ABU DHABI // Thousands of mourners gathered at the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque yesterday to pay their final respects to Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed, who died in a glider accident in Morocco last week. Sheikh Ahmed's body was taken to Al Bateen Cemetery after funeral prayers attended by his elder brother Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, among many other dignitaries and representatives of the seven emirates.
The body of Sheikh Ahmed, 41, the managing director of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, was flown home yesterday from Morocco, where it was found on Tuesday in a man-made lake after a four-day search. Visitors crowded the streets leading to the public entrance of the mosque. A procession of cars slowly made its way into the car park. Men wearing traditional white kandouras moved in sombre silence towards the entrance. A recital of Quranic verses resounded in the background.
Mourners flooded the halls of the mosque as the muezzin's call for the afternoon prayer rang around the courtyard. After the Asr prayers were concluded, worshippers huddled together as the funeral prayers began, with four chants of Allahu Akbar. The coffin carrying Sheikh Ahmed's body was brought in. The imam asked the congregation not to rush to it, but to allow Sheikh Ahmed's brothers the chance to carry him to the funeral procession.
After the third chant of the funeral prayer, worshippers called for Sheikh Ahmed's salvation in barely audible whispers. "God grant him a home in your spacious gardens," murmured one man. After the body was carried out of the prayer halls to its final resting place in Al Bateen Cemetery, buses carrying policemen, members of the Armed Forces and government agencies followed to pay their respects.
Some remained behind, pausing for a moment of silence at the grave of Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the nation, who is buried in the courtyard of the mosque. Visitors were allowed to pray at Sheikh Ahmed's tomb, provided they were dressed in a kandoura. Others gathered at the entrance to Sheikh Khalifa's Mushrif Palace, to convey their condolences to the Royal Family. Mourners said their attendance was intended to show solidarity with the ruling family in their moment of grief. Some said the myriad nationalities present at the funeral prayers were indicative of the strength of the bonds between the UAE's citizens and its expatriate population.
"Look at us, all these nationalities. No one gets turned back," said Ahmed al Muhairi, 46, an Emirati. "He is the son of Sheikh Zayed, God rest his soul. What more can you say?" said Badr al Hindi, a 33-year-old Emirati. "It was a death that was difficult for everyone, especially when word started coming out that he was missing. This is the way of the world. "The Sheikh was one of the best youngsters and one of the best people, and a huge loss to the whole of the UAE."
Mr al Hindi said attendance was a duty that Emiratis owed to the rulers. "This is the least an Emirati can do for our Government," he said. "We stand with them in grief and in happiness, and in grief before happiness. "The Sheikhs do not skimp. Reflexively, we feel for them and respect them, and mourn with them for the loss of the young Sheikh." The crowds of mourners "shows their love for the Sheikhs of the UAE and the sons of Zayed", said Salim Ahmed, another Emirati who attended the funeral prayers.
"God give patience to his family," said Haitham Qarqash, 30, a Jordanian. "I have been in the country for 12 years, and part of my duty towards the country is to share in these things," said Mr Qarqash. Hashim Eallikath, an Indian who works for the Zayed Foundation for Charitable and Humanitarian Works, of which Sheikh Ahmed was the chairman, said he attended the funeral because he felt that the Sheikh was like a brother.
"Over the last four days we are thinking 'what happened to him?', but yesterday they found the body," he said. "My condolences to all the Sheikhs. We love him." The ADIA mourned Sheikh Ahmed's passing. "Sheikh Ahmed displayed true leadership in steering one of the world's largest institutional investors and enabling ADIA to constantly adapt to a changing world," it said in a statement carried by the state news agency, WAM.
"His day-to-day efforts were characterised by a continuous commitment to developing our people, an unwavering dedication to investment discipline, and a passionate belief in our enduring culture." Because of Sheikh Ahmed's work, "he leaves ADIA in a strong position to successfully respond to the opportunities and challenges e ahead". A spokesman for the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation said the death of Sheikh Ahmed was a "loss for the nation and humanity".
"We lost a person who embodied humanitarian principles and his action in this area touched many people," he said. "He had distinguished qualities and was a leader in the many fields he was involved. He was also a source of our trust and pride for everyone in the UAE. His humanitarian actions were noticed by everyone, and reached everyone regardless of race, religion, colour or language. "The late Sheikh was modest, polite and also had a precise vision in planning and had a practical attitude in his work. His death is a loss for the nation and humanity.
"He achieved great success in the mission he was assigned in many humanitarian and charitable organisations inside and outside the country. He was known for his passion for humanitarian initiatives which contributed to the development of poor communities around the world." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Zoi Constantine