It is said that behind every great man there is a great woman.
In the case of the late founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, there were two great women: his mother, Sheikha Salama Bint Butti, and his wife, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak.
Together, these two powerful women helped to shape the country, through raising generations of compassionate leaders with a vision that reached beyond borders.
“Closeness to the people, harmony between family members, that sense of kinship, and connection to those around are some of the core values Her Highness Sheikha Salama instilled in the late Sheikh Zayed,” said Dr Maitha Al Shamsi, Minister of State and Advisor to Sheikha Fatima.
Dr Al Shamsi was speaking – along with Maryam Al Roumi, a former Minister of Social Affairs – last Tuesday during the Mother of the Nation Festival which continues at Abu Dhabi Corniche until April 2.
They were taking part in a Multaqa talk in collaboration with the Zayed National Museum, about the roles of Sheikha Salama and Sheikha Fatima – in whose honour the festival is named – and the influence they had on Sheikh Zayed and his leadership style.
This is the second annual series of the Multaqa talks, which aim to shed light on the content of the upcoming Zayed National Museum.
From childhood, Sheikh Zayed was encouraged by his mother to attend gatherings and majlises with elders and sit with members of different tribes. This helped to shape a leader known for his open majlis policy, which allowed people from all walks of life and nationalities to meet the UAE’s founding President.
“The closeness of our leadership to their people is unique to the region – actually, unique in the world – and it started and continues with the great mothers of these leaders,” said Dr Al Shamsi.
Tuesday’s Multaqa, on the festival’s main stage, was moderated by Salama Al Shamsi, project manager for the museum.
Both speakers shared their experiences of working with Sheikha Fatima on many projects focusing on family and social development, as well as humanitarian efforts.
They also talked about how Sheikha Salama instilled Arab and Islamic values in Sheikh Zayed, such as cooperation, generosity and hospitality, and how she is known as a strong and determined figure.
“Sheikha Salama would be there by her son’s side, guiding him, advising him, sharing her wisdom with him,” said Dr Al Shamsi.
Optimism was another important characteristic for which Sheikh Zayed was known.
“Sheikha Salama would remind Sheikh Zayed to remain optimistic in the face of obstacles and challenges, and that guidance helped our founding father overcome daily obstacles when building a nation,” said Al Roumi.
One of the products of the Multaqa talks is a new project, for which museum will collect more information about Sheikha Salama and her life.
“We have heard stories about Sheikha Salama but there is a serious gap in what we have confirmed,” says Salama Al Shamsi. “We are going to be collecting data and properly documenting her story.”
As a great supporter of empowering women, Sheikha Fatima is known for her projects and initiatives that helped to pave the way for females to excel in all fields. She pursued her cause locally, regionally and internationally, with her efforts culminating in more than 500 awards and honours, 30 of them bestowed by the United Nations.
“Sheikha Fatima would sit with Sheikh Zayed and together, as partners, they would discuss how and what more they could do for their people ... and how to help women succeed in traditionally male-dominant fields such as politics, construction, agriculture and law,” said Dr Al Shamsi.
“By removing obstacles and providing opportunities, together our mother Sheikha Fatima and our father Sheikh Zayed helped us grow and become one of the world’s strongest nations.”
Al Roumi also shared a personal story, dating back to the 1980s when she was in charge a special needs centre, about Sheikha Fatima and Sheikh Zayed.
“I was upset over how the media didn’t give our centre and our work any coverage,” she said. “I was over at Sheikha Fatima and she saw that something was wrong and I told her that the media didn’t publish any photos or broadcast anything from our centre and yet we had a big National Day celebration with the children there.
“Sheikha Fatima told me, ‘We will fix this,’ and she told Sheikh Zayed who, within a few days, came with a huge delegation of VIPs, ministers and media to my centre – and we got so much coverage in that single day that it was more than what we got in years.”
Al Roumi also revealed that she is planning to write her memoirs, in which she will share other personal stories about her experiences with Sheikha Fatima and Sheikh Zayed.
“We should never take for granted what our Mother of Nation has done for all of us,” she said.