Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004 CE (ra), was the founding figure of the United Arab Emirates and the Emir of Abu Dhabi. He was a figure who guided his country on a journey from the middle ages to the space age and from material poverty to material riches all in a single life time.
He was loved by his people and is generally remembered as a sincere and devout Muslim. He brought highly learned scholars of Islam to UAE from many lands and ensured that Abu Dhabi would be a city full of Mosques. He also set an example of religious tolerance in his country towards people of different faiths.
One time Hamza Yusuf Hanson narrated a fascinating story about the Sheikh that was told to him by a cousin of this Emirati elder statesman, who had travelled with him in Europe many years ago.
Sheikh Zayed was staying in a particular city for two weeks. Every day he liked to go to a particular coffee-house and whilst he was there the birds would fly down and he would feed them.
Each day he went more birds would come than they day before. Noticing this the Emir said to his cousin that these birds must be telling each other that bread was there.
At the end of the Sheikh’s stay of two weeks, many birds would come and wait for Sheikh Zayed (ra) to feed them each day, but this worried the Sheikh as soon he would be leaving. After considering what to do he came up with a solution that only one with a generous hand and a large purse would come up with.
He said to his cousin ‘tomorrow these birds will come expecting food and we won’t be here to feed them. So go and ask the man who owns this coffee-house how much he wants to feed them for a year, until we come back for our next visit.’