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Protecting Bahrain's Christian heritage...

A TOP historian has urged authorities to protect Bahrain's forgotten Christian heritage, which dates back 2,000 years.

Well-known researcher Dr Ali Ahmed Hilal says key evidence about the religion is buried in Dair and needs to be unearthed before it is lost forever.

Bahrainis were understood to be the first in the region to embrace its teachings and became a Christian state in 420AD, before converting to Islam in the seventh century.

"Christianity unlike paganism has libraries, educational institutes and a religious hierarchy, so most likely it is what's buried under those mounds," said Dr Hilal.

"Unfortunately, most of the burial mounds have been destroyed for infrastructure and urban development.

"A Dutch excavator visited Dair last year and after inspecting all locations insisted that there were many Christian remains that could be unearthed.

"He wanted to bring a team with equipment, but the Culture Ministry refused to give him a permit."

According to Dr Hilal's research, four mosques - Shaikh Ahmed, Baradan, West Dair and Al Raheb (Monk) - are located on historical treasures that should be excavated immediately.

Church

It is understood the Gulf's biggest Episcopal church was formed in nearby Samaheej, which the expert says Bahrain used to be called.

"It was led by Bishop Nestorius in Samaheej, but Monk Tobias contested his teachings and decided to move to Dair, which is just two kilometres away," he said.

"From here the name Dair (monastery) came into existence, while no one knows if Galali (temples) was named by several priests who broke away from the church or it was just part of the expansion of the religion in Bahrain.

"People have to understand that when Bahrain entered into Islam in the early seventh century, it was already ruled by tribe Abd Qais, who were the only Christian rulers in the region, which helped ease the transition."

Dr Hilal said expatriates continued to visit Dair until Bahrain obtained its independence from Britain in 1971.

"Whether British, American or European, we were swamped by visitors during the weekends looking for blessings at the Al Raheb Temple," he said.

"In the 19th and 20th century we were given priority in employment in the British Royal Air Force (RAF) in Busaiteen and free midwifery services in the American Mission Hospital (AMH), which I benefited from as my first daughter was born in 1969.

"The British RAF doesn't exist anymore in Bahrain and AMH doesn't give us distinction anymore."

Dr Hilal is now working on a book detailing the history of the village, called Dair ... Past and Present.

He has been researching the publication since 2004 and has compiled 500 pages in the first volume that will be out by the end of the year.

The 63-year-old, who retired from the Education Ministry as a research development head in 2007, previously worked as research consultant in Amman, Jordan, and as a research expert in the now-dissolved Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research.

He says he turned down a job offer at Bahrain University to focus on his research.

"Work on the book is taking more time than it should because there are no records that I can go to and most information depends on people and if I come across contradictory information it forces me to start from scratch," said Dr Hilal.

"Things that have happened 20 years ago are contradictory so how about things that have happened thousands of years ago!"

St Christopher's Cathedral assistant chaplain Stephen Thanapaul said it was crucial churches in Bahrain worked together to preserve Bahrain's rich Christian heritage.

"In order to make sure the Christian history we have here is not overlooked we need to make sure we have Christian unity," he said. "We must have this in order to preserve the history and heritage of our religion, so all the churches need to get together and talk about how we need to go about doing this. "Working together for that common cause is the only way we will have some influence." mohammed@gdn.com.bh



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