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The aims of Professor Raj Brown's book, Islam and Capitalism in the Making of Modern Bahrain, are to trace first the legacy of Bahrain’s early global trading history while invigorating the contributions of imperial history through a serious heritage of law, both British common law as well as legal pluralism. This is not at odds with Shari’a nor with Islamic charities, the waqf, ma’tam and also with Islamic finance as Bahrain rose to be the financial hub in the Gulf States.

Prof Brown traces the challenges of tribes, Shi’ism, while preserving local autonomy, through the ulama and Ja’fari courts, while another distinctive narrative charts how ethical capitalism co-existed with powerful commercial capitalism and merchant elites. The book also notes how the modernity and cosmopolitanism of Bahrain is through cities, the intertwining of urbanism with these tribal elites in Muharraq while powerful mercantile elites dominate Manama.

While tracing the impressive growth of Islamic finance, Prof Brown introduces the sophisticated evolution of the stock market which emerged as a transnational institution attracting investments from the Gulf States, Lebanon and Western investors.

The book aims to reveal the economic issues and the motives of Sunni youth populism in the discussions on the Arab Spring. This resistance was far more vital for constitutional and political changes after 2011 and Dr Brown has curated a wide ranging scholarship on these resistance movements from 1910 to the uprising.

Prof Brown reigns in debates on women and entrepreneurship and the rise of technology through a detailed discussion on the economic diversification in the period after 1990. This was not only a transition from oil dependence but also seeking global markets for aluminium and other products. Here the rise of 'fintech' is a much-needed riposte and a valuable contribution to the liberalization of the economy as well as emancipating women into sustainable economic initiatives. This also was an easing of the grip of a powerful state and conservative Islam.

The book brings together provocative arguments on how authoritarianism reveals multiple aspects, not a singular force. Prof Brown has analysed Syrian politics under Bashar al-Asad to reveal the contrasts with King Hamad. Authoritarianism is subject to setbacks, interruptions and insurgencies orchestrated by impoverished Shi’ites and unemployed Sunni youth. This book challenges existing writings on authoritarianism and repression in Bahrain.

These regional comparisons with Saudi Arabia and Syria provide a teleological unfolding of history that legitimizes contrasts of Bahrain. Through empirical data, Prof Brown has conveyed the complexity of Bahrain’s history.


Raj Brown is Emeritus Professor of International Business at Royal Holloway College, University of London, having previously taught at the London School of Economics and held research positions at the School of Oriental and African Studies and again at the LSE. Prof Brown has published extensively on the economic history of South East Asia and written a monograph comparing economic growth in China and India. Prof Brown is the author of The Indian Minority and Political Change in Malaya 1945-57 [OUP 1981]; Capital and Entrepreneurship in South East Asia [Macmillan 1994]; Chinese Big Business and the Wealth of Asian Nations [Palgrave Macmillan 2000]; The Rise of the Corporate Economy in South East Asia [Routledge 2006]; Islam in Modern Thailand: Faith, Philanthropy and Politics [Routledge 2014]; Chinese and Indian Corporate Economies: A Comparative History of their Search for Economic Renaissance and Globalization [Routledge 2017].

Event details

River Room
Strand Campus
Strand, London, WC2R 2LS