Mohammad Khalifa Bin Hadher Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

The UAE has lost one of its finest sons — and I am mourning the loss of a dear friend who was as close to me as a brother. Mohammad Khalifa Bin Hadher, whom I affectionately knew as Abu Khalid, had the heart of a lion; he was strong and courageous but, last week during a visit to Paris, he heeded the call of his creator and drew his last breath.

His sudden passing came as a shock to all those who loved him and I would extend my condolences to his family and all those who will miss him a lot.

Mohammad's life was rich with family, friends and admirers. A former diplomat, who served in Lebanon and Pakistan, and member of the UAE's Federal National Council, he was a successful businessman and renowned Emirati writer and poet. He was a wise and far-sighted man who understood the importance of education. He co-founded Al Nadwa: The UAE Cultural and Scientific Association and helped establish the Rashid Prize for Higher Education that awards scholarships to promising students.

I may know a lot of people but I have very few friends in the true sense of the word, friends who are there when the going gets tough and with whom one can share life's experiences and challenges. Abu Khalid was not only an exceptional friend he was also an exceptional intellectual, thinker and human being.

I'm saddened by the loss of such a rare breed of men who, while adapting admirably to the modern way of life, never forgot the principles, ethics and hospitality that were the hallmarks of the peoples of the Gulf.

For one thing, he was a walking encyclopaedia on Arab history, culture and traditions and an expert on the Arabic language; there was little he didn't know about the Arab world. He was exceedingly proud to be an Arab (it still hurts to speak of him in the past tense) and showed great respect for his Arab heritage. But first and foremost, he was a patriot who would protect his country and his people with his life. He was also a defender of Arab causes and I know that, like me, he was concerned about Persian encroachment throughout the region.

As a human being, he was warm and emotive, characteristics that showed in his smile and in his poetry. He loved life. He loved romance. He appreciated the pure love, the highest form of love that touches the highest essence of the readers of classical Arab poems, transporting them far away from the mundane for a precious moment. I was honoured to learn that a few of those poems were inspired by some of the stories I told him during our conversations. He was unfailingly polite, but when he believed that something was wrong he wouldn't hesitate to speak and never shied from telling the truth as he saw it, no matter how painful.

High standards

I only wish I had the opportunity to tell him ‘Goodbye for now' face to face; these few words are all that are left to me to express my sorrow at our parting. Selfishly perhaps, I wish he could have stayed with us a little longer. If only I possessed the poetic talent of my late father Ahmad I would write to him in the language he loved best, but I hope the feeling behind this simple message will reach him anyway.

My dear brother Abu Khalid,

In these troubled times, when we are in need of you, you leave us. We need your clear thoughts, your courageous opinions, your Arab patriotism and your beautiful verses.

When I remember your poems so heartfelt, so filled with emotion and meaning, I miss your presence. Your poems were never mere rhymes; you never took up your pen to win praise or gain approval. They came from the realms of your soul and were always rich in meaning in the tradition of the legendary Arab poets who went before you.

Your country misses you, Abu Khalid. Be sure that we will make all efforts to raise the UAE flag even higher; a pure Emirati standard that will make you proud.

We have lost a compatriot who can never be replaced. And to ensure your name will live on, I would ask the UAE Government to commemorate your life and honour your legacy with a monument or landmark in your name. As for me, as long as I breathe, I shall never forget you. 

Khalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group.