Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammad Al Khalifa at the synagogue renovation site. She was accompanied by Ebrahim Daoud Nonoo, a former member of the appointed Shura Council. Image Credit: Courtesy: BNA

Manama: A Jewish synagogue in the Bahraini capital Manama is to be revamped in the hopes of consolidating its status within the richly diversified local society.

Visiting the religious venue, Minister of Culture Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammad Al Khalifa said that she was looking forward to the renovation of the synagogue as one of the iconic places in Manama that reflected the kingdom’s cultural pluralism.

“The Ministry of Culture is keen on reinforcing bonds with all communities in the Bahraini society, known for their tolerance and centuries-old peaceful coexistence,” Shaikha Mai said.

“Manama has always been famous for being the capital where mosques, churches and synagogues coexist in full harmony without the slightest disagreement,” she said.

In her remarks, emailed to Gulf News, Shaikha Mai commended the Jewish community for its contribution in various sectors, saying that it was a great asset in the cosmopolitan and diversified culture of Bahrain.

“Cultural achievements and accomplishments are for all Bahrainis and we do consider that Bahrainis are the major force in fostering amity and cooperation between all the segments of the social spectrum, thanks to their spirit of understanding, peace-loving mindset and openness,” she said.

Shaikha Mai was accompanied by Ebrahim Nonoo, a former member of the appointed Shura (consultative) Council, the upper chamber of the bicameral parliament.

Bahrain has a small Jewish community of less than 50 members who have their own synagogue and cemetery. Many of the members are descendants of families who settled in the island nation and thrived in business. The community began to settle in Bahrain in the early 1900s and most of its members were traders from Iraq, Iran and India looking for a peaceful place.

Despite the waves of anti-Israel protests since the creation of Israel in the Arab world, no Jewish business has ever been vandalised or destroyed and no shop sign was ever taken down or marred.

The community was represented in the upper chamber of the bicameral parliament by Ebrahim Daoud Nonoo. In 2005, he was replaced by his niece, Houda Ezra Nonoo, a businesswoman who manages Gulf Computers Services, who had made history by becoming the first non-Muslim woman to head a human rights society and the first Jewish woman Member of Parliament in Bahrain.

Houda again made history in 2008 when she became the first Jewish ambassador from an Arab and predominantly Muslim country appointed to the US.

The Jewish community in Bahrain is today represented by Nancy Khadhori in the 40-seat Shura Council (upper chamber)

The Jewish cemetery in Manama, well kept for over 100 years, is next to the Christian graveyard and across the street from the Shiite cemetery and near a Sunni mosque.

According to official figures, Bahrain has 19 officially registered churches.

The National Evangical Church became in 1906 the first church to offer services in Bahrain.

Roman Catholics have two churches, the Sacred Heart Church in Manama, and the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Visitation in Awali, a former oil town in central Bahrain. The Sacred Heart, built in 1940, serves around 140,000 people, mainly Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans.