#QATARILITMONTH: Qatar’s History

The Inauguration of the State

The inauguration of Qatar’s sheikhdom dates back to the leading fathers of the ruling family, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Thani (r. 1851 – 1878) and his son Sheikh Qasim, colloquially pronounced Jassim (1827 – 1913). The leading fathers of the ruling family were pearl merchants in a time when the sea was the dominant source of livelihood for the people of the Arabian Peninsula.

In that period, merchant families and people who had wealth were more likely to be literate and educated than others, as merchant life included the exchange of goods as well as books and connections with scholars. Education at that time meant the ability to read and write, some basic math skills, and most importantly, religious knowledge. The Founder of Qatar, Sheikh Qasim, is presented in historical accounts as a pearl merchant, political leader and a religious man who gave Friday sermons and led his people in prayer. All of these aspects of his character—wealth, religious devotion and the ability to lead—led to the rise of the ruling family as founding fathers of the state.

In the 19th century, at the time of the rise of the ruling family of Qatar, foreign and regional powers were rallying to spread their influence over the Qatari province. The British and the Ottomans were the two major powers in this region who alternated in spreading their influence over Qatari territory. Britain’s main interest in this region was maritime peace and the safeguard of sea routes for its East India Company ships sailing through the Gulf. The maritime peace treaty that the British signed with Sheikh Mohammed Bin Thani in 1868 represents the first recognition from a foreign power of the Sheikhdom of Qatar’s autonomy. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Thani’s son, Sheikh Qasim, later aligned with the Ottomans in 1871 in return for their appointment of him as an Ottoman Kaymakam, or surrogate, over Qatar and for Qatar to be an Ottoman district with an assigned garrison.

However, the Qatari-Ottoman relations deteriorated in 1893 and by the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottomans claimed no influence over Qatar. This spurred Sheikh Qasim’s son, Abdulla Bin Qasim (1880 – 1957), who led the state after his father’s death, to sign a protectorate treaty with the British in 1916. This treaty brought British protection of Qatar in exchange for Qatar’s abolishment of slavery, arms trading and piracy.

Picture dated 1950 shows Qatari children in the traditional costume in a village outside the capital Doha. (Photo by QATARI MINISTRY OF INFORMATION / AFP). Source.

The history of the people who inhabited Qatar goes back to a number of migrations throughout history. One important thing to note is that Qatar had a low population compared to neighboring provinces; historical accounts often ascribe this to the scarcity of water. Qatar was initially populated by people who migrated from provinces in Saudi Arabia such as Najd. Qatar also witnessed migrations from Iraq due to the trade routes between Basra in Iraq and Al-Zubara on the northwest coast of Qatar. Other inhabitants of Qatar came from Persia, as the coasts were connected through trade routes.

Regardless of their origin, the tribes gathered under the leadership of the ruling family of Qatar, who founded the sovereign state by the mid-19th century.

Book Recommendations:

The Emergence Of Qatar
by Habibur U. Rahman
(2005) Routledge
ISBN: 9780710312136
The Merchants
by Michael Field
(1986) Overlook Books 
ISBN: 9780879512262
The Creation Of Qatar
by Rosemarie Said Zahlan
(1989) by Routledge
ISBN: 9780415039369
The Founder: Sheikh Jassim Bin Mohammed Bin Thani 
by Eissa Abdullah
Historical review by Mohammed Hammam Fekri
Illustrated by Salman Al Aqel  
Translated by Hamdy Hassan
(2019) Dar Roza, Doha
ISBN: 9789927128967

Written By:

Reem Al-Sada

Reem is an information Services Librarian at Qatar National Library, specialized in Literature. Reem holds a bachelor degree in English Literature and Linguistics, and a master degree of arts in contemporary Muslim thought and societies

#QatariLitMonth is curated by Abeer S. Al-Kuwari

Abeer works as director of Research and Learning Services at the newly established Qatar National Library (QNL). Abeer’s work focuses on engaging library researchers in the Qatari community to explore archival and libraries as memory institutions and documentary heritage.

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