The story of Ras Al Khaimah includes battles between ancient peoples, clan struggles, pirate attacks, imperial conquests and modern, peaceful development under His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi. The eighteen citadels, towers and fortifications that can still be found in RAK are a testament to the region’s colorful history, and demonstrate its attractiveness to outsiders who wanted to conquer it.
For more than 7,000 years, the region has lured settlers and traders due to its strategic location, moderate climate, gorgeous mountains, fertile land, and spring waters. Various important empires have vied for control of RAK.
The Advent of Islam
Between 300 AD and 632 AD, the region was occupied by the Sasanian Empire, which developed a legacy of Persian art, music and architecture. This was the predominant culture of the area when Islam gained a foothold. One of the more interesting archeological finds in Ras Al Khaimah is a Sasanian citadel that was used to control the farming areas of the region and was evacuated with the advent of Islam.
The era from 750 AD to 1,250 AD coincided with the unification of Islamic peoples in the Abbasid Empire. This period, sometimes called the Early Islamic period, is also widely known as the Islamic Golden Age because of its cultural achievements and the scope of the Abbasids’ rule. It was an important part of Ras Al Khaimah’s history.
Between the 14th and 19th centuries, more people began to settle along the coastline in the town of Julfar and the surrounding area. The town had a large population and structures built of mud bricks, and was protected by a large wall. The region became well-known for its fine pottery, which was still being made in this region until very recently.
By the 16th century, it was the Europeans’ turn to covet this region. That is when Portuguese arrived to expand their overseas empire. Eventually, the Portuguese abandoned their efforts after economic losses, in part due to the military costs of retaining control.
When the Arabian Al Qasimi clan (Qawasim) solidified their power in the region in the 18th century, they were reputedly associated with piracy. Legends abound about their bravery and daring. Yet the Qawasim also brought more political stability to the region, at least until they had to contend with the British Empire.
The British understandably took an active interest in the area. In the early 1800s, their navy attacked and loosened the Qawasim’s hold on the Persian Gulf, mainly because Britain saw them as a threat to its ships and trade routes. The British occupied Ras Al Khaimah for a brief period until a treaty was signed in 1820, and several maritime truces followed in the ensuring decades.
As the British sought to protect shipping lanes in the Gulf, Ras Al Khaimah was able to grow and develop. At various times, it was incorporated into neighboring Sharjah and was also an independent state.
The Modern Era – Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi
Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammad al Qasimi, the father of the current Emir Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, led Ras Al Khaimah from 1948 to 2010. At the time of his death, he was the longest serving head of state in the world and had lain the foundation for his son Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi’s works. Sheikh Saqr helped to transform RAK into a modern nation state by developing manufacturing, trade, tourism and education. He agreed to join the United Arab Emirates in 1972. His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, who had played a central role in modernizing efforts as Crown Prince, has been the Emir of Ras Al Khaimah since 2010. The Al Qasimi foundation aids the cultural, social and economic development of the emirate.
Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi was born on February 10, 1956 in Dubai, the fourth son of Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammad al Qasimi. He was educated in Ras Al Khaimah and studied economics at the American University in Beirut in 1973. He later attended the University of Michigan where he earned a bachelors degree in political science and economics.
Sheikh Saud has focused on economic, healthcare and education reforms within Ras Al Khaimah since his appointment as Crown Prince. His reform initiatives have resulted in a significant increase in GDP for Ras Al Khaimah.