x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Farewell to Sheikh Saqr, a man of the people

Family members, dignitaries and mourners from across the UAE gather to pay their last respects to Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi.

An imam kisses the body of Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Ras al Khaimah, during his funeral prayer at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque.
An imam kisses the body of Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Ras al Khaimah, during his funeral prayer at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Thousands of mourners from the farthest stretches of the emirate and across the UAE gathered yesterday afternoon at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque on the Corniche to bid farewell to the "father of Ras al Khaimah".

"Allah Yarhmou!" (God have mercy on him) was chanted and murmured by mourners as they made their way to the service, with some latecomers rushing in to take part in the prayers over the body of the Ruler of RAK, Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi.

Rulers from the other emirates arrived by helicopter.

The rear of the mosque was open to VIPs and the family of Sheikh Saqr, while the front was open to the public, with green and red prayer mats laid out everywhere.

Armed security forces from the police, army and special forces kept guard, and the roads around the mosque were cordoned off.

The already sombre mood of the mourners deepened with the arrival of four white vans. One of the van's doors opened, and several younger members of the Al Qasimi family rushed toward the vehicle to carry the body of Sheikh Saqr into the mosque.

Cloaked in a UAE flag and resting on a gold and green cushion within a wooden cradle, his body was carried into the mosque through a side door. At the appearance of the Sheikh's body many of the 2,000 mourners inside the mosque began to cry.

"He was ill for a while, but to actually see his body broke my heart," said Mohammed al Shehhi, 60, one of the mourners and a member of the mountain tribe that the late ruler helped unite.

"He was a fighter, he gave back in kind; if pushed, he pushed back. He was a warrior, a real Arab," said Mr al Shehhi, who came with his son, Ahmed, 32.

Upon completion of the prayers, the imam bent down and kissed Sheikh Saqr. The body was then taken to its final resting place at the Qawasim graveyard in the Nakheel area of RAK, where it will lie alongside other members of the Qasimi royal family.

Police blocked cars that attempted to follow the procession of vans and cars accompanying the body; only those closest to the family were allowed to witness the burial.

"We are not just burying my father, but the father of Ras al Khaimah," said Sheikh Faisal bin Saqr Al Qasimi, 50, chairman of the RAK Free Trade Zone and one of Sheikh Saqr's seven sons.

"He was bigger than life, and always a fighter, even to the end," said Sheikh Faisal, who, along with this brother Sheikh Saud, the emirate's new ruler, accepted mourners at his father's palace earlier in the day. "We have a lot to learn from him, a true legacy," he said. "The two things he cared about were education and religion, and that made RAK what it is today."

Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Sheikh Saqr's 25-year-old grandson, said: "He is our grandfather, he was everything to us. He was the old version of a good, stubborn man, who would not give up on his principles.

"What we learned from Sheikh Saqr and his sons is how to bring everyone together," he said. "Sixty years ago, Ras al Khaimah was six parts, every tribe had their own power and their own land. It was a difficult time for RAK when Sheikh Saqr came to power, but he succeeded and he united us all."