x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Why leaders are leaders

Leaders walk among us and rule with the strength of their personalities.

It is easy for sheikhs to have barriers to the public, but it takes great confidence between a leader and his people for him to be among them. In the history of great leaders, whether in novels, encyclopedias or films, if a king walks through his city he is usually accompanied by a huge entourage. And his public appearances are always made with a lot of protocols and guards. Added to which, most historical leaders made sure their thrones and palaces were vast enough to put an overwhelming fear in the hearts of those who dared to approach. Some leaders, however, create their presence not by their big glorious chairs or huge estates but by their personalities, that demand your awe and attention. These leaders are often among those most remembered. Urwah Ibn mas'uud for example, the Thaqifi chieftain, who was sent by the Quraysh tribe to negotiate with the Prophet Mohammed, came back mesmerised by what he experienced. "O people of Quraysh, indeed I went to the Persian emperor in his kingdom and Caesar in his kingdom and the Negus in his kingdom, but by Allah," he wrote upon his return. "I swear I never saw a king whose people magnify him as the Companions of Mohammed magnify him. "I saw a nation who would not ever disobey him. So you are on your own in this decision." The Prophet had no great palace nor throne that you can find today in a museum, but he was a true leader. Similarly, a Roman envoy visiting Omar Ibn al Khattab, the second Caliph of the Muslims, was directed to a man sleeping peacefully under a tree with no bodyguards, weapons, fortifications or security. He marvelled at the sight of the leader of millions of people sleeping peacefully under a tree without a worry in the world. He then made his famous remarks that remain etched in history: "O Omar! You ruled. You were just. Thus you were safe. And thus you slept." Our late father Sheikh Zayed will forever be remembered for many accomplishments. These did not take place from the throne of a big castle on top of a mountain, but through his interaction with his people in his open majleses in different locations across Abu Dhabi. As well as his impromptu appearances, he took on personal responsibility for the agricultural progress of the country and the buildings being built. One architect who worked with him on the planning of Abu Dhabi once told me that Sheikh Zayed was "the kind of man who would just show up at your home". Many locals have memories of seeing him driving around the city alone or with a friend in his famous black Mercedes that had the flag of the Emirates on the front of it, stopping and talking to locals. At sunset, Sheikh Zayed would pull to the side of the road and pray the al Maghrib prayer on the sand. Passengers in cars would see the president of the UAE alone on the sand praying to the creator. His sons take their lead from their father. They are known for being with their people in happiness and sorrow. They attend different tribes' weddings, in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia, and they also pay condolences when a tribe member passes away. They walk in public places without notice and most sheikhs have open majleses, a legacy and a tradition drawn from the past. They attend graduations and ceremonies recognising excellency, congratulating and encouraging locals to move forward. The times may have changed but the presence of our leaders among us has not.