The expansion and renovation of ports on the coastline of Ras Al Khamah (RAK) has been an important economic priority of its current ruler, His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi. These ports are the latest chapter in a long chronicle of trade and commerce, which have played a central role in RAK’s history.
When ancient sailors and explorers navigating the Persian Gulf crossed the Strait of Hormuz, they were greeted by the magnificent Hajar Mountains in the land now known as Ras Al Khaimah. Because of its strategic position at the mouth of the Gulf, it has been one of the Middle East’s main hubs of trade for at least five millennia.
The earliest evidence of trade in RAK dates back to at least 3800 B.C. Bedouin tribes are believed to have spent their winters along the beaches of Ar-Rams and Al Jazirah Al Hamra, where fishing was plentiful. Mesopotamian pottery indicates that trade may have been conducted by early settlers with nomadic tribes during this period.
More pottery and bronze instruments with design characteristics from Mesopotamia and Persia have been found from the Umm al-Nar period (2,600 BC – 2,000 BC). Ancient settlers found that the region yielded a prosperous life, thanks to the abundance of building materials, hunting and fishing opportunities, agriculture, and the promise of merchant sea routes. In the next few centuries, trade and commerce flourished as citadels were developed and agriculture grew in the Diqdaqah settlement. This bustling region came to be known as Julfar.
Commerce With East Asia and Beyond
By the time envoys from the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca arrived in Julfar, the maritime trade with East Asia was booming. From the 7th to the 11th centuries, sailors from Ras Al Khaimah traveled to faraway lands, including India and China. People from across the Islamic Empire arrived in Ras Al Khaimah to visit, settle, and do business. The most celebrated Arab mariner, Ahmad ibn Majid, wrote seminal books on celestial navigation and seamanship from his home in Julfar.
Rise of the Qawasim
In the centuries that followed, Ras Al Khaimah continued to flourish as a center of trade. One of the most noteworthy maritime powers was the locally-based Al Qasimi clan (Qawisim), who became a powerful force in the region in the 18th century. They not only controlled the area that is now the United Arab Emirates, including islands in the Persian Gulf, but also land on the opposite shores of the Gulf. This allowed them to control all trade.
Descendent of the Qawasim Clan: Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi
His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi is descended from the Qawisim clan. Thanks to the leadership of Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, maritime trade remains a vital part of Ras Al Khaimah’s economy, along with newly developed industries and a flourishing tourist industry. About 20 percent of the world’s petroleum passes through the nearby Strait of Hormuz.