Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Whatever happened to the Jews of Kuwait ?

According to this article from The Scribe, there was once an ancient community of 200 Jews living in Kuwait until the 1920s. The article claims that there is no evidence that the Jews were kicked out of Kuwait. They sought a better life in King Faisal's Iraq. Clearly, however, the Kuwaiti establishment disapproved of their trade in alcohol. Had they stayed, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1920 would have probably made their lives untenable.

Most of the Jews who lived in Kuwait came originally from Iraq after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 A.D.

In 1776 when Sadeq Khan captured Basra, many of the inhabitants left the country and among them were the Jews who went to Kuwait. With the Jews' efforts, the country flourished with its buildings and trades. Around 1860, their number increased and their trade flourished. The Jews had a market called "The Jews' market, ", next to the Mosque.

It was known that the Jews used to make alcohol and sell it to the public.

The Jews were known to be careful traders. They were mostly wholesalers and worked with India - Baghdad and Aleppo. They even exported to Europe and China.

There were about 80 Jewish families in Kuwait living in one district where the Bank of Trade is now.

The Jews used to wear long gowns (Zboun) and a Fez which made them look different from the others. Some used to wear European suits, but they wore a Fez on their heads. They had their own synagogue with their Sefer Torah. The synagogue had a separate area for the women.

Saturday was a sacred day. Jews did not work on that day. They also had their own cemetery, which shows that they lived there for a long time.

Kuwait's population is now 35,000 and most of them are Arab Muslims. Before 1914 there were about 200 Jews. Most of them went back to Baghdad and a few went to India.

There were two wealthy Jews in Kuwait but the rest were middle class, being jewellers or textile merchants. Among the wealthy Jews were Saleh Mahlab who owned the first ice factory in 1912 and Gurgi Sasson and Menashi Eliahou who were traders and financiers.

When Sheikh Salem al Mubarak came to power in February 1917 - he was the 9th ruler - he wanted to stop the Jews from dealing in spirits. He called them and warned them. There is no evidence that they were kicked out of Kuwait. The truth is that they went back to Iraq when King Faisal lst came to rule Iraq.

Read article in full

The rise and fall of the musical el-Kuwaiti brothers


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting history, would you be able to tell me is there an jews still living in Kuwait or have they all left to Iraq since that time?

bataween said...

All the Jews would have left Kuwait, and by now have left Iraq too.

Anonymous said...

As a shia Kuwaiti of Iraqi origin i think the sentence 'the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1920 would have probably made their lives untenable' is not accurate! i dnt really kno what did u mean by this, do you mean the muslim brotherhood (al ikhwan almuslimen) the one in Egypt ,Syria and other arab countries? if so then this sentence is completely WRONG! because at that time the kuwiti society was too small and too unsofesticated to have that sort of politial movement. On the other hand if you meant Alikhwan which is the name given to the Wahabi army that invaded both Iraq and Kuwait at that time, then yea thats probably right to certain extent, as they attacked shia and non-muslim communities in these countries.

Anonymous said...

I have heared from some sources that there used to be at least two kuwaiti jewish families in 1990 but i dnt kno what happened to the afterwards, they have probably left kuwait to Europe or Israel!

Anonymous said...

Most Kuwaitis right now aren't 'Arab' Muslims. Half of Kuwaitis are ethnically Persian Muslims who speak Arabic but they're origin is Persian.

And the Jews of Kuwait were not kicked out, they left on their own when Israel was established. Kuwaitis didn't mistreat Jews when they lived here.

Anonymous said...

There were Jewish who stayed in Kuwait, Bahrain ..etc but hidden their religion and by time their children became Muslims. My grandfathers were Jewish and I know other families as well whom their grandfathers were Jewish but we are now all Muslims. If you ask my grandfather or others they would try to avoid discussing it and consider it something in the past. It is not safe neither appreciate it if we talk about it or let others know. We as well as others changed the family name so people won't find out. So many discrimination in Kuwait so imagine if they find out our ancestors were Jewish.

bataween said...

That is very interesting, thanks for sharing.

KuwaitUSA said...

I'm Kuwaiti and I find your story to be awesome. I wish we could tell this story to the world. So what if your ancestors are Jewish ? Did you know Bahrains first female ambassador to the United States was a Bahraini Jewish. The issue with Kuwait is House of Sabah are very tolerant toward different attitudes and ideologies and are trying to do that with the Kuwait society but our society is just a bunch of people jealous of each other who care about money and "family names" and all that BS and it's sad. Sad that you have to hide your family's history.

Anonymous said...

KuwaitiAmerican. I am sure you know the situation in Kuwait. It is so diccult not being an Arab or worse to them being a Jewish and love between them. However, I left Kuwait. I lived in Bahrain for years and currently I am in the US. I am proud of my family's history, regardless of what the society say in Kuwait and since now I am in a safer place I am totally open about it. But in Kuwait they must be protective and I dont blame them at all. Our grandfathers worked so hard to build a life for them and their family, so no one wants to ruin. I heard of a young Kuwaiti guy ( I totally forgot his name ) who found out about his family "previous religion" and converted to Judaism and as far as I last heard that he left Kuwait to live in Israel.