushehr. Payk-i Khoja (...)
  • 56 Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016, p. 45–46. From Payk-i Khojasteh, Year 26, No. 1159 (Sunday, 12 Sharivar, 13 (...)
  • 57 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 117.

31According to the Iranian newspaper Payk‑i Khojasteh (“Khojasteh’s Courier”),53 there was a reorganization of the school with the arrival of one ‘Alī Taqī54 Behrūzī in August 1925.55 Behrūzī had graduated from the Sa‘ādat School in Bushehr. The paper states that when he became the director and teacher at the ‘Ajam School, he brought with him recent reforms to the educational system that he had experienced in Bushehr. The newspaper describes him as a young person who worked out of a feeling of love for his country (iss‑e vaan dūstī). It went on to describe him as bringing new activities to the school that it had not previously seen, such as morning drills, uniforms, and Iranian nationalist parades complete with flags and music.56 By 1926 the school had also formed the first football team in Bahrain.57

  • 58 Personal communication, February 7, 2019. In fact, Būshehrī and al-Khalīfa (p. 126) describe the I (...)
  • 59 Persian Gulf Administration Reports, p. 34.
  • 60 INA, 297–11197, p. 165wm.

32While the role of ‘Alī Taqī Behrūzī is contested in Bahrain — the name being unknown to the foremost historian of the ‘Ajam in Bahrain, Alī Akbar Bushehrī58 — the British Political Agent in Bahrain did make note of changes happening around this time. In 1926 he stated that “the Persian school has made excellent progress and boys are taking eagerly to football and other forms of exercise.”59 Ten years later, by 1936, the school had three football teams, and the students were also involved in tennis and volleyball.60

  • 61 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 13.
  • 62 Across the Muslim world, a number of contemporary modern educational projects included the name “T (...)
  • 63 Zār Muḥammad ajjī Ḥaydar ‘Asīrī, who had been the headmaster of the Ittiḥād School from around 19 (...)

33Precisely during this time of rapid change, ‘Abd al‑Nabī Kāzerūnī, one of the major heads of the community and the chair of the school committee, passed away. Al‑Khalīfa reports that upon his death ‘Abd al‑Nabī Būshehrī attempted to take charge and was unable to do so.61 While the exact details of the fissure are unknown, there was some disagreement between Luṭf ‘Alī Shīrāzī and ‘Abd al‑Nabī Būshehrī about the administration of the school that led to the school temporarily breaking into two factions. In September 1928, ‘Abd al‑Nabī Būshehrī founded a new school named Tarbiyat (in Arabic tarbiyya means education or rearing). Roughly a year later the name of the Tarbiyat School was changed to Akhowat (in Arabic ukhūwwa), meaning “Brotherhood.” What is worth noting here is that the nomenclature of the new school, initially “Tarbiyat,” remained in line with the language of Islamic modernism.62 It appears that the separation was the result of personal rather than ideological disagreement.63

  • 64 IOR L/P&S/10/1040, f 382–383.

34In the 1920s a nationalistic fervor began to spread amongst the ‘Ajam in the wake of Reza Shah’s rise to power in 1925, as his modernizing policies promised to propel Iran to modern standards of living. However, by the late 1920s, both of the schools began to ramp up their nationalistic activities to the point of becoming controversial. It was reported by the Persian newspaper Shafagh‑i Sorkh (“The Red Sunset”) that on 5 December 1928 principals of the Iranian schools (plural) were summoned by the consul, who said that playing the drum and fife is forbidden by the government of Bahrain and the Persian flag must not be used on certain occasions.64

  • 65 IOR R/15/2/486, f 23–24.

35In 1931 the two schools merged back into a single one, under the name of Madrase‑ye Ittiḥād‑e Mellī (also called Ittiḥādi‑ye Iranian or Ittiḥādiyeh) until 1970. Even though the ownership of the school was not officially transferred to the Iranian embassy until 1970, by the late 1920s it had taken on a nationalistic Iranian identity. In 1932 British sources portray the Iranian school as a hotbed of Iranian nationalism, noting its frequent parades where the Iranian flag is flown and Iranian hats (initially unbrimmed, as seen in the image below) are required.65

Figure : Image of the early years of the ‘Ajam School in Bahrain (from the Bushehr Shenasi Archive)

Figure : Image of the early years of the ‘Ajam School in Bahrain (from the Bushehr Shenasi Archive)

Geographical Networks

  • 66 abl al-Matīn (15 Shawwāl 1332 gh/7 September 1914, SH 18), p. 11. This differs slightly from the (...)
  • 67 Dashti, 2009, p. 77. After killing the Shaykh of Bushehr, ‘Abd al-Rasūl Madhkūr, in 1832 the centr (...)

36According to abl al‑Matīn, the managing committee upon the opening of the school consisted of: Agā Shaykh Muḥammad Āl ‘Asfūr, ajjī ‘Abd al‑Nabī Tājir Būshirī, ajjī ‘Abd al‑Nabī Tājer Kāzerūnī, ajjī Ḥasan Tājer Dashtī, ajjī ‘Abbās Tājer Būshihrī, Agā Mīrzā Muḥammad Ḥasan Tājer Javāherī Shīrāzī.66 It is worth noting that all of the founders listed in either source are from a particular region of the south of Iran, within a network of cities that connected Bushehr on the coast to Shiraz in the interior. Unlike other regions of the south such as Ahwaz/Khuzestan further west or Lar/Bastak/Hormozgan and Minab/Jashk in the east, the Bushehr province had deeper connections to the interior of Iran and a longer history of direct governance. The last independent rulers of Bushehr, the Āl Madhkūr, an Arab family with tribal lineage connected to Oman, ended in 1853 after the last three shaykhs were killed or ousted by the government authorities from Shiraz.67

  • 68 Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016, p. 42–48.

37The connection to Bushehr is relevant particularly insomuch as we find the influence of the Sa‘ādat School located there, because those who founded the ‘Ajam School in Bahrain were familiar with the Sa‘ādat School and drew from its experiences and resources to shape the ‘Ajam School. We have already seen that the first headmaster and teacher, Mīrzā ‘Alī Dashtī, was recruited from the Sa‘ādat School. Another founder of the Bahrain school was the son of the first principal of the Sa‘ādat School. Over the years, a number of other teachers from Sa‘ādat came to the ‘Ajam School, as well as the curriculum, exams, and supplies.68

Figure : The south of Iran with the Bushehr‑Shiraz region highlighted

Figure : The south of Iran with the Bushehr‑Shiraz region highlighted
  • 69 The term “Avazi” has, in the century that has passed since the publication of the abl al-Matīn ar (...)

38Although according to abl al‑Matīn, the original founders had all come from the same region of Iran, it was not long before Iranian merchants from other regions of southern Iran joined the project. An article published in September 1914 by the founders named above mentions that the “respectable Avazī merchants” became jealous of the “Irānī school” and started gathering funds for their own school. However, when the Avazī-s realized that the school had good teachers, and was engaged only in brotherly tarbiyat and teaching Islam, and stayed away from personal and sectarian issues, they became interested in joining. The article further reports that Muḥammad Sharīf, the top Avazī merchant, was the first to send his son to attend the school.69

  • 70 This is also supported by the fact that one of the last names of the founders of the school is som (...)
  • 71 IOR R/15/2/138, f 51a–b.
  • 72 For further discussion see Al-Dailami, 2014.
  • 73 Khūdmūnī is a Persian/Persianate language term meaning “amongst ourselves.” It is a term that has (...)

39The abl al‑Matīn article makes two contrasts that help us to understand further who the Avazī merchants are. First, we understand them to be distinct from the “Irānī-s,” who are represented by the founders and the instructors. As previously mentioned, in the early years the major actors in establishing the school were connected to the region between Bushehr and Shiraz, a region known as Fars. So, it is reasonable to consider the Fars region as the geographical area connected to the category “Irānī.”70 This was the case at least in the early 20th century before the foundation of the Iranian nation state and other modern legal and administrative changes that transformed “Irānī” to mean “from the state of Iran.” “Avazī,” on the other hand, is a term whose geographical extent is hazier. In a British report from 1929, the ‘Awaḍī-s form one of three Sunni Persian (Iranian) groups in Bahrain, alongside the Khunjī-s — including the Kūhejī-s, and the Kuch Kunārī-s — and the Hūlī-s. Muḥammad Sharīf is listed as the ‘Awaḍī-s’ leader, and as “having sway over the Bastakis.”71 Such distinctions however were not elucidated in abl al‑Matīn, and contemporarily are often grouped together in a single category: “Hawala”72 and more recently, “Khūdmūnī”.73

  • 74 IOR R/15/2/138, f 50. Political Agent, Bahrain to Political Resident, Bushire, 4 November, 1929.

40Secondly, the article alludes to a sectarian difference between the “Irānī-s” and “Avazī-s.” It suggests that because the Avazī-s were Sunnis, they were initially apprehensive about sending their children to the school. However, the Pan‑Islamic appeal convinced them to join. Not only did the Sunnis from Iran send their boys to school there, they also became important members of the board in their own right. For example, Muḥammad ‘Aqīl, the son of the merchant ‘Abd al‑‘Azīz Khunjī, was on the managing committee in the late twenties.74

  • 75 IOR R/15/2/138, f 52. Political Agent, Bahrain to Political Resident, Bushire, 4 November, 1929.
  • 76 INA, 297-11197, p. 143wm.
  • 77 IOR R/15/2/138, f 52. Political Agent, Bahrain to Political Resident, Bushire, 4 November, 1929.
  • 78 Bushehri.

41From the administration to funding, to teachers to pupils, the school’s participants cast a very wide net ethnically, and was at least initially attended by both Sunni and Shi‘i students.75 Thus the colloquial name, “ ‘Ajam School,” should be understood as a term meant to include students from a range of geographical origins and sects. Taking a snapshot of the enrollment in 1936 we find Mīnabī-s, Lingāwī-s, Jashkī-s, Lārī-s, Khunjī-s, Bastakī-s, Farāmarzī-s, Dehdashtī-s, Būshehrī-s, Fārsī-s, Afghānī-s, and Hindī-s (Indians), as well as Arabs from the al‑Ḥasā’ī and Badr families.76 A British report in 1929 noted that Sunni and Shi‘i boys both attended the school, and that funds came from the Persian Government, local Arabs, Persian Shi‘is, and Persian Sunnis (K. B. Muḥammad Sharīf, ajjī Muḥammad Ṭayyib Khunjī).77 In the 1930s, the Ittiḥādiyeh School also employed Sayyid Aḥmad from Ḥaḍramaut to teach Arabic and Khān Bahādūr ‘Abd al‑Qayyūm, an Indian Muslim, to teach English.78

  • 79 INA, 297-11197, p. 164wm.

42It is clear, then, that the drivers of the school saw it to be a broader civilizational and educational project rather than an opportunity to advance the standing of a small number of wealthy merchants’ sons from a similar background. In fact, many of the boys who attended the school were exempt from fees because of their inability to pay. A report submitted to the Iranian government in 1937 (1315 Khorshidi) mentioned that of the 236 students attending the school, 145 attended for free.79

  • 80 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 132.

43However, as the Bahraini government began to open modern schools in the 1940s, the ‘Ajam School’s identity as one of the few opportunities to receive a modern education was slowly diminished.80 Furthermore, given the increasingly tense relationship between Bahrain and Iran, for many Iranians who planned to remain in Bahrain it may have made more sense to send their children to other local schools. However, for those concerned with maintaining their identity as ‘Ajam, the school remained an important resource. The Būshehrī-s, for example, remained involved in the school as committee members and students until the late 1960s. The ownership of the school was then transferred to the Iranian Government, and continued to operate until 1996.

Kuwait Schools

  • 81 Due to conventions for recording and remembering names in the variety of contexts (Persian publica (...)

44The issue of naming and the various cultural norms for recording names presents a particular difficulty for tracking down the history of the early so‑called “Persian schools” in Kuwait.81 While the Western sources referred to them as “Persian” schools, local historical memory and historiography does not make that distinction. Although initially certain communities were tied to particular schools, in continuation of the kuttāb tradition, locally the schools are only identified by the name of the teacher. So, the current state of historiography exhibits a disconnect between several English sources from the 1920s that note “Persian” schools, and local sources that mention schools and kuttāb-s without reference to their serving particular communities.

  • 82 The opening ceremony coincided with the first day of hajj of 1357h. Tārīkh al-Taʿlīm fī Dawlat al- (...)

45The only school that has been referenced in Kuwaiti historiography in connection with the ‘Ajam of Kuwait is al‑Madrasa al‑Ja‘fariyya (the Ja’fariyya School). However, given that it only opened in late 1938, with the official opening ceremony held on 28 January 1939, it could not have been one of the “Persian” schools that the aforementioned Western sources referred to in the 1920s.82

  • 83 Mīrzā is a title that denotes noble lineage. It also is used for people who are related to the Pro (...)

46Bringing Iranian archives into the conversation helps us to begin to fill this gap. In 1936, the Iranian Ministry of Education gathered information on a number of schools operating around the south of Iran, as well as schools run by Iranians in Bahrain and Kuwait. The report on the Kuwait school, called the “Parvaresh (‘Training’) School,” notes that it was established on 9 December 1926. At first glance, the headmaster, one Muḥammad Ḥasan Javāherīpūr, is unrecognizable in Kuwaiti historiography. However, upon further investigation we find his name represented in a multitude of ways by local and Iranian sources, such asMuḥammad Ḥasan Shīrāzī;Muḥammad Ḥasan Javāhirī-Ḥaqīqī;Mīrzā83 Ḥasan Khān;Mīrzā Muḥammad Shīrāzī;Mulla (teacher) Mīrzā;Mīrzā Jawāhirī. While individual students recall his name in some of these ways, and he represents his own name in several other ways, in more official Kuwaiti sources about the history of education his school is referred to as “Mulla Mīrzā’s School”. It is also likely that Mulla Mīrzā was involved with the opening of the ‘Ajam School of Bahrain. Taking into account the number of iterations of his name, he is likely the “Mīrzā Muḥammad Ḥasan Tājir Jawāhirī Shīrāzī” that is mentioned as one of the founders in abl al‑Matīn in 1914.

Mulla Mirza’s School / Parvaresh School

  • 84 INA, 279-28035, Report from Headmaster 15 Khordād, 1309 Shamsī (5 June 1930), p. wm11.
  • 85 Ibid., p. wm13.

47While there is very scant information available about the activities of Mulla Mīrzā’s school, two reports survive, written in his own hand, that shed light on the school’s vision for students, and the specific curriculum. According to the Iranian Ministry of Education (Vizārat‑e Ma‘ārif), the Parvaresh School of Kuwait was established on 9 December 1926 (3 Jamādī al-Thānī 1345).84 It was registered by the ministry as one of many schools falling under the jurisdiction of the Southern Ports District (Banādar‑e Junūb). Though no records regarding the context of its establishment exist, we find that the date of its establishment is roughly contemporary with many other government schools around the south of Iran, but later than the Sa‘ādat School in Bushehr and the ‘Ajam School in Bahrain. Although no evidence has been found that discusses how Mulla Mīrzā decided to go to Kuwait and open the school, given his likely role with the Bahrain school, he may have been sent to set up a similar institution in Kuwait. Mulla Mīrzā’s School was located in Mubārak Square (Barāḥat Mubārak) in the Eastern (Sharq) area, and held in a building or house that was rented for ten rupees a month from one Aḥmad b. Farḥān.85

  • 86 INA, 297–11197, 1315 (1936), p. wm148.
  • 87 Ibid.

48Unlike other schools that reported to the Southern Ports province, and were financed entirely by the government and free to students, the expenses of Mulla Mīrzā’s School were paid through a combination of sources. The students’ tuition in 1936 was 4 rupees (approximately 30 riyals), although a number of students attended for free.86 The Iranian government contributed 480 rupees per year. The other major source of income for the school came from Mulla Mīrzā himself, who, when he was not teaching, worked as a dentist to help cover the school’s expenses. He contributed roughly 360 rupees annually.87

  • 88 Further information about these two personalities is not known at present. Uncovering more informa (...)
  • 89 INA, 279–28035, Report from Headmaster 15 Khordād, 1309 Shamsī (5 June 1930), p. wm14.

49The school appears to have been a labor of love for the headmaster‑dentist, who was also one of the founders alongside Aḥmad Behbehānī and Yūsuf Barakāt.88 Mulla Mīrzā reported on the school’s activities and made requests for materials such as Persian language newspapers to be sent for the students to use to practice reading.89 The report he submitted to the Iranian Ministry of Education in 1930 provides an incredible amount of detail regarding the activities of the school and also offers insight into Mulla Mīrzā’s vision of the school’s aims.

  • 90 Biography of Mulla Ḥasan Muḥammad Ḥasan Ḥusayn al-Kandarī in Al-Khurāfī, 1998, p. 410.
  • 91 Al-ijjī, 1993, p. 83

50The lists of courses show that there was a clear emphasis on modern subjects, although religious elements remained. Reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, history, and science were regular classes alongside tajwīd (recitation of the Qur’an), shari‘a, and “listening to the Qur’an.” Particular to the Kuwaiti and Gulf context was a class in business letter writing, “khuū al‑tijārī.” The school also had a football (soccer) team, which was an important marker of its status as a modern institution. One former student even referred to the school as al‑Madrasa al‑Jughrāfiyya (the Geography School).90 This was probably a nickname signaling its modern status, given that the subject of geography was considered a pillar in modern schooling. Indeed, as mentioned previously, in 1921 when Yūsuf al‑Qinā‘ī and ‘Abd al‑‘Azīz al‑Rushayd were discussing their plans and collecting donations for the modern Aḥmadiyya School in Kuwait, they assured their supporters that the curriculum would contain the subjects of geography and English language.91

  • 92 INA, 27928035 Javāherī-Haqīqī report on the Parvaresh School to the Iranian Ministry of Education, (...)

51In small asides and comments throughout the report, it is apparent that proper tarbiyya (cultivation) is also a part of Mulla Mīrzā’s vision for modern education. Proper tarbiyya should be reflected in the students’ decorum inside and outside the classroom. For example, he institutes a rule that “any students making motor or animal sounds in the alley [leaving the school], or who goes to the sea without permission from their guardian, or makes trouble there [at the seaside] will receive ten lashes with a stick.”92

  • 93 INA, 279-28035, p. wm8. Although interestingly enough the Anglicization of the school’s name on it (...)

52Reporting to the Ministry of Education in Iran, Mulla Mīrzā emphasized his desire to ensure the students remain attached to their (supposed) Iranian culture, and are familiar with affairs inside Iran. He requested newspapers to be sent to that end. The classes included not only modern subjects and sports, but also ones specifically tailored to teach the ‘Ajam students their heritage and language. He emphasized that this was a particular struggle. “Persian should be pronounced as Persian, and Arabic as Arabic,” Mulla Mīrzā instructed in 1930, “anyone pronouncing Arabic letters as Arabic while reading a Persian text will have one point removed.”93 Notes such as these highlight that the students in Mulla Mīrzā’s School were deeply entrenched in local Kuwaiti culture and an Arabic linguistic context.

  • 94 For example, Jamal, 2009, p. 431; Tārīkh al-Taʿlīm fī Dawlat al-Kuwayt, 2002, p. 132.

53What is surprising about the virulent nationalistic pride that comes across in Mulla Mīrzā’s letters to the Iranian government is that they have no resonance in Kuwaiti historiography or historical memory of his school. It is unclear the extent to which Mulla Mīrzā in fact believed his mission to be a nationalistic one, or if the nationalistic language of his reports to the Iranian Ministry of Education was exaggerated to secure necessary funding. In Kuwaiti historiography, the school is never mentioned as teaching Persian, but is rather always mentioned as one of a very small group of schools teaching English prior to 1930.94 Mulla Mīrzā himself reports in 1930 that there are five levels, and each level had two tracks — Persian and English.

  • 95 From lists of students enrolled, INA 297-11197.

54The English language offering was likely the draw for many of the Arab students who came from families such as al-Qinā‘ī, al-Shāya‘, al-Baṣrī, al-Ḥassāwī, al-Ḥijjī, and al-Mishārī.95 But there were plenty of ‘Ajam Kuwaitis in the English section as well. The Ma‘rafī-s, a long-established Kuwaiti merchant family with roots in Iran, were represented in both the Persian-language and English-language sections. For example, ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd (born ~1882) and ‘Abd al-Sattār Ma‘rafī (born ~1883) were enrolled in the Persian and English tracks respectively.

Al-Madrasa (al-Waṭaniyya) al-Ja‘fariyya

  • 96 Jamal, 2009, p. 431.
  • 97 Al-Khurāfī, 1998, p. 410.
  • 98 While the tenure of principals prior to 1942 is unknown, it is known that Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥasan al (...)

55Mulla Mīrzā Ḥasan’s school is said to have closed in the early 1940s.96 Around the same time (1938/1939) the National Ja‘farī School, colloquially referred to as the “Ja‘farī School,” opened. Mulla Mīrzā taught there, along with another teacher from his school, Ḥusām Shīrāzī.97 The fact that Mīrzā Ḥasan became the headmaster of the Ja‘farī School suggests that his school was replaced by the Ja‘farī School.98

  • 99 For more details see Salih, 1992, p. 66–100.
  • 100 The Council also exerted influence over the Baladīya (Municipality) administration, which decided (...)
  • 101 There is a great deal that is unknown about Mulla Ṣāliḥ. While he is known very well in the Britis (...)
  • 102 Al-Rashoud, 2016, p. 127–135.

56The timing of the Ja‘farī School’s establishment and the disappearance of the Mulla Mīrzā School is unlikely to have been coincidental. In 1938, Kuwait was experiencing its most significant political unrest of the 20th century, on which many have written in detail.99 The opposition movement was comprised primarily of merchants petitioning for better administration of the country, as well as a representative council that had been promised to them a number of years earlier. Among the goals of the 1938 movement was the strict control of immigration, particularly from Iran. When the Legislative Council was formed, they exhibited a particularly antagonistic position towards the Iranian community,100 either as a result of animosity towards the Amīr’s Secretary, an Iranian named Mulla Ṣāliḥ, or the more general sense that recent immigrants from Iran were taking Kuwaiti jobs.101 During the unrest, the Iranian community had asked for their own legal and educational facilities, as well as representation on the newly formed council. In addition to denying their requests, the council called for a census and a nationality law establishing Kuwaiti nationality only for those who had arrived in Kuwait before World War 1 — a law that would exclude many of the Iranians.102

  • 103 Lt.-Colonel Harold Richard Patrick Dickson, Kuwait Diaries, 1 February 1939.

57It was exactly during this time of uncertainty about how much power the Legislative Council would have that the Ja‘fariyya School was founded. If it was the case that Mulla Mīrzā’s school was seen as an Iranian nationalist institution, given the events of 1938 it is conceivable that Iranian Kuwaitis were apprehensive about sending their children to this school. In establishing what they named the “National Ja‘farī School” they cast themselves as members of the broader Kuwaiti Shi‘a community, which included both Arabs and Iranians. Harold Dickson, a former British Political Agent then working for the Kuwait Oil Company, noted that the Amīr contributed 2,000 Rupees to the Ja‘fariyya School specifically in appreciation of the loyalty of the community.103 But it appears that loyalty to the Amīr was not predicated on the complete Arabization of the community — Persian language instruction was an important feature of its curriculum, alongside English and Arabic.

  • 104 IOR R/15/5/197. Translation of letter dated 1 July 1944 from Shaikh Abdulla Al-Jabir As-Subah, Hea (...)
  • 105 Tārīkh al-Ta‘līm fī Dawlat al-Kuwayt, 2002, vol. 2, p. 210.

58Eventually, teaching Persian did become an impediment to the full support of the Kuwaiti Government. In 1944 an attempt was made by the Education Council to officially bring the Ja‘fariyya School into the government administration. The Council proposed that the government syllabus be adopted, with the addition of Shi‘i religious instruction. When the school’s administrators insisted on maintaining Persian language instruction, the discussion of integration ended. The Head of the Education Department stated that, “As the local Government is a pure Arab Government and the Education Department does not confess that the Persian language is an official language, we therefore have informed that no other language besides Arabic, except English language, will be taught in the schools.”104 It was the school’s instruction in Persian that prohibited it from becoming a government school, although eventually in other matters it followed a similar curriculum.105

  • 106 For example IOR R/15/5/195 and IOR R/15/5/197.
  • 107 Al-Khurāfī, 1998. For examples, see biographies on pages 919–936, 678–694, 1019–1026, 1030–1046.

59In a similar vein, we should not think of those who were involved with the Ja‘fariyya School — students, teachers, administrators — as ghettoized or ostracized from the broader community. While British colonial reports discuss operations of the school as if it were the sole proprietor of “Shia education” in Kuwait,106 local biographical sources provide ample examples that demonstrate otherwise. Students and teachers (Sunni and Shi‘i) frequently moved between governmental schools and the Ja‘fariyya School.107

Conclusion

60Between 1925 and 1940 several major changes occurred in the Gulf region that challenged the place of the ‘Ajam schools in Kuwait and Bahrain. Like the first modern schools of the 20th century, they had been projects of private subjects connected to broader pan‑Islamic ideas for reforming education in the Muslim world. Through the scant contemporaneous sources we have on the ‘Ajam Schools in Bahrain and Kuwait, it appears that they too were founded and operated under the influence of Islamic modernist ideas about how to be modern and Muslim.

61However, by the mid-1920s, a more nationalistic flavor had been introduced into the curricula. Iran had begun to promote a nationalistic modernizing program that involved massive statewide projects, such as the building of modern infrastructure, and free education. From the perspective of the 1920s, Iran was headed full steam into the future. Iran’s pursuit of modernity was a source of pride to the ‘Ajam of the Gulf. It was within this context that the ‘Ajam School of Bahrain and Mulla Mīrzā’s school in Kuwait embraced both earlier Islamic modernist schooling methods and by the 1920s added to that a nationalistic pride that celebrated Persian language and culture.

62Nationalism of course was not solely the territory of the Iranians. In the 1930s Arab nationalist ideas spread throughout the countries of the Arabian Peninsula as well. Anti‑Iranian politics and new laws aimed at limiting new migrants from Iran caused the ‘Ajam to reconsider their identities. In Kuwait, where the majority of the ‘Ajam were Shi‘i, the community pivoted to embrace a local, Kuwaiti, Shi‘i identity with the establishment of the National Ja‘farī School. In Bahrain, where Iranian identity had been stronger amongst the ‘Ajam, many decided to take up Bahraini nationality but continue to emphasize their Persian linguistic and cultural heritage.

  • 108 Ansari, 1998, p. 41; Al-Rumaihi, 1973, p. 201.
  • 109 Tārīkh al-Ta‘līm fī Dawlat al-Kuwayt, 2002, vol. 2, p. 204.
  • 110 Ibid., p. 211.
  • 111 Ansari, 1998, p.45.

63Finally, the widespread establishment of free government schools and ministries of education in both Kuwait and Bahrain also played a significant role in the dissolution of the primacy of the ‘Ajam schools. By 1941 there were eight government schools for boys and four for girls in Bahrain, which together enrolled slightly under 2,000 students.108 In 1936 the Kuwaiti government took over the administration of al‑Mubārakiyya and al‑Aḥmadiyya schools and by 1941 was operating one school for girls in each of the three major areas of Kuwait City. Although the Ja‘fariyya School in Kuwait continued to flourish (the enrollment was 378 in 1960),109 it was also the case that many students from there moved to the Sharqiyya government school after it was opened in 1942.110 While in previous decades the ‘Ajam schools held special positions in their respective countries as one of the few institutions of modern education, in the 1940s they both became one of many such institutions.111

Appendix: Founders of the “‘Ajam School” in Bahrain According to Four Sources

Appendix: Founders of the “‘Ajam School” in Bahrain According to Four Sources
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Al‑Zayd Khālid Sa‘ūd, al‑Shāʿir Muammad Mullā usayn: ayātahu wa‑Āthārahu, [Kuwait, self-published], 1998.

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Notes

1 Sayyid ‘Umar ‘Āṣim and Ḥāfiẓ Wahba are two examples of Islamic modernist teachers (from Izmir and Egypt respectively) who were recruited after meeting Kuwaiti merchants in Bombay to come to Kuwait and teach in modern schools. For more details, see Al-Rashoud, 2016, p. 61–74.

2 My choice of the word “‘Ajam” to describe these communities who migrated from Iran to the western shores of the Gulf is derived from local usage. The British Government’s use of the term “Persian” is problematic because it suggests a common linguistic or ethnic origin. “Iranian” is more acceptable in that it ties people to the territory from which they migrated. In this article however, the schools served, and were built by, members of the community who were known collectively, and have long referred to themselves as the ‘Ajam — particularly in the case of Bahrain.

3 During this time, tens of thousands of people migrated from the southern shores of Iran to Kuwait, Bahrain, and Dubai. Stephenson, 2018, p. 51–77. For example, the Political Resident in Bushehr estimated that the number of ‘Ajam in Kuwait had risen from 1,000 out of a population of 38,000 in 1910 to 10,000 of a total population of 65,000 in 1938. IOR R/15/5/205, f258 Political Resident, Bushehr to J.P. Gibson, The India Office, London, 19 October 1938.

4 Fortna argues that modern education in the Ottoman Empire was neither inherently “secular” nor “Western” and that the religious ulama were deeply involved in developing and managing the so-called secular, modern education. See Fortna, 2002, p. 13–18.

5 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 116–120.

6 Ibid., p. 464.

7 The Legislative Council instated free public education in Kuwait in 1938. See Al-Rashoud, 2016, p. 130.

8 Al-Rumaihi, 1973, p. 185; al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 106.

9 Although girls attended the traditional kuttāb, the first modern and locally-run girls’ school in Bahrain was opened in 1928. Despite the criticism it received, a second public girls’ school was opened two years later. Al-Rumaihi, 1973, p. 196–197.

10 Al-Rashoud, 2016, p. 59–67. Riḍā visited Kuwait in May 1912 on his way back to Cairo from Bombay.

11 Tārīkh al-Taʿlīm fī Dawlat al-Kuwayt, vol. 1, 2002, p. 105–115. The organizers later rescinded their request after Riḍā’s contentious visit to Kuwait.

12 Al-Rashoud, 2016, p. 66–67.

13 IOR/R/15/1/713/2: Administration Report 1921, p. 65.

14 Al-Rashoud, 2016, p. 71. These updates to the curriculum were similar to others appearing across the Muslim world at the turn of the 20th century, for example the Ḥaḍramī Jam‘īyyat al-Khayr (Benevolent Society) opened in 1906 in Java and taught geography, mathematics, English, Islamic history, and Arabic. See Freitag, 1999, p. 165–83; Bang, 2007, p. 461. For more details on Islamic modernism and education in Indonesia, see Laffan, 2003.

15 In his dissertation, Rumaihi remarks that the official date given by the Bahrain Government for the opening of the school is 1919, but after his extensive research he concludes that it couldn’t have been until several years later. Al-Rumaihi, 1973, p. 192–193.

16 The Government of Bahrain Administrative Report for the Years 1926–1937 recalls that many members of the educational committee were themselves illiterate, but wealthy, merchants. ajjī Yūsuf Fakhrū, a Muharraq merchant of Iranian origin, was chosen to be the treasurer but was reported to have taken control of all finances and administration. IOR/R/15/1/750/1.

17 Khouri, 1980, p. 89; al-Rumaihi, 1973, p. 193.

18 IOR/R/15/1/750/1, The Government of Bahrain Administrative Report for the Years 1926–1937, p. 31.

19 Crystal, 1990, p. 41.

20 See for example IOR/R/15/1/750/1, The Government of Bahrain Administrative Report for the Years 1926–1937 and discussion in IOR/R/15/1/545 From Political Agent, Kuwait to Political Resident, Bushire 23 April, 1936.

21 Fuccaro, 2009, p. 73–75.

22 Fuccaro, 2009 and 2011; Onley, 2005 and 2009.

23 For further details on the waves of Iranian migrants arriving in Bahrain and Kuwait in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, see Stephenson, 2018, p. 51–77.

24 Onley, 2009.

25 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 141.

26 In this context Ajam refers to Iranians who are local to Bahrain, and particularly in the context of schooling it distinguishes local Ajam teachers from “Iranis” who are sent to Bahrain to teach and eventually return to Iran.

27 Such as Ashkanānīs multiple volumes of afaāt min al-Dhākira (2008–2011), and the encyclopedic compilation by al-Khurāfī, Murabbūn min Baladī.

28 Other interview-based publications such as Al-Loughani’s interview-based works on various districts of Kuwait often include similar information.

29 Neglected Arabia, No. 142, July, August, September 1927. ‘Abd al-Ḥusayn al-Sayyid Zāhid al-Mūsawī’s school is most likely one of the three. This school was held at night under an ‘arīsh and focused on English language instruction. Jamal, 2009, p. 432.

30 Neglected Arabia, No. 142, July, August, September 1927.

31 IOR R/15/5/195 273. From Political Agent, Kuwait to Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Bushire, 10th July 1939.

32 Calverley, 1958, p. 14.

33 Other journals circulating throughout the Ottoman Empire, Russian Empire, and the Indo-Malay world carried on discussions pertaining to regional or communal matters, but also engaged with ideas in the Arabic speaking world. For example, the Jadidist newspaper Perevodchik/Tercüman published in Russian and Turkish; Kazan Muhbiri in Turkish; Persian-language Siraj al-Akhbar in Afghanistan; Urdu-language Tehzeeb-ul-Akhlaq in India.

34 Parvin, abl al-Matīn, p. 431–434.

35 As a widely circulated newspaper, it was also a proponent of and advocate for modern education throughout Iran.

36 The designation hijrī-qamarī is a way of distinguishing the hijrī date in the Iranian calendar calculated by lunar, Islamic months. This dating system was used until the beginning of the reign of Reza Shah on 31 March 1925 when the calendar was calculated by the Persian calendar using solar months.

37 It is referred to as the “mother of the schools of the south [of Iran].” See Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016; Dashtī, 2006, p. 146–160.

38 Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016, p. 42. He specifically mentions Mīrzā ‘Abbās Irānī and Mīrzā ‘Alī Dashtī.

39 abl al-Matīn (18 Rabī‘ al-Thānī 1332gh / 16 March 1914, SH 33), p. 10–11; Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016.

40 Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016, p. 42. He also mentions that the Cultural Administration of Bushehr contributed funds to the school.

41 Bushehri, p. 1.

42 The initial headmaster, a certain Agā Shaykh ‘Abd al-Karīm, was not up to the task.

43 abl al-Matīn (18 Rabī‘ al-Thānī 1332gh / 16 March 1914, SH 33), p. 10–11.

44 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p.106. Here al-Khalīfa is likely referring to the King’s Order in Council.

45 Ibid., p. 106.

46 Ibid., p. 110.

47 Ibid., p. 162.

48 Khojasteh, 1338, Arabic translation in al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 141.

49 Bushehri, p. 1.

50 Iranian National Archives (INA), 297–11197, p. 164wm.

51 Stephenson, 2018. For details regarding the nationalization program, see p. 115–144.

52 INA, 297–1197, p.1 wm–265wm.

53 Payk-i Khojasteh was named after the editor, Mostafa Khojasteh, but it is a play on words because “Khojasteh” means “good fortune.”

54 Some sources report “Naqī” while others report “Taqī.”

55 The paper notes that he was send by the head of the Ministry of Education in Bushehr. Payk-i Khojasteh, Year 26, No. 1159 (Sunday, 12 Sharivar, 1354 [1975]).

56 Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016, p. 45–46. From Payk-i Khojasteh, Year 26, No. 1159 (Sunday, 12 Sharivar, 1354 [1975]).

57 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 117.

58 Personal communication, February 7, 2019. In fact, Būshehrī and al-Khalīfa (p. 126) describe the Iranian-born ‘Alī Akbar Pakrawan as having a similar influence during his reign as principal from 1926–1929.

59 Persian Gulf Administration Reports, p. 34.

60 INA, 297–11197, p. 165wm.

61 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 13.

62 Across the Muslim world, a number of contemporary modern educational projects included the name “Tarbīyya”, which, beyond the meaning of simply “education”, gives the sense of proper rearing and nurturing.

63 Zār Muḥammad ajjī Ḥaydar ‘Asīrī, who had been the headmaster of the Ittiḥād School from around 1925 to 1928, broke off to join Būshehrī as the headmaster of the second school, Tarbiyat/Akhovat. Cf. Bushehri. p. 3.

64 IOR L/P&S/10/1040, f 382–383.

65 IOR R/15/2/486, f 23–24.

66 abl al-Matīn (15 Shawwāl 1332 gh/7 September 1914, SH 18), p. 11. This differs slightly from the Bushehri Archive which does not mention Shaykh Muḥammad Āl ‘Aṣfūr or Mīrzā Muḥammad Ḥasan Tājer Javāherī Shīrāzī, but instead includes Abū al-Qāsim Luṭf ‘Alī Shīrāzī.

67 Dashti, 2009, p. 77. After killing the Shaykh of Bushehr, ‘Abd al-Rasūl Madhkūr, in 1832 the central Iranian government began to make serious attempts to control Bushehr. Shaykh Naṣr, the son of ‘Abd al-Rasūl, fled to Kuwait. Mozafarīzādeh, 1395/2016, p. 311.

68 Mashāyekhī, 1395/2016, p. 42–48.

69 The term “Avazi” has, in the century that has passed since the publication of the abl al-Matīn article in 1914, taken on new meaning around the Gulf. Therefore, it is important that we proceed with caution when trying to pinpoint exactly to whom this article is referring. At the most basic level it refers to people from the town of ‘Awaḍ, located between Lar and Khunj in the region of Fars. Although it is written in abl al-Matīn with the Persianized pronunciation “Avazi,” as late as 1895, the name appeared as ‘Awaḍ on an official Qajar map. See Īyālat-e Fārs dar dorān-e Nāsirī 1313 hijrī-qamarī – 1895 milādī, 1383.

70 This is also supported by the fact that one of the last names of the founders of the school is sometimes recorded as “Irani” and sometimes “Shirazi.” See Appendix. For more details on the geographical networks that connected southern Iran to Bahrain see Stephenson, 2018.

71 IOR R/15/2/138, f 51a–b.

72 For further discussion see Al-Dailami, 2014.

73 Khūdmūnī is a Persian/Persianate language term meaning “amongst ourselves.” It is a term that has gained traction in more recent years and embraces a non-Arab heritage, in contrast to the term “Hawala” which makes a claim to Arab origins. Khūdmūnī as it is used today encompasses Bastakī-s, ‘Awaḍī-s, Lārī-s, and Khūnjī-s, among others found in and around the Fārs region of Iran.

74 IOR R/15/2/138, f 50. Political Agent, Bahrain to Political Resident, Bushire, 4 November, 1929.

75 IOR R/15/2/138, f 52. Political Agent, Bahrain to Political Resident, Bushire, 4 November, 1929.

76 INA, 297-11197, p. 143wm.

77 IOR R/15/2/138, f 52. Political Agent, Bahrain to Political Resident, Bushire, 4 November, 1929.

78 Bushehri.

79 INA, 297-11197, p. 164wm.

80 Al-Khalīfa, 1999, p. 132.

81 Due to conventions for recording and remembering names in the variety of contexts (Persian publications in India versus Iran, the local Bahraini context, and the conventions from Iran that were brought to Bahrain when the Iranians migrated), uncovering the transregional history of these schools can be particularly complicated. The local Gulf sources recall names in such a way that the father’s name is often included. They also sometimes drop the second name of a personal name if it is a compound (murakkab) name. In addition to the title “ajjī,” local sources also often record titles like “Kal,” meaning that the person had made pilgrimage to Karbālā’. For example, in abl al-Matīn, one name appears as “ajjī ‘Abd al-Nabī Tājer Kāzerūnī,” whereas in the Bushehri Archive it is “Haji ‘Abdulnabi Kal ‘Awad Kazeruni.” The table in the Appendix highlights some of these discrepancies with regard to the founders of the ‘Ajam School of Bahrain.

82 The opening ceremony coincided with the first day of hajj of 1357h. Tārīkh al-Taʿlīm fī Dawlat al-Kuwayt, vol. 2, 2002, p. 210.

83 Mīrzā is a title that denotes noble lineage. It also is used for people who are related to the Prophet Muḥammad only through their mother’s lineage.

84 INA, 279-28035, Report from Headmaster 15 Khordād, 1309 Shamsī (5 June 1930), p. wm11.

85 Ibid., p. wm13.

86 INA, 297–11197, 1315 (1936), p. wm148.

87 Ibid.

88 Further information about these two personalities is not known at present. Uncovering more information about them would help to determine the possible connections between the Kuwait and Bahrain schools, and possibly the Sa‘ādat School in Bushehr.

89 INA, 279–28035, Report from Headmaster 15 Khordād, 1309 Shamsī (5 June 1930), p. wm14.

90 Biography of Mulla Ḥasan Muḥammad Ḥasan Ḥusayn al-Kandarī in Al-Khurāfī, 1998, p. 410.

91 Al-ijjī, 1993, p. 83

92 INA, 27928035 Javāherī-Haqīqī report on the Parvaresh School to the Iranian Ministry of Education, p. wm8.

93 INA, 279-28035, p. wm8. Although interestingly enough the Anglicization of the school’s name on its official stamp is “Parwaresh” rather than the standard Persian “Parvaresh.”

94 For example, Jamal, 2009, p. 431; Tārīkh al-Taʿlīm fī Dawlat al-Kuwayt, 2002, p. 132.

95 From lists of students enrolled, INA 297-11197.

96 Jamal, 2009, p. 431.

97 Al-Khurāfī, 1998, p. 410.

98 While the tenure of principals prior to 1942 is unknown, it is known that Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥasan al-Mūsawī became the principal in 1942 and remained in that position for 25 years. Mīrzā Hasan was the principal prior to al-Mūsawī, but held the role after Jāsim Ismā‘īl Ma‘rafī. Tārīkh al-Taʿlīm fī Dawlat al-Kuwayt, vol. 2, 2002, p. 210.

99 For more details see Salih, 1992, p. 66–100.

100 The Council also exerted influence over the Baladīya (Municipality) administration, which decided to deport Iranian migrants back to Iran. 1998, p. 191.

101 There is a great deal that is unknown about Mulla Ṣāliḥ. While he is known very well in the British imperial records, there is much local debate in Kuwait about his ethnicity and sect. What is known is that he came from southwest Iran, spoke and was highly literate in both Persian and Arabic, and was a defender of the ‘Ajam community in the 1930s.

102 Al-Rashoud, 2016, p. 127–135.

103 Lt.-Colonel Harold Richard Patrick Dickson, Kuwait Diaries, 1 February 1939.

104 IOR R/15/5/197. Translation of letter dated 1 July 1944 from Shaikh Abdulla Al-Jabir As-Subah, Head of the Education Department, Kuwait, to Mr. F.J. Wakelin, Educational Adviser.

105 Tārīkh al-Ta‘līm fī Dawlat al-Kuwayt, 2002, vol. 2, p. 210.

106 For example IOR R/15/5/195 and IOR R/15/5/197.

107 Al-Khurāfī, 1998. For examples, see biographies on pages 919–936, 678–694, 1019–1026, 1030–1046.

108 Ansari, 1998, p. 41; Al-Rumaihi, 1973, p. 201.

109 Tārīkh al-Ta‘līm fī Dawlat al-Kuwayt, 2002, vol. 2, p. 204.

110 Ibid., p. 211.

111 Ansari, 1998, p.45.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure : Image of the early years of the ‘Ajam School in Bahrain (from the Bushehr Shenasi Archive)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4887/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 145k
Titre Figure : The south of Iran with the Bushehr‑Shiraz region highlighted
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4887/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 97k
Titre Appendix: Founders of the “‘Ajam School” in Bahrain According to Four Sources
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4887/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 131k
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Lindsey Stephenson, « Between Modern and National Education: The ‘Ajam Schools of Bahrain and Kuwait », Arabian Humanities [En ligne], 12 | 2019, mis en ligne le 12 mars 2020, consulté le 28 mars 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cy/4887 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/cy.4887

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Lindsey Stephenson

Department of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University

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