The people of the Kingdom of Bahrain celebrate a number of public holidays, some of which are celebrated according to the Islamic calendar and some of which are celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar. As an Islamic country, most Islamic holy days are acknowledged as holidays in accordance with their dates in the Islamic calendar. However, as Bahrain also operates in the Western world largely working to the Gregorian calendar, some holidays are fixed by Gregorian calendar dates.
Islamic Calendar Holidays Celebrated in Bahrain
The Islamic calendar consists of 12 lunar months - around 354 days, some 11 days shorter than a standard solar year. As a result, contrary to European practice, months drift from season to season, a full (albeit approximate) annual cycle being realised in around 32 years. It is suggested that this perhaps indicates a nomadic or seafaring tradition reflecting the importance of navigation rather than an agricultural existence which would reflect the importance of seasons.
The months are:
- Rabia I
- Rabia II
- Jumada I
- Jumada II
The beginning of each month is determined by the first sighting of the New Moon, and as a result, prediction of corresponding European calendar dates is approximate only.
Like the months, the holidays are dictated by the lunar cycle. As such, they can be forecast only approximately in advance. Usually, His Excellency, the Prime Minister announces the holidays as they arise.
1 Muharram - Hijra
Hijra literally translates as a journey for fulfilment of Allah's (God's) work. In this case, the Prophet Mohammed was ordered to travel from his home in Mekkah to Medina to spread word of Islam. This was his Hijra, and is the day that the Muslim calendar started. Thus, this holiday is essentially New Year's Day in the Islamic Calendar.
9, 10 Muharram - Ashura
Ashura literally means 'ten days', and the two public holidays granted come at the culmination of the first ten days of the month of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic year.
During these ten days, the people 'remember' the prophet Mohammed's grandson, Hussain, who was killed by Yazeed. It is a time for mourning and people are generally sombre.
Coincidentally, the time of Ashura also commemorates the lives of the Prophets Moosa (Moses), Younus (Jonah of leviathan fame) and Nooh (Noah of the Ark).
12 Rabia I - Mawlid Al-Nabi
The Prophet Mohammed's birthday is, one might suppose, the Islamic version of the Christian Christmas Day. However, there is none of the irksome commercialism or sentimentality normally associated with a Western Christmas. Indeed, it is not celebrated as an Islamic Holy Day, and its status as a holiday is believed to be unique to Bahrain. There are no special prayers to mark the birth of the Prophet - it's a holiday and that's that.
1 Shawwal - Eid Al-Fitr
The 'celebration of the feast' is a holiday or festivity to mark the end of the month of Ramadan and the start of the following month of Shawwal. Ramadan itself is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, during which the Quran was revealed by Allah (God) to the prophet Mohammed.
During the whole month of Ramadan, people fast between sunrise and sunset and deny themselves some of life's basic pleasures. It, like Christian Lent, is a time of abstinence. Thus the holiday of Eid-Al-Fitr is, conversely, a time to consume.
10 Dhul-Hijja - Eid Al-Adha
Eid Al-Adha, the celebration of the sacrifice, is a time to recognise the need of sacrifice, ie what a man owns does not belong to him but to God. Typically, the head of a Bahraini household will slaughter a goat or sheep for distribution to family, friends and the needy. Indeed, the source of the need for sacrifice is in God's command of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son (Ismael), a story which contributes to the verification that there exists a common root between Islam and Christianity.
The holiday marks the end of the time of Hadj, the pilgrimage to Mekkah.
Also prior to this holiday, Bahraini children are encouraged to nurture plants (eg grass, beans, mustard and cress) grown from seed in flowerpot-sized wicker baskets (Hiya-Biya baskets). At the beginning of Eid Al-Adha, they must throw the baskets into the sea, a ceremony which teaches children the concept of sacrifice in a way that they can understand.
During both Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, it is customary to make monetary donations to children who greet you with the words Eid Mubarrak, which can perhaps best be translated as 'Happy Eid'.
Gregorian Calendar Holidays Celebrated in Bahrain
Together with Hegira, the people of Bahrain are fortunate to be able to celebrate the Gregorian New Year.
1 May, International Labour Day
On 24 September, 2002, His Majesty King Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa ratified a trade union law which, among other things, declares 1 May, the International Labour Day, as an official holiday, commencing, 1 May 2003.
16, 17 December - National Day
Previously a one-day holiday only, celebrated on 16 December to mark independence from British protection which was achieved on 16 December, 1971, National Day was extended to a two-day holiday in 1999, thanks to the generosity of His Majesty King Hamad.