The word ‘Kuwait’ originates from the Arab word, ‘akwat’ meaning “fortress built near water”.
The Failaka Island at the northern coast of Kuwait first came under the claim of the Greeks during the 4th century B.C. Since then, the strategic location of the country has been a favored spot for merchants who were on the constant lookout for a perfect niche to establish their trade. Kuwait’s power has since been handed down from the Mesopotamians to the Sassanid Empire, to the Rashidun Caliphate, and to the Ottoman Empire during which the Bani Utbah clan migrated to the region and established the State of Kuwait. In 1756, the Bani Utbah tribe chose the Al-Sabah family to govern them and the lot fell on Sheikh Sabah I Bin Jaber, the first Emir of Kuwait, and was in semi-autonomous power under the Ottomans. During the era, the country flourished through trade, fishing and pearl fishery.
In 1899, the then ruler Mubarak Al-Sabah signed a treaty with the British Empire in return for its protection from the Ottoman Empire. In 1937, large oil reserves were discovered; and by 1952, Kuwait became the largest exporter of oil in the Persian Gulf region.
By 1961, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah cancelled the 1899 treaty and the country gained independence from the British, after which it became a part of the Arab League. Ever since, Kuwait has enjoyed an unparalleled economic growth owing to its large oil reserves.
However, in the summer of 1990, Kuwait was invaded by its neighbor Iraq on August 2nd; followed by 7 months of scattered battles claiming many lives and the imprisonment of many others. On February 26th, 1991, with great international support and with the help of a US-led coalition; Kuwait re-gained its independence.
The State of Kuwait is nestled in the northeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, with Iraq to its north and west, Saudi Arabia to its south and the Persian Gulf to its east. Its special location has provided it with a great commercial importance, and covers an area of about 17,820km2.
The state has 6 governorates which are the Kuwait City, Hawalli, Al-Farwaniya, Al-Ahmadi, Mubarak Al-Kabir and Al-Jahra. Along with its mainland, the country includes 9 islands namely: Bubyan, Failaka, Miskan, Kubbar, Qaruh, Um Al Maradim, Um Al Naml, and Auhah Island.
Politically, Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy with a presidential and parliamentary system of government. Since the 18th century, the authority is transferred between the Al-Sabah families; and is given the title as ‘Emir’. Currently, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah is on throne since 2006.
Earlier, the State of Kuwait was symbolized by a red color flag with the word ‘Kuwait’ written in white in the middle. On September 7, 1961, they adopted the current flag in which the Pan-Arab colors have their own significance: green representing their lands, white symbolizing their deeds, red representing their swords and black for their battles.
Al-Nasheed Al-Watani was approved as the national anthem and first broadcasted on 25th February, 1978.
Though one of the smallest countries of the world in terms of land area, Kuwait holds the pride of being one of the world’s largest oil producing nations, possessing about 10% of the world’s oil reserves. Adding on to its pride is the fact that its currency (Kuwaiti Dinar – KWD) holds the greatest value of all times. With a GDP of about $200 billion, Kuwait stands at the 5th position in being the world’s richest country.
The country experiences a wide range of climatic conditions with extreme heat up to more than 50°C in summer and even below 0°C in winter. The spring season is warm and pleasant. In addition, there are occasional dust storms during the summer months which is said to enhance the ripening of dates, the indigenous fruit of Kuwait.
Kuwait serves to be a home for 2.7 million people, with 1.3 million non-nationals most of which are from other Arab countries, South and South East Asian countries.
Arabic is the official language of the nation, though English is widely spoken and is also taught in all the schools.
Kuwait has been an Islamic country since ancient ages and majority of the citizen population are Muslims, with the majority belonging to the Sunnis, and the rest are the Shias, the Sufi and more. As in all other Arab countries, Kuwait also observes the period of fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Well known for their hospitality and generosity, the Kuwaiti people offer a warm welcome to their guests with respect. Traditionally, they greet one another with a handshake and kiss on the cheeks, though limited to the same gender. The initial greeting is followed by a series of questions enquiring about each other’s health, family and situations.
The guests are minimally served tea or coffee, which if denied would be considered an insult by the host.
Symbolizing their generosity, the food is often cooked in large quantities and often relatives or neighbors are invited as guests to join in their meal which often includes the national dish of well prepared rice with lamb, chicken or fish known as ‘Machboos’.
The ‘Diwaniya’ has been an integral part of the Kuwaiti culture, which are large reception halls used for male social gatherings where they may discuss any pertinent topics concerning politics, business, sports, etc. The halls have cushions placed to provide seats and arm rests, Persian carpets for the floor, a continuous supply of tea or coffee and may even have ‘Hookah’ for smoking.
Though the western style of clothing is gaining prominence, the traditional clothes still holds its importance in the society. The costume of men include the dishdasha, an ankle length garment; along with ghutrah (headscarf), iqal (circlet) and gahfiah (skullcap underneath headscarf to hold it in place). Women traditionally wear the abba, a silk or wool black cloak that envelops the body top to toe, worn over a dress; added with a hejab (headscarf) and/or burqa (veil).
EVENTS (HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS)
New Year’s Day: January 1 (New Year according to Gregorian Calendar)
Mouloud (Birth of the Prophet Muhammad): January 24
National Day: February 25, marking the independence of Kuwait in 1961
Liberation Day: February 26, commemorating the liberation of Kuwait from the Iraqi forces in 1991
Hala February: Launched in 1997, Hala February is an annual festival that indicates the arrival of spring, during which vegetation thrives and the desert land is adorned by lush green expanses with brightly colored blooming flowers. Carnivals, musical parties, cultural activities, contests and raffles, exhibitions, discounts and special offers in shopping malls, etc. are the various features of this month.
Al-Esra Wa Al-Meraj (Ascension of the Prophet): June 6
Hejira New Year (Islamic New Year): November 4
Eid ul Fitr: Observed at the end of Ramadan, the eve of which is spent staring at the sky looking out for the moon, believed to bring happiness and prosperity. The following 2-3 days are traditionally celebrated among family and friends by engaging in prayers, exchanging gifts, wearing new clothes and sharing meals.
Eid ul Adha (Feast of Sacrifice): Begins on the 10th day of the last month (Dhul-Hijja) of the Islamic calendar and lasts for 3-4 days, marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to Macca.