Raḥmah bin Jābir (c. 1760-1826) is one of the most frequently cited persons in sources from the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf around the turn of the eighteenth century, yet he has received almost no scholarly attention, in English or in Arabic. Raḥmah was leader of the Āl Jalāhimah family, part of the Al-ʿUtūb, moving between the present-day states of Kuwait, Qatar, and Iran. When he is mentioned, he is always labeled a pirate. This article questions how historians might reimagine the Gulf through Raḥmah’s eyes in ways more closely attuned to local perspectives. I argue that, rather than a mere “pirate,” Raḥmah was a political entrepreneur whose life can be mapped against local, regional, and global transformations in which the Gulf became a globally connected space, one in which “global” is not a euphemism for British domination. Putting British archival sources in conversation with local Arabic chronicles and travel memoirs, this article highlights Raḥmah as a pivotal figure in the making of the modern Gulf and provides a more textured, horizontal depiction of the political and social landscape than has otherwise been portrayed. This paper contributes to broader historiographical debates centering on more fully incorporating the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf in Middle East studies, and incorporating both into the broader history of the Indian Ocean world.
Indian Ocean Region