History & Heritage

The earliest traces of human activity in Ras Al Khaimah date back as far as 5,500 BC, in the form of external structures and roofs found on the coastline near Al Jazeerah Al Hamra. The area also contained stone tools, beads and pottery, evidence of early Bedouin desert inhabitants who lived on the coast in winter.

The first true civilization in the UAE, Umm Al-Nar, flourished between 2,600 BC and 2,000 BC, when the area was part of an extensive trade network that included southern Iran and Mesopotamia. This period is known for large round graves with external walls made of engraved and polished stones, which were found in the Shamal area, the Manaie Valley in the north, and in Aasama.

Even more remarkable graves from the Wadi Suq Culture Period (2,000 BC – 1,600 BC) have been found. Fifteen large graves in the Shamal area were built above ground with limestone walls, and each grave was able to house 30 to 60 bodies. Pots, pans, beads and other personal belongings found in this grave are on display at the Ras Al Khaimah National Museum.

During the late Bronze Age (1,600 BC – 1,250 BC), the people of the region built structures that were very common in Ras Al Khaimah and surrounding areas up until fifty years ago. This “arish” style of building has been excavated and studied in the Shamal area. There is evidence that that the residents did farming and fishing. A number of graves from the Iron Age (1,200 BC –300 BC) have yielded intricate paintings – including a remarkable drawing of an imaginary bird – engraved pottery and other artifacts, mainly in southern Ras Al Khaimah.

Remnants of the rich cultures that existed in Ras Al Khaimah are being studied and commemorated with the active encouragement of His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi.

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.

European Empires

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.

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.

Early Traders

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.