The country has an area of 231 square miles and a population of 1.05 million. The population is 99 percent Muslim; Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Baha'is constitute the remaining 1 percent. Muslims belong to the Shi'a and Sunni branches of Islam, with Shi'a constituting between 60 and 70 percent of the citizen Muslim population.
Foreigners, mostly from South Asia and from other Arab countries, constitute an estimated 49 percent of the population. Approximately half of resident foreigners are non-Muslim, including Christians (primarily Roman Catholic, Protestant, Syrian Orthodox, and Mar Thoma from South India), Hindus, Baha'is, Buddhists, and Sikhs.
Much of the tension between Shi'a and Sunni Bahrainis stems from social and economic factors. Shi'a Muslims comprise the majority of the poor citizen population, and have a higher unemployment rate than Sunni Muslims, although many exceptions can be found, especially in several Shi'a merchant and scholarly families, and in older Sunni areas. Historically, Sunni and Shi'a Muslims lived in geographically separate villages, however intermingling between the sects has increased. Because of the Shi'a's generally lower socio-economic status, and the lower quality of government schools as compared to private schools, less wealthy Shi'a Muslims have less access to international-quality college- and graduate-level education.