Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 October 2019

On the legacy of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan

His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan has inspired feelings of loyalty - to our beliefs, our history and our country.

He who does not have a past, will not have a present or a future." So wrote the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan, who died during Ramadan five years ago. Ever since my generation and I came to this world, born after 1971, His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan has inspired in us many feelings of loyalty - to our beliefs, our history and our country. As a child, I always thought that Sheikh Zayed would be the ruler of this country for ever. At the time I was too young to understand the concept of birth or death, or imagining that one day the UAE would go through the sorrow of burying its father. As an adult, sometimes years pass and we only vaguely remember them, but that Tuesday afternoon on the 19th day of Ramadan, 2004, was a day every Emirati will always remember with sadness.

That year, Ramadan was in autumn. One evening, in the third quarter of the holy month, everyone was having the Iftar meal and breaking their fast after Maghrib prayer. Men went to mosques for Tarawih prayer. I had a call from a friend who was in tears. She gave me a fright and my mind froze - I couldn't take in what she was saying. How could we deal with something we never wanted to believe would happen? Still holding the mobile I got a message saying, "The father of the Emirates has died," and I rushed to the living room.

Everyone was in denial, and as we watched as the Quran was aired on all the country's TV channels, we could only stare at the screen with tears running down our faces, not wanting the confirmation, hoping it was a sad rumour, a huge mistake. However, there was my mother crying and my six brothers stunned into silence around the TV while Jaber Obeed, also in tears, read out the news on Abu Dhabi television: "The President of the United Arab Emirates, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, has died," and, "The royal court announces to Arab and Islamic countries and the rest of the world the death of the leader of the nation Sheikh Zayed…"

And, after that breaking news bulletin, nothing was ever the same. You could feel the palms and trees that Sheikh Zayed had planted and pampered all over his country weeping for his departure. The majales closed. Every home in the Emirates became a "house of condolences". The streets and malls were empty. Women tried to hold it together while watching the funeral the next day; Sheikh Zayed carried on the shoulders of his sons.

This cloud of grief hung over the country until after Eid. It was a month that changed our history and remains in our memories: ask any Emirati where they were, what they did, how they heard of Baba Zayed's death or who passed on the news, and they will instantly be able to recall all the details. Their mind recalls what the heart cannot forget. It was the greatest tragedy this country had faced. His name is forever mentioned in our prayers, and his love is the core of loyalty to this land. That year nearly every Emirati boy who was born was named Zayed.

Sheikh Zayed was a man of word, a man of wisdom and a man of people. His ultimate aim was to know that we are living in safety and comfort. His touch can clearly be seen on the sand, the palms, the islands, the elders and children of the Emirates. Every time I remember his great famous saying, "He who does not know his past cannot make the best of his present and future, for it is from the past that we learn," I pause, knowing that with him, Baba Zayed was our past, by him we stood for the present, and through him we are reaching the future.

Fatima al Shamsi is away

Updated: September 5, 2009 04:00 AM