x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A memoir from the Ruler of Sharjah

Known as a scholar and historian in his own right, Dr Sheikh Sultan has described his place in the political history of the UAE.

SHARJAH // The composed face of a young boy of about 10 stares back from the cover of Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed's latest book. Although that boy is now the Ruler of Sharjah and the author of more than 29 titles, including theatrical plays, novels and his better-known works on Gulf history, it is the first time the public will have a chance to see into the life of the man who has ruled Sharjah for the past 37 years.

Sard al That - meaning autobiography - is the sheikh's memoir from the days of his earliest memories, during the Second World War, to the time he succeeded his brother as the Ruler of Sharjah, in 1972. The book was released yesterday at the opening of the 28th annual Sharjah International Book Fair. "It's a very broad and transparent piece of history," said Dr Yousuf Aydabi, the book's editor. "It's not an event, but a combination of autobiography, novel and analysis."

Muhanad Abu Sadah, 25, a Sharjah businessman from Iraq, said: "It's about his country and his family and everything around him in his life." The book offers insight into the challenges for the Sharjah royal family in the lead-up to the formation of the UAE in 1971, and Dr Sheikh Sultan does not skirt major issues, including colonialism and local politics. "It's not just a personal biography, it's a political biography," Dr Aydabi said.

At the same time, there are softer anecdotes, like the story of a camping trip to Ras al Khaimah, when a drowning woman was saved by a man who, with "blood and passion", went to her rescue. Among the book's glossy pages are black and white photographs of the Ruler, as a boy, with his scout group or posing with his football team. Dr Sheikh Sultan was born in Sharjah in July 1939. As a young adult, he headed to Egypt, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in agricultural engineering from Cairo University in 1971.

In the 1980s, when he was working on his PhD in history at Exeter University in Britain, he met Dr Shashikant Karnik, a consultant with the Dr Sultan al Qasimi Centre of Gulf Studies and former vice chancellor of the University of Mumbai, who provided him with original documentation as he worked 14-hour days on his research. Dr Sheikh Sultan grew into a respected scholar and historian in his own right. He is known for his dedication and promotion of Arabic arts and culture. His books have been translated into Russian, English, Farsi, German, French, Spanish and Urdu. The autobiography is expected eventually to be translated into English.

His most famous book, The Myth of Arab Piracy in the Gulf, published in 1986, challenged the long-held Western assumption that the Qawasim tribe were pirates whose attacks provoked the British in their attacks in RAK during the early 19th century. Mohammed al Khawajah, a quality co-ordinator from the Documentaries and Studies Centre in Ras al Khaimah, said the autobiography would make history accessible to all readers while providing strong academic background.

"Dr Sultan's books are excellent documentaries," he said. "I've read some of his books. They are very useful for historians and university students. But a biography holds a personal view of each event." Dr Karnik agreed. "This book is a childhood story but it is also reflecting the society, culture and environment of where he lived," he said. "I personally feel that Emirati people will find this book intriguing, educating and it will bring before them a picturesque past of the Sharjah emirate."

"We wanted to write it," Dr Karnik continued. "He said, 'I will write my own background. Other people can write about my contributions as a ruler'." azacharias@thenational.ae