Sharjah Ruler publishes groundbreaking new history book

The title pieces together the elusive history of an often misunderstood East African dynasty

Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, is a profilic writer, who has composed 76 publications, with his work translated into 20 languages. Photo: Wam
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Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, has published a new book on the history of the Sultans of Kilwa, an East African dynasty.

Titled The Biography of the Sultans of Kilwa, the 114-page book outlines how the dynasty migrated to Africa and ruled over Kilwa — an island in southern Tanzania.

During their reign, the sultans developed Kilwa into a wealthy merchant power along the Maritime Silk Road. One of the testaments to their might was the Great Mosque, the oldest standing mosque on the East African coast, and once the largest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Until now, the story of the Sultans of Kilwa has remained steeped in myth, with most popular accounts claiming the dynasty emerged from Shiraz, before carving out a realm that stretched across the Swahili Coast.

However, in order to determine truth from fiction, the Sharjah ruler wrote his book following a careful analysis of dozens of historical documents; notably The Book of Salwa in the History of Kilwa.

In the introduction of his book, he writes: “It is a true historical novel that I wrote based on the manuscript of The Book of Salwa in the History of Kilwa.”

The Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi has released a new history book, titled 'The Biography of the Sultans of Kilwa'. Photo: WAM

He continues: “When I decided to write the history of East Africa, I contacted the British Library in London and obtained a photocopy of the manuscript known as The Book of Salwa in the History of Kilwa.

“I started studying that manuscript as well as studying everything written about that manuscript by Arab and foreign historians, who were unable to explain what was written in that manuscript, as the matter became confusing for them."

Although the manuscript’s author’s name is unknown, his birth is recorded as “the second Monday of Shawwal in the year 904 [Hijri]”. The manuscript’s age is attested by the date it was copied on the orders of the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1877.

There were some issues with using the manuscript as a reference — some parts were illegible, damaged over time or simply missing.

However, aside from his study of authors and historians from modern Kenya and Tanzania, Sheikh Dr Sultan's vast collection of British and Portuguese historical documents allowed him to fill in the missing details — compiling various strands of history, to piece together the whole picture for the very first time.

“What was written in the manuscript about the arrival of the Shiraz sultans to the African coast is a myth and the truth is in the contemporary manuscripts,” says Sheikh Dr Sultan.

Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi is a collector of historical manuscripts. Depicted is a set of manuscripts he donated to Islamic Manuscripts House of Al Qasimia University, to be studied by researchers and specialists. Photo: WAM

Spanning 11 chapters, the book also includes an appendix, a genealogical chain of Sultans of Kilwa and dozens of foreign references — providing a crucial resource for anyone seeking to learn more about the dynasty.

In the process, Sheikh Dr Sultan clears up some misunderstandings surrounding the dynasty, adding to his body of work, which now spans 76 publications, with his titles translated into 20 foreign languages.

The Sharjah ruler is a prolific writer, academic and historian, who has composed memoirs, studies, novels, poetry collections and plays — exploring the heritage and teachings of the UAE, the Middle East and North Africa.

Scroll through images from 50 years of Sheikh Dr Sultan's rule below:

Updated: August 22, 2022, 6:08 AM