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Description of Muharram commemoration in Bahrain from Papers of Charles Dalrymple-Belgrave,1926-1957

Shia Islam

Quran and Ahlul-Bayt a.s.
Premium Member
Detailed multi-pages Description of Muharram commemoration in Bahrain from Papers of Charles Dalrymple-Belgrave,1926-1957

Charles Dalrymple-Belgrave brushed up his Arabic at the School of Oriental and

African Studies in London and arrived in Bahrain in March 1926. He became Advisor to the Government of Bahrain in 1933, a position which he held until 1949. Belgrave remained in Bahrain until 1957. He died in 1969.

The following quotes from Charles Belgrave diaries describing Muharram commemoration in Bahrain, were taken from diaries of different years, or rather decades, in most of the cases we did not record the years. We posted the quotes as they are without correcting even the typo mistakes. We have put some side title, which were mostly copied from the diaries themselves:

New Moon:

New moon, the beginning of Muharram. I shall go to some of the prayer meetings this season.

The mystery play (on the10th Muharram)

In the morning everyone went down to the big square near the mosque to see the Muharram procession. M & Mrs Holmes & the others went to a house in the square belonging to a Persian watchmaker where he had arranged an upper room for the English ladies. They had a good view and were quite cool. I stood outside the mosque in the crowd and then climbed onto the edge of the mosque where I got a good position for taking photographs, I had Hamood with me and several attendants.

Before the procession I went to a place where the men were beginning to cut themselves with swords, this year the Baharna as well as the Persians took part in the sword play which is a new departure. The procession was the best and biggest I have ever seen here, there were hundreds & hundreds of men taking part in it and the sort of episodes were very well acted. Some of the things were very realistic and several "corpses" looked most alarmingly lifelike. One especially which was supposed to be a man with his head cut off was very cleverly done, in another there was a lion which was supposed to be eating a dead man, very gory and realistic. The thing is really a sort of mystery play showing the history of the Shia martyrs who were killed

1300 years ago and it is acted on 10th Muharram every year. This year there were hundreds of men beating their chests, flaying their backs with bunches of chains, & cutting themselves with swords besides all the actors and the people carried in litters etc. Afterwards most of the performers came round to our house so that I could photograph them - an entirely new idea, but much to my disappointment I only had two or three films left.

The Sword play (on the 10th Muharram):

Went down in the morning with Alban to see the Muharram procession. First went into the place to see them cutting themselves before the show, rather a horrible sight, a great arch of men & boys in white clothes going round & round, shouting "Hardar" with drums in the centre, each man flourishing a sword. Gradually get worked up & slash themselves over the forehead, having shaved off their hair for the occasion, their clothes become absolutely covered with blood. Left there & went onto the roof of the Jew's house from where we watched the show, it is just like a mystery play, they act the battle & the whole thing, on horses & camels, men dressed as women & some in uniform & armour. All the while thousands of women on the housetops screaming & crying. Quite a cool day.

More detailed description of the Muharram show:

..de Grenier & I went down the town to see the Muharram show, its a great occasion among the Shia Mahomedans of whom there are a great many here. In Baghdad & most places no Christians are allowed anywhere near the place. It was really a most amazing show. We were the guests of an old Shia man & sat for a while outside his house, also I had the head of the police with me, an escort of policemen carrying torches, so we did the thing in style. The show consisted of a procession which went through all the streets, halting awhile outside the mosques, first a number of old men carrying banners, some of them very beautifully embroidered, from the mosques, & then about a couple of thousand men, stripped except a waist cloth, beating their chests & scourging themselves with chain whips, all in a sort of religious frenzy shrieking & yelling, & on all the roofs thousands of women screaming, tearing their clothes & throwing sand on themselves, all by the light of torches & a moon. Really awonderful sight - but not pleasant. We watched it from several places & then motored back. The show is held on the anniversary of the murder of Hussein & Hosein, two disciples of Mahomed who are the two special saints of Shia Mohamedans.

The frantic state of excitement!

The third & most important day of Muharram. Public holiday. Went to the office after an early breakfast & then to Daly's where we started the work. Very hot damp day. At 9.30 Daly & I motored down to the square behind the biggest mosque & went up onto the top of a house belonging to some Jews. The sides of the square simply packed with people & all the roofs crowded with women, in black, all howling & crying. The procession really looked rather like a circus, flags & banners & then all the figures, like a mystery play, from the story of Hussein & Hosein, the corpses, very realistic & covered in blood, one headless corpse, very unpleasant, horses covered in gore, wives, prisoners, Hoseins house, an affair of cardboard & tinsel, & camels & horses etc etc, really amazing, then thousands of men beating themselves & then, the pièce de resistance, about 50 men carrying swords & cutting themselves across the forehead, dressed in white clothes simply covered with blood!

Altogether rather a nasty sight on a hot day! After a while we motored on to the Quadi's house & watched the whole procession pass again from there. One of the queerest things was seeing the frantic state of excitement among the women. We saw two of the performers fall down in a sort of faint - & no wonder. I'm glad M didn’t come. She had been going to but Daly sent a message saying that he didnt recommend it.

to be continued..


Shia Islam

Quran and Ahlul-Bayt a.s.
Premium Member
A most interesting sight:

We went to the "Matem" of one Abdel Nebi Bushiri & were given seats outside where we saw through the windows. A most interesting sight. Hundreds of men sitting inside so crowded that they could hardly move, a lot of chandeliers with candles in them lighting the room & at one end a sort of high throne draped with green banners, all the walls hung with black. First two men were reciting, then a sort of priest from Bushire spoke, extremely well, reading from the Koran & reciting the story of Hassem. He played on the audience making them sob & moan.

Outside crowds of women moaning & sobbing & beating their heads. The two men who spoke were extremely good, far better than the average parson, & the effect on the audience was wonderful. Stayed till after midnight & then motored home.

At the “Matem”, the preachers work up the audience to a frenzy!

After dinner went down the town with Saleh to hear some of the Muharram readings. Not a great many people.

Sat and listened at two Matems. One man was very good in a very melodramatic way. The matems are big buildings rather like mosques, with rough arches and pillars, sometimes below the level of the ground. The walls and the pillars are draped with black stuff and the floors covered with matting. The preacher sits on a sort of throne, dressed in black robes with a coloured headcloth and an argul, crowds of men and boys sit all over the floor space. When the preacher comes to the tragic parts they all sob and moan, rocking to and fro. The best preachers work up the audience to a frenzy. One of them was certainly very good. Got back quite late.

It was It really is a very interesting show! (10th Muharram):

..went down to see the Muharram procession…The show was very good. I took a lot of photos of it so hope some will come out. I did not go onto the roof of the Jew's house but stayed down below in the crowd, with Pennings who happened to be there. We went in and watched them cutting themselves with swords and then went back and saw the procession from the square in the shade of the big mosque. The crowd came so near that Pennings got his shirt all splattered with the blood of the swordsmen. When it was over we cut back and saw it pass again near one of the Shia mosques. As they passed one man fell down in a sort of faint. It really is a very interesting show.

The old Matems which are very like old country churches

Prior and Parke came to dinner and afterwards I went down the town with them to look on at some of the Matems where they have the special Muharram preachers. It seemed to me rather a poorer show than last year, people are all so poor this year that they have not been able to hire such good men. We didnt stay very long and the most interesting part is later on when they get worked up, that we missed. The procession at night through the narrow streets with people carrying torches and all the queer sort of symbolical biers and things looks very effective. Had a great many very nasty sweet drinks which made me feel rather sick. Some of the old Matems are very like old country churches with pillars and arches and in some cases carved wooden pillars which are very handsome. The preacher sits on a high sort of throne in the centre and the people sit on the floor, on mats, all round, during part of the time they can smoke and drink coffee but later on this is not done. There was a lot of fuss about some of the people using some of the musical instruments belonging to the school for the procession, the ones who had not thought of it were very angry and said they would smash them if they appeared.

Some of the men from the Oil Camp start to watch the Show! [10th Muharram]

Went down the town after breakfast, left my car at the Bank and went round the place watching the procession. I did not go to the big square as I find it is easier to get photos from the other streets. I took twelve. Mohamed Yatim now sells films that fit my camera which is convenient. The show seems to get bigger and bigger every year, there were

certainly more men with swords than last time I saw it and I never saw such a lot of blood. About six men collapsed but I dont think any of them were really badly damaged. I dodged about and watched it from several different places. I met Pennings who said he had been standing in the square under the mosque and found it very unpleasant as the

swordsmen came so near to him that he had difficulty in dodging the swords. There were no incidents and it all went off very well. It was very hot in the town, a south wind. I saw some of the men from the Oil Camp in the distance looking on, they had never seen the show before.

It is always an interesting thing to see the biggest night! (Thursday May 4th 1933)

The office was shut owing to Muharram. Dr & Mrs Holmes came to dinner & after dinner he and I went down the town and visited all the Matems, it is the biggest night of the Muharram celebrations and always an interesting thing to see. First we went to the Persian Matem where we sat on the roof and looked down into the hall which was brilliantly lit and full of people. We were rather early but we saw a new feature which has been introduced this year, all the boys of the Persian school marched in dressed in black with sawdust on their heads (which kept on slipping down their necks and tickling them) and they sung some verses and some of them recited, it was a gloomy performance but the small boys seemed to enjoy it and surreptitiously dropped things down eachothers necks. We visited all the Matems but on the whole the standard of the preaching was not as good as usual, only one of the mullahs was really good and he was extremely dramatic and made his audience sob and cry. As they all have so little money this year they were unable to hire professional preachers from Persia or Iraq and the local talent is not up to much. We stayed until the procession had finished, this was better than usual as they had illuminated all the effigies and things which they carry with electric light. One of these things is a great model of a mosque with golden domes and minnarets carried by half a dozen men, this had little lights on each dome and looked really fine. We saw several of my staff taking part in the show, they are always rather embarrassed when they see me looking on. Its a wonderful sight this procession at night, torches, horses, camels and hundreds of men beating their chests all in & out among the narrow lanes of the bazaar.

Wonderfully varied crowd of Americans, European Jews & all sorts of other people! (10th Muharram 1944)

Spent all the morning in the town at the Muharran procession, it was larger & took longer than any other year, a lot of Iraquis & foreign persons took part in it but all went off smoothly. The crowd was wonderfully varied, so different to the old style, Americans, European Jews who are working at RAF & all sorts of other people, but all very orderly.

Shia Islam

Quran and Ahlul-Bayt a.s.
Premium Member
The Shiites of Bahrain are ruled by Sunni ruling family. During the colonial era the Shiites where given some level of religious freedom.

Belgrave was not working for the British but rather for the rulers of Bahrain.

Although he was the advisor of the rulers, Belgrave was a important person to Shiites. He speaks Arabic and would attend the ceremonies of commemorating the tragedy of Ashura and woud be affected by it.

Bahrainis are still remembering him and his family.

He lived most of his life in Bahrain. His only son was born, lived, died and buried in Bahrain. his name was James.

A Bahraini writer has written a book about James. i have not read that book.

James had two daughters. I know nothing about them.

i will post some photos about this British family, which became part of Bahrain's history.

Shia Islam

Quran and Ahlul-Bayt a.s.
Premium Member
hi all,
i would like to say that in Bahrain there is a great interest in the life of this man and his son, who was the first British to be born, lived, died and buried in Bahrain.

His son's name was James. James had two daughters. I don't know anything about their lives

A Bahraini writer has written a book about James.

Finally, it must be said that Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni ruling family, while the majority of the people are Shiites.

Belgrave worked as an advisor to the rulers, rather than the British.

He speaks Arabic well, and was very close to the Shiites. He would participate in their Ashura ceremonies, and would show affection for the tribulations of Imam Hassain!

He played a great role in the recent history of Bahrain.

In the following posts i will start to post some photos about Belgrave and his lovely family!

Shia Islam

Quran and Ahlul-Bayt a.s.
Premium Member
This is from: thepeerage.com:

Sir Charles Dalyrymple Belgrave:

d. 28 February 1969

Sir Charles Dalyrymple Belgrave was the son of Dalrymple James Belgrave. He married Marjorie Lepel Barrett-Lennard, daughter of Sir Richard Fiennes Barrett-Lennard, 4th Bt. and Lepel Julia Pearse, on 27 February 1926.1 He died on 28 February 1969.1
He was financial advisor to the ruling sheiks of Bahrain between 1926 and 1957.1 He was appointed Knight Commander, Order of the British Empire (K.B.E.)1

Child of Sir Charles Dalyrymple Belgrave and Marjorie Lepel Barrett-Lennard

• James Hamed Dacre Belgrave+ b. 22 Apr 1929

James Hamed Dacre Belgrave:

b. 22 April 1929

James Hamed Dacre Belgrave was born on 22 April 1929. He is the son of Sir Charles Dalyrymple Belgrave and Marjorie Lepel Barrett-Lennard. He married Enid Mary Coates, daughter of R. H. C. Coates, on 16 November 1955.

Children of James Hamed Dacre Belgrave and Enid Mary Coates:

• Emma Caroiline Prudence Belgrave b. 20 Apr 1957

• Sarah Thoraya Charlotte Belgrave b. 22 Dec 1959

Shia Islam

Quran and Ahlul-Bayt a.s.
Premium Member
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Belgrave gave his son many names, including the name of the ruler.

When his son became ill, he was treated by reciting the Quran!

He was not a Muslim though.

Shia Islam

Quran and Ahlul-Bayt a.s.
Premium Member
It seems that nobody liked this topic :(:D

this topic is not meant to be a very religious one..