Baba Zayed was one of humanity's most inspirational leaders with a reach beyond the UAE

On the anniversary of his death, it's worth remembering how his impact extended far beyond the Middle East and how his teachings continue to impart universal lessons

Sheikh Zayed, the Father of the Nation, left an impact on all who met him. National Archives
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Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the United Arab Emirates, died on November, 2, 2004. For those of us who had the privilege of knowing him during his life, we mourn his loss, as we recall our cherished memories of him. No matter how fleeting the interaction with Sheikh Zayed, most people have a personal story to share that invariably illustrates his warmth and wisdom. He simply had that effect on those around him; the strength of his character was contagious and you often found yourself standing taller or swelling with pride as the countryman or countrywoman of such a charismatic leader. That applied to all ethnicities and nationalities who lived in the UAE, not just Emirati compatriots.

During this Year of Zayed, which commemorates 100 years since his birth and celebrates his numerous achievements, many people from around the world are learning about Sheikh Zayed for the first time. His legacy deserves international recognition and acclaim as one of humanity's inspirational leaders because his impact extended far beyond the Middle East and his teachings continue to impart universal lessons. The UAE is certainly a testament to his guiding influence of tolerance and respect. Our nation is an exemplar of multiculturalism that recognises an individual's ideology, regardless of citizenship, gender or religion. Collectively, the diversity of our local and expatriate populations weave a vibrant tapestry that tie us together in a shared vision for the UAE.

The principles and philosophy of Sheikh Zayed reverberate through our everyday lives. His approach to governance laid the foundation for our union. By balancing the counsel of others and seeking consensus among those involved, he strove for a tradition of inclusiveness, which imbued each of us with a sense of welcomed participation in the country’s progress. Over time, our community’s calling has evolved from an opportunity to participate to an obligation to contribute. The past Year of Giving instilled volunteerism, civic responsibility and generosity as cornerstones of our values-driven society, as opposed to the pursuit of materialism. In the words of Sheikh Zayed: “Every individual has to perform his duty. Man is mortal, but his work is not. Therefore work is greater than wealth.”

Consider that many of the great quotes attributed to Sheikh Zayed were captured through casual conversations while engaging with his people. The words were not remarks prepared by speechwriters; they formed fatherly advice that expressed the hopes and dreams of future generations. The integrity of his values was evident in the way he expressed himself, which itself is a reflection of the Bedouin heritage that influenced his early years. It remained a guiding principle as he directed the sustainable development of the UAE by leveraging the country’s natural resources to the benefit of all its people.

Sheikh Zayed said: “Wealth is not money. Wealth lies in men. This is where true power lies, the power we value. This is what has convinced us to direct all our resources to building the individual and to using the wealth which God has provided us in the service of the nation.”

Those words are encapsulated in the government's current initiatives on human development. Our country's leaders embrace Sheikh Zayed's guidance through an emphasis on empowering people as the central focus and as an essential metric for calibrating the impact of our investments. These programmes range from providing the best education and world-class healthcare, to building transformative infrastructure and issuing aspirational challenges that encourage us to literally aim for the stars.

As a nation we celebrated the recent launch of KhalifaSat, the first satellite to be fully designed and built by Emirati engineers. This remarkable milestone heralds the UAE's ambition to lead in the space sector. As a tribute to all the founders of the union, the Emirates Mars Mission aspires to launch an Emirati-made probe that is scheduled to reach Mars in 2021 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the UAE's formation. Named Hope, it is intended to share a message of optimism, to millions of young Arabs, that even seemingly lofty goals can be achieved through the power of determination.

Similarly it was his desire to deliver hope that drove Sheikh Zayed’s determination in forging the UAE for the betterment of all. His unanimous election as the inaugural president of the UAE was in recognition of his visionary leadership and his affectionate title of Father of the Nation is a reflection of the love he held for his people.

Sheikh Zayed’s lessons and legacy live on in the UAE’s current leadership. This Friday, to mark 14 years since his passing, let us take time to honour Sheikh Zayed and thank all the union’s leaders for their tireless dedication in making the UAE the country we’re all privileged and proud to call our home.

Dr Shaikha Al Maskari is the chairperson of Al Maskari Holding