His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, born on 6th of May 1918, lived and served his nation till the age of 86 years, a life well lived, and one worthy of emulation.
HH Sheikh Zayed served as President of the United Arab Emirates since the institution of the union, and the formation of the federation on 2nd December 1971, and also served as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi since 1966.
The Early Life of Sheikh Zayed
His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was born into the ruling family of the Emirates of Abu Dhabi. He was the youngest son of his father, Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who ruled Abu Dhabi from 1922 to 1926.
As a child, Sheikh Zayed received his education from the local preacher, which included memorizing the Quran and learning the fundamentals of Islam. Through the late 1920s and 1930s, Sheikh Zayed’s thirst for knowledge took him into the desert, living alongside the Bedouin tribesmen, he was able to learn all he could about their way of life, their connection with their surroundings, and how to navigate and survive the harsh desert.
Sheikh Zayed’s experience of the Bedouin life taught him to develop a love and understanding for the natural environment, and he ultimately gained the trust of the trust and respect of the Bedouin tribesmen, which later enabled him to win their support on a lot of crucial issues that were essential to the forming of the unity.
In the wake of the 1930s, when the first oil explorers came to the Gulf, they requested for a guide from Sheikh Shakhbut; and through his acquired knowledge of the region and its inhabitants, Sheikh Zayed was the obvious choice.
Another noteworthy achievement of Sheikh Zayed in Al Ain was the revision of local water ownership, to ensure more equitable distribution to irrigate more land. As a result of Sheikh Zayed’s sacrifices and commitments, agricultural production began to flourish in the region, as did the local economy.
On 9th August 1966, Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Sultan Al Nahyan finally handed over the rulership of Abu Dhabi to Sheikh Zayed, his younger brother in a peaceful transition.
Following Britain’s announcement to withdraw its military presence from the Gulf in 1968, Sheikh Zayed sprung into action by promptly announcing the need to establish a union, he proposed the formation of a Federation of 9 Emirates (i.e. Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Bahrain, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al-Khaimah, Sharjah, Qatar, and Umm al-Quwain).
Qatar and Bahrain readily declined and decided to become independent states. Ras Al-Khaimah also declined at first, and the Federation of the United Arab Emirates was formed on 2nd December 1971 with only 6 Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain) signing the declaration. Sheikh Zayed was unanimously elected by his fellow Rulers of the Emirates to become the first President of the UAE (earning him the nickname “The Father of the Nation”), and Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum of Dubai was elected Vice-President. On 11th of February 1972, Ras Al-Khaimah reconsidered and decided to join the Federation.
Sheikh Zayed understood that in order to build harmony among his people, he needed to first build their trust through personal interaction. He well known for getting out and meeting the local community, and for this reason was often referred to as a man of the people.
Sheikh Zayed established the Zayed Foundation for Charity and Humanitarian Works in 1992, with a capital of more than one billion dollars, in the arena of philanthropy in all fields, both locally and internationally. The development and humanitarian aid provided by the UAE between 1971 and 2004, was valued to over 90 billion Dirhams, and more than 117 countries have benefited from this act of generosity worldwide.
The conservation of natural environment and wildlife was critical to Sheikh Zayed. He believed that the character of the Emirati people derives, in part, from the struggle to survive in the harsh and arid local environment. In this vein, Sheikh Zayed worked throughout his life on ensuring the preservation of such species as the Arabian Oryx and the Sand Gazelle. The World Wildlife Fund recognized his great contribution with the prestigious Gold Panda award.
Muslims stand against any person of the Muslim faith who will try to commit an act of terror against a fellow human being.Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan
Sheikh Zayed was also notably a firm opponent of harsh dogmas and intolerance. In an interview in 2002, he said, “Muslims stand against any person of the Muslim faith who will try to commit an act of terror against a fellow human being. A terrorist is an enemy of Islam and of humanity, while the true Muslim is friendly to all human beings and a brother to other Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This is because Islam is a religion of mercy and tolerance”.
On 2nd November 2004, Sheikh Zayed passed away peacefully and was succeeded by his son Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the President of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Abu Dhabi.
Year of Zayed
The Year 2018 was declared the “Year of Zayed” to honour the 100th birthday of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.