Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, visited several libraries in the city of Porto this week. The libraries included in his tour were the Municipal Library of Porto and the historical Lello Library. The Municipal library was founded in 1833 and is one of the largest and oldest public libraries in Portugal.
Visiting libraries might not seem the obvious activity to pursue whilst on a private holiday, but these libraries held important context and the keys to a project close to the Ruler of Sharjah's heart. Sheikh Dr Sultan is an Arabian Gulf historian.
Of particular interest to Sheikh Dr Sultan was Ahmed Ibn Majid. Ibn Majid (full name Shihab al-Din Ahmad ibn Majid al-Dîn Ahmad) was a navigator and sailor who was born in 1421 in what is now Ras Al Khaimah.
His prowess at navigation brought him renown in the Arab world, and he authored a number of texts covering everything to do with sailing, including the principles of navigation, astronomy, weather, and port locations stretching from East Africa to Indonesia. Two of the hand-written books he authored are on display in the National Library in Paris.
His fame in the West grew only after his death: the reason he became a globally-known figure is that it was said that he was the navigator who led Vasco De Gama from the African East Coast to India in 1498. A move that left Muslim lands exposed to invaders.
Sheikh Dr Sultan disputes this claim, and in his 2002 In Memorandum for Historians on the Innocence of Ibn Majid he provides proof that it was, in fact, a Christian-Gujarati from India who guided da Gama to India. The book, the first official documentation on Ibn Majid's innocence, is based on the original manuscripts from the diaries of the first voyage of da Gama. The manuscripts are housed in the Municipal Library of Porto in Portugal, which explains why the library is special to him.
During this visit, Sheikh Dr Sultan underlined that his interest in historical truths comes from the moral obligation towards finding and communicating true facts - knowledge everyone has a right to.