How Did Successive Authorities Policies' Kill Religious Diversity in Aden?


Sat, 05-03-2022 07:08 PM, Aden

Reem Al-Fadhli (South24) 

Decades ago, Aden was the home of Christians, Jews, Baha'is and other religions and sects along with the Muslim majority. The city constituted a unique example of coexistence as well as religious and sectarian tolerance in the region.

The synagogues and churches were adjacent to mosques where everyone can practice his religious rituals with full peace and tranquility. At that time, Aden's residents lived in a peaceful atmosphere where the religious background was not important and not a determinator for the way of treatment within the society.

Thanks to its geographical location on the global trade road, the events and the historical occasions Aden has witnessed over time, several nationalities flocked to the coastal city making it one of those Arab cities that enjoy a lot of religious diversity.

However, over the subsequent decades, such diversity has declined due to the policies of successive authorities in Aden starting from the Socialist regime which ruled South Yemen after gaining independence from Britain and until the Yemeni Unity regime that invaded South Yemen in 1994.

The religious identity in Aden has been subjected to shoveling and obliteration attempts after the Unity Agreement between Southern and Northern states. For political purposes, the Unity regime targeted the religious identity in Aden, not only at the level of different religions but even among the Islamic sects themselves, especially Sufism which spread in Aden and South Yemen.

Aden's religious heritage

According to the census of 1955, as mentioned in the book titled “Aspects from the History of the Aden state" by researcher Bilal Ghulam, [1] Aden's population was at that time about 138000 including a majority of 126000 Muslims while Christians came in the second place with a total of 5600. There were 4786 Hindus, 831 Jews, 596 Zoroastrianists (Persians) and 480 with no clear religious affiliation. 


After the emergence of the Islamic da'wah (preach), the city of Aden transformed from a trade hub like other pre-Islamic well known markets to be one of the early Islamic civilized centers as an important port. The expansion of its commercial market helped in the spread of the principles and the values of Islam. This is reflected in building mosques which constitute part of the city's history, prominent of them are Aban, Al-Aidarus, Sheikh Jawhar Al-Nabi Mosque, Al-Asqalani and many others mosques [2].


Between the 19th and the 20th centuries during the British occupation, a number of churches in the city were built. The most famous among those churches are St. Anthony St. Mary Garrison, and St. Joseph, which was built in 1850 in Crater and considered one of Aden’s oldest churches. It follows the Roman Catholic mission and part of it was transformed to a school. Meanwhile, some other churches were built but of less importance than those aforementioned [3].


Studies indicate that the Jewish existence in Aden dates back to the 12th century. After the Abyssinians controlled Yemen in the 6th Century, North Yemen's Jews were pushed to move to Aden and stayed there in addition to the arrival of the Spanish Jews to the city at the end of the 15th century [4].

The Great Synagogue of Aden, known as the Abraham's Shield built in 1858 in Aden (Wikipedia)

The number of synagogues in Aden was estimated by more than 10 ten small sub-temples. One of the most important synagogues built by the Jews in the city is Singut or "Star of Avraham" which is considered one of the most beautiful synagogues in the world with a capacity of 1000 persons according to Ghulam in his aforementioned book.

Hinduism and Zoroastrianism (Perisn) are among the religions that existed in Aden. Their believers worked as Craftsmen and Merchants in the 19th Century. More than 5 Hinu temples were built in Aden including Shri Trikamraijii Haveli, Sheikh Othman Hanumanji, Shri Ramchandra ji, Shri Hinglaj Mataji Mandir, Shri Shankar Hanuman and Gyani and Sikh temple [5].