Ras al Khaimah, Sheikh Saud’s Historic Land

His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, ruler of Ras al Khaimah, comes from a dynastic tradition dating back to the days when the region currently occupied by the United Arab Emirates was under the control of the powerful Qawisim clan. Starting in the 18th century, the Qawisim rose to power through maritime dominance and trading at a time when the economy of Ras al Khaimah was quite prosperous. RAK was known as Julfar during the Middle Ages; it is believed that this region of the Arabian Peninsula was settled by people who migrated from Armenia, but the earliest settlements discovered by archaeologists date back more to the year 5,000 B.C.

Bedouin tribes that used to set up camp in RAK traded with local clans whose ancestors were part of the Umm Al-Nar civilization, which would evolve into the Wadi Suq society. From about 2,000 B.C. until four centuries later, the Wadi Suq way of life shaped the Arabian Peninsula with the domestication of the camel, construction of residential structures overlooking the sea, sophisticated production of weaponry, and advanced trading. It was around this time that RAK became a busy port with the arrival of ships that sailed from various points in Mesopotamia, and this is when the region flourished as it shifted from farming and fishing to maritime trading.

The archaeological record of RAK is proof how how dominant the Julfar port city was during the millennium preceding the A.D. era; the only palace in the UAE is located in the Shimai village, and it is associated with the Queen of Sheba mentioned in the Quran as well as in the Old Testament. Although there is no evidence that the Queen actually occupied this palace or traveled here, the ruler of Julfar at one time was subject to the rule of Sheba. By the time emissaries sent by the Prophet Mohammed arrived from Mecca, Julfar was an established maritime trading center. Over the next few centuries, ships sailed from Julfar to various ports in the Far East and across the Islamic Empire. it should be noted that the celebrated mariner Ahmad ibn Majid, who was born in Oman, moved to Julfar when he witnessed ships from the Far East arrive in the port of Jeddah;‌ his interactions with sailors made him aware of the busy maritime activity at Julfar, and this is where he chose to settle and write treatises concerning celestial navigation.

The Qawisim of Julfar were seafarers, merchants, and traders who also became skilled in matters of warfare and coastal defense. They rose to power across the region that is now known as the seven United Arab Emirates. The Qawisim were later referred to as the Al Qasimi dynasty, of which Sheikh Saud of RAK‌ is a direct descendant.‌ During the 18th century, Al Qasimi were forced to defend Julfar against the rampant piracy conducted by local clans as well as rogue British captains; there was also conflict with the Royal Navy, and it lasted for decades until a joint agreement to fight piracy was reached. During the Trucial States era under control of the British Crown, the house of Al Qasimi remained rulers of RAK, but tribal infighting across the region resulted in a period of socioeconomic unrest.

In the 19th century, commercial interests loyal to the British Crown hoped that their oil exploration efforts would bring about discovery of reservoirs in RAK, but this never happened. When RAK‌ became part of the UAE‌ in the 1970s, maritime activity was limited to crude oil transport from the Gulf of Oman to the Persian Gulf, and business concessions mostly favored foreign interests, thus leaving RAK‌ at an economic disadvantage. This would all change with the rule of‌‌ Sheikh Saud’s father, a leader who believed that RAK‌ had great potential to be restored to its former glory. If the Al Qasimi dynasty was able to rule Julfar and later RAK with great prosperity and without the benefit of crude oil, there is no reason to believe that this cannot be achieved again. Under the leadership of Sheikh Saud, RAK‌ has developed into a major center for international business, and it is also becoming a major tourism destination for visitors who wish to enjoy the warmth of Arabian hospitality.

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