x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The Ali Story: Funeral for a friend

Ali Al Saloom shares his insight and experiences from growing up and living in the UAE.

Last Friday at 11pm I was chatting with a couple of my friends at a cafe in Abu Dhabi. As usual when hanging out with my friends, we chat, have some tea, then chat some more. We tend to stay quiet when someone receives a text message or a ping on his BlackBerry, assuming it's an important message for the person who receives the message, and each of us takes the opportunity to check his social media messages.

On this occasion, I remember seeing my mobile on the table and decided to check my Twitter messages as I hadn't viewed them all day.

I logged on and started scrolling to see my tweets timeline. Then my eyes caught a death announcement of someone I knew. Even though I had not met him more than twice I considered him a friend because he was a dear friend to my dearest friends. Besides, we used to chat on social media. That person was Thamer Saeed Salman, God rest his soul, a man in his mid-30s, a father to three sons, a vice president at Ajman University of Science & Technology and a businessman.

Reading the news on Twitter was like a big slap in the face, but I had to double-check by monitoring other news sources. Some of them sent tweets saying: "We have lost Thamer in an accident."

At this point, I remember getting up from where I was and dialing one of my good friends whom I knew would be with Thamer, as I knew most of them had been hanging out in the desert. The phone rang out. A few seconds later I got a call from my friend, and I asked him straight out: "Is it true, about brother Thamer?" My friend confirmed that Thamer had died in a dune buggy accident.

Then he went quiet. It was really heavy, sad, painful news. I didn't know what to say other than "May God rest his soul in peace", and kept on repeating it. My friends at the cafe noticed something was wrong and started asking me what had happened. As I explained, I was remembering the day I met Thamer at Ajman University after I was invited to speak at one of its events.

I recall an exchange of tweets with him on that day, and that he delivered a lovely speech in front of Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, the ruler of Ajman, and many other officials.

I still remember his voice, eye contact and his smile every time he mentioned knowledge, as he was passionate about education.

After that event, I remember walking out of the auditorium and seeing him standing alongside another gentleman. I approached him and shook hands and said: "Well done." He smiled and suggested that we catch up some time in the near future.

A few months passed and I didn't get the chance to meet Thamer again, or to get to know him due to our busy schedules.

I do regret not getting to know him better but even so, I truly feel I have lost a brother and a friend. We may have only met just twice, but those two days were filled with respect, joy and caring.

Last Saturday, we prayed for the soul of Thamer and his family, friends and acquaintances who came to offer their condolences. We walked to the cemetery and buried him and prayed to Allah to rest his soul in peace.

It was a difficult time, and even more distressing to see all of his loved ones so clearly distraught. It was the toughest thing I faced last week, seeing my great brothers and friends crying in pain for losing their very best friend with whom they had just been in the desert smiling and enjoying dune-bashing moments.

One of my dear friends, the writer Yasser Hareb, was with Thamer and his friends at the scene. Seeing his tears highlighted the fact that one of the toughest things in life is when you see your best friend injured in front of you. You are standing there doing everything you can to save them, but fate is simply much too powerful and nothing can change fate.

I pray that God gives strength to Thamer's family to overcome these difficult times.

To all of us who either met, worked with, or simply just read Thamer's tweets, we can always do good to Thamer's soul by continuing his passion for education by all means possible. RIP, Thamer.