x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Community mourns pioneer who gave life of service to his people

Izhar Haider, who moved to the UAE in 1971, passed away this week after almost four decades of vital social work.

Izhar Haider, left, with Sheikh Zayed during the planning of Abu Dhabi.
Izhar Haider, left, with Sheikh Zayed during the planning of Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Pakistanis paid tribute yesterday to a leading member of their community who spent decades helping build the UAE and was described as "the bridge between all the people". Izhar Haider, 65, passed away on Wednesday morning during heart surgery. He will be buried in Karachi.

Pakistanis from across the Emirates attended his funeral prayers yesterday at the Central Hospital on Airport Road. Mr Haider was a familiar face at the Pakistan Embassy in the capital where he often attended functions. He was an integral member of the Pakistani community and many of his countrymen turned to him for help with visas and finding jobs. "He was a very loved person and this is a great, great loss," said Khursheed Ahmed Junejo, the Pakistani ambassador.

"He was the bridge between all the people. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge about the Pakistani community here and everything about the UAE. "At the funeral prayers there were just so many people expressing their sorrow, they were crying and speaking so highly of him. He was so close to everyone who he met." Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, a counsellor at the embassy, added: "He was so selfless and he would help anyone from any community. His absence will be felt by many people, he just knew everything and everybody."

Mr Haider was born in Junagadh in pre-partition India in 1944. As a young man he became the head of his university's student union in Pakistan. He arrived in the Emirates when he was 26, after being invited by Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, to work as the chief civil engineer for Abu Dhabi Municipality. He launched the popular Abu Dhabi Urdu Service radio show in 1979 that was on air for four years.

As well as being the president of the capital's Pakistani Cultural Centre before it closed in 1999, he also raised funds for schools and hospitals in Pakistan and helped to build a community welfare school in Musaffah for 2,000 underprivileged students. In addition, he was a renowned poet and an orator who compèred many cultural events. Having recently retired from the municipality, Mr Haider had been looking forward to the reopening of the Pakistani Cultural Centre on Muroor Road.

Dr Shaqil Raza, Mr Haider's brother, spoke of his sadness at his death. "When I saw his still body there, it was unbelievable. It was like a dream and all of a sudden I could not see," he said. "He was a very towering figure and every person who met him remembers him fondly. He has done a lot for the Pakistani community and others; he didn't only see Pakistan." "Even if he was not my brother, he would still be a very lovable person to me."

"He was great and provided so much to the community," said his nephew, Ali Naqvi. "He was a great social worker and the only thing we can do is pray for him now. I just remember all the conversations he used to have. Mohammed Anis, who has lived in the capital for 27 years, recalled a radio show Mr Haider broadcast in the 1980s."I remember his Urdu service show and used to look forward to it every day at 5pm. It was a general programme with songs, interviews poems and other entertaining things," he said. "He was a very helpful man and this is a great personal loss."

Mr Anis called Mr Haider the "Abdul Sattar Edhi of the UAE". Edhi is one of Pakistan's most active philanthropists. Mohammad Shirazi, a Pakistani businessman who has lived in the capital for 15 years, said he met Mr Haider on his first day in the UAE and remained close friends since. "His daughter phoned me with the news [of his death] and I just cannot explain the loss," he said. "All Pakistani people loved him, this is a great loss for our community. He was so co-operative, so helpful."

Mr Haider's family will accompany his body to Karachi, a city he had not visited since 1993, the year his mother passed away. "My sister hasn't seen his face for 16 years," said Dr Raza. Mr Haider, whose wife passed away several years ago, leaves a daughter, Sadiqa, 30, who is a doctor in Pakistan, and a son Zulfiqar, 26, who lives in the US. @Email:asafdar@thenational.ae