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Dr Arif Al Sheikh, who is a well-known poet, scholar, columnist and Imam in Sharia, was picked to pen the lyrics for the UAE National Anthem. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Tasks can be of all kinds, but what if someone asks you to write the national anthem of your country?

In the autumn of 1986, an Emirati man was given this privilege - to pen the lyrics of the UAE’s national anthem.

Dr Arif Al Sheikh, a poet, scholar, columnist and Imam with expertise in Sharia, was working in the examination department of the Ministry of Education when he was approached. He was asked to write the national anthem based on a melody by an Egyptian composer, Saad Abdel Wahab, who had composed it in 1972 after the Union of the emirates.

“I received letter and a cassette of the melody and was asked to come up with the lyrics in three days. I was wondering how I could do that. It was a gigantic task to be completed in too short a time,” Dr Al Sheikh told Gulf News.

Patriotic tune

He said that he was entrusted with the responsibility by the acting minister of education, Ahmed Humaid Al Tayer who was on a field tour of schools when he noticed how the UAE flag would be hoisted with the patriotic tune without any words.

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Dr Arif Al Sheikh at his home in Al Khawaneej in Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

“He wanted to have a full anthem just like in other countries,” he said, adding that the tricky part was to fit the lyrics to the existing tune.

He recalls replaying the music of the anthem over and over again on a small cassette player from 11am to 5pm without writing a word.

After grueling hours of sitting and listening to the melody 60 times, the words finally dawned on him.

“Ishy Beladi –Long Live My Nation- were the first words and the rest just came out flowing. The idea was to express the spirit of the Union and highlight the values of loyalty and patriotism.”

Using a pencil, he noted down the words, approached his wife and sang to her the national anthem.

“She liked it and I felt more confident about the lyrics. The next day, the anthem was presented to the minister who then delivered it to the Cabinet.”

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Dr Arif Al Sheikh feels very grateful and heartened that the lyrics he had written for the National Anthem was approved. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Cabinet approval

He made a tape of him singing the lyrics. Today, every Emirati has memorised those very same words by heart.

“He called me and said the Cabinet had approved the national anthem,” Dr. Al Sheikh said.

The words were photocopied and distributed to teachers, schools, police stations and government offices.

In the coming days, Dr. Al Sheikh felt hearetened when he would hear the national anthem with wotrds being played on radio and TV.

“Everybody liked it and it became a source of pride for me, like a mother’s joy when she hears her newborn child crying. It was a challenge no doubt, but it was inspiration from the Almighty that I could meet the challenge,” he said.

As the UAE celebrates the Year of the 50, the man behind the national anthem’s lyrics feels strongly aboiut the hoisting of the Union flag on December 2, 1971.

“The words in the anthem express everything, the values of the nation like unity, Islam, integrity, sacrifice and pride. Despite the passage of time, the anthem is in line with the UAE’s development,” he said.

After working at the Ministry of Education for 26 years, Dr Al Sheikh moved to Dubai Courts, where he works as a family advisor on relationships.

Ishy Bilady: The UAE National Anthem explained in English:

Long live my country, live United, our Emirates

You have lived for a nation

Whose religion is Islam and whose guide is the Quran

We fortify you with the name of Allah, oh my homeland

My country, my country, my country, my country

Allah protects you from evil throughout time

Each of us swears to build you and work for you

Our work is pure, we work in purity

with all our lives, pure and unequivocal

The peace is everlasting and the flag lives on, my Emirates

You are the symbol of the Arab character

Every one of us sacrifices with all of our blood

We sacrifice with our very souls, oh, my homeland