Early Bahá'ís in the UAE

Based on accounts by some historians, many early Bahai’s contributed to the process of building a new nation decades before the formation of the union. Among them were the first technicians and vocational who were working in various fields like agriculture, education, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and others. What attracted these individuals to the region was the fact that they could contribute to building communities and provide services that would help to develop a young aspiring nation that is founded on the principle of unity. The following is a brief narrative of some of those individuals who worked diligently and dedicated themselves to the development and progress of their communities:

H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan honoring Dr. Maleeha Thabeti and her husband at the Abu Dhabi Awards

Among the Baha’is who were known for selflessness and dedication in their life of service before the formation of the United Arab Emirates were: Dr. Thabet and his wife Dr. Maleeha.

They both worked individually as medical caregivers for all the residents of AlAin with the very basic medical equipment that was available to them in the 1950s when they started their work. They worked continuously and tirelessly both from their home all day long and in the outskirts, and in less populated areas whenever needed. This dedicated couple were the first to import agricultural equipment to AlAin in order to improve the standards of agriculture among the people of the region. 

Dr. Thabet was a General Practitioner of medicine as well as dental care, while his wife; Dr. Maleeha was a midwife and gynecologist for the female population. In 2008, Dr. Thabet and Dr. Maleeha were awarded the ‘Abu Dhabi Award’ and were presented the award by His Highness Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayed, the President of the UAE, may God protect him. The Abu Dhabi Awards are presented to those people who have given service and contributed toward the development and progress of Abu Dhabi.

سمو الشيخ محمد بن زايد آل نهيان أثناء تكريمه للسيدة لطيفة تبريزي في جائزة أبوظبي للأعمال الخير

Another well-known Baha’i family residing in Al-Ain was the family of Dr. Tabrizi who moved to Al-Ain in 1979. This family contributed to spreading happiness to those who know them and were always ready to help and serve others, whether their neighbors, friends or residents of the area. Mrs Latifa Younes Tabrizi was an optimistic human, a dedicated wife and mother who devoted herself to raising and educating generations of children. She was known for her liveliness and joy; she was always seen with a smile on her face. Her profound thoughts and words affected everyone and carried many high principles and values in them. Her joy was always twinned with charity and service, she continued to serve her community in a spirit of selflessness and dedication. 

Mrs. Latifa lived her life deeply believing in the words of Bahá’u’lláh: “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.” Mrs. Latifa did not forget the people in society with special needs, from 1998 onwards she dedicated herself to volunteering full-time, with great love and passion, in the Al-Ain Center for Rehabilitation of Special Needs. She taught them to make handicrafts and artworks from recycled materials found at home, her aim was to develop their skills and abilities as valued members of society. Mrs Latifa Tabrizi helped to organize multiple charity exhibitions for the People of Determination so as to showcase their handiwork. This contributed to changing the social culture and raising awareness of the abilities of the People of Determination and their creativity. As her reputation grew in Al-Ain, many university students would contact her to learn how to recycle materials at home and create works of art from them. In 2009 her efforts were awarded by his highness Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayed, President of the UAE - may God protect him - with the Abu Dhabi Award.

Regarding the people of Al-Ain, her daughter, Dr. Sama, recalls: ‘The people of Al-Ain are distinguished by their welcoming spirit and their hospitality.. My father made sure that we (the Tabrizi family members) strengthen our friendship with the residents by taking us to visit his patients at home on Fridays. This was the reason that we got to know many families in Al-Ain from various tribal backgrounds.’

Another memory of Dr. Sama is: ‘When we were very young children, we were honored to visit the late Sheikh Zayed in his palace in AlReef and have lunch with him. I was so happy to have the honor of sitting on his highness’ right at the table. Even as a child, I was impressed with how much his highness showed love and care for the children and would ask us what we wanted. He also encouraged my father a lot for his contribution to dentistry in the city.’

Dr. Hussein Mahboubi

Dr. Hussein Mahboubi was born in 1927 and was the first to open a dental clinic in Dubai in 1951. He dedicated his life to serving the people of Dubai through his clinical services, not only that, he also offered his service as a dentist to those who lived far away and couldn’t reach the dental center. His passion for serving the community was what drove him to carry on. Dr. Mahboubi was honored to give his dental services to both his highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and his highness Sheikh Rashed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum - may God bless their souls. He was known to frequently attend the ‘Majlis’ gatherings of the people on different occasions to ask about them and participate in their conversations that were the cause for strengthening the bonds of friendship among people of the community.

Over the years, Dr. Mahboubi built many relationships and friendships based on trust and mutual respect. His relationships included; the leaders of the country, writers, professionals in various fields and people from all walks of life. Those who knew him witnessed his nobility of character and generosity of spirit and one who served his community for nearly 70 years. He left his mark on those who met him, he dealt with everyone with love and friendship and was unforgettable. One of the national writers said the following about him: ‘Dr. Mahboubi was not an ordinary doctor as we know them, or even an ordinary employee who worked only to get paid for his work and medical service. The relationship between Dr. Mahboubi and his patients crossed over to friendship and close bonds that are not broken by material and worldly bonds. Dr. Mahboubi, may God bless his soul, would heal and work on patients’ teeth and would not take money from those he knew could not pay. Most importantly, the friendship would not end, it was continuous between Dr. Mahboubi and his patients, even with the patients’ families, both sides would become best friends with each other.’

As an appreciation for his years of service in the field of dentistry, Dr. Mahboubi was awarded the (Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashed Al Maktoum award for Medical Sciences in the UAE in the 9th year: 2015-2016). This award highlighted the following services given by Dr. Mahboubi which were mentioned in the ceremony:

‘It is important to acknowledge that many dental health trainees were tutored by Dr. Mahboubi so they can be sent to other Emirates in order to raise the public awareness in matters related to oral and dental health. His greatest achievement was the organizing of a number of tents to heal patients in the outer desert areas of the UAE and Oman. He always used to take his Jeep that had a metal board with ‘DENTIST’ written on it (in Arabic), and this at a time where there were no license plates on the cars.’

The above is a reflection of the principles that Dr. Mahboubi believed in and tried to apply in his daily life.

“Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches.” Bahá’u’llah

Dr. Karamat Yazdani

The first dentist in Abu Dhabi was Doctor Karamat Yazdani, whose grandson Erfan has narrated his grandfather’s story: ‘My grandfather lived for 40 years in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, at first he lived in AlAin from 1957, he served this land with complete dedication and was generously rewarded in return.” In 1958 he opened the first dental clinic and also the first pharmacy of the Emirate, named ‘Gulf pharmacy’. He was respected and loved by all the locals who came into contact with him. The many years that he resided in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi helped him to witness firsthand the historic transformation and the advancement of the United Arab Emirates. He was known for his trustworthiness, dedication, and selflessness in all his dealings and his work. He would personally visit his patients and provide necessary care in a spirit of love and devotion.

Erfan remembers a story about his grandfather and the late beloved Sheikh Zayed who put a lot of emphasis on planting and agriculture and considered it to be the foundation of civilization and the cause for development. He says: ‘Two days after my grandfather and his family arrived in AlAin, he was given the opportunity to visit Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan - may God bless his soul - his highness was overlooking work in one of the palm groves and some workers were digging a well in this plantation. His highness was personally overseeing the digging of the well and the planting of the palm trees himself.’ Erfan also says: ‘My grandfather attended the (Majlis) of the late Sheikh Zayed many times when he was living in AlAin and later, in Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh would repeatedly emphasize on the importance of agriculture in our lives and he would always ask the nationals about their farms and the condition of their palm trees. He would offer all types of support and encouragement in order to strengthen agriculture in the country.’ 

As for the attention that the late Sheikh Zayed paid to his people and the residents of his Emirate, Erfan recalls his grandfather’s stories: ‘From the start of my grandfather’s time in Abu Dhabi, he noticed how all the locals and residents were close as members of one family and Sheikh Zayed would make sure that they would all come together and he would ask them all about their wellbeing. If my grandfather would absent himself for a while from the Sheikh’s gatherings for any reason, the Sheikh would ask him the next time he saw him: ‘Where were you?’ Sheikh Zayed would constantly ask about the wellbeing of all his citizens alike and whether they were living comfortably and if they were in need of something, if he found out that someone needed some assistance, he would immediately help them out.

Mr. Amir Rouhani with his family

Mr. Amir Rouhani, was the first person to establish a photography studio in Abu Dhabi, people gave him the nickname of ‘prince of the camera’ (Amir means prince in Arabic) and through his camera he recorded life in the early years in Abu Dhabi. He was one of the first photographers and a historian through his camera, he came to Abu Dhabi in 1957 during the rule of Sheikh Shakhboot Bin Sultan AlNahyan. He worked in the oil industry alongside His Excellency Khalifa Bin Yousef Bin Omair AlMuhairi and became known for his love of photography. Later on, he opened his own studio called: ‘Gulf Studio’, which is currently known as: ‘Gulf photographer for color films’.

His business became successful and the bonds of friendships with prominent figures in the Emirates became stronger, these prominent people would invite him to their social occasions to take pictures and record their gatherings. Before the formation of the United Arab Emirates, he didn’t own a studio, so he took photos of them in his own house, for example, Sheikh Shakhboot Bin Sultan Al Nahyan who would visit him often.

Among those who would ask him to take their photos were Sheikh Saeed Bin Shakhboot AlNahyan and Sheikh Sultan Bin Shakhboot AlNahyan. Some of the most memorable photos he took were of the late Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed AlNahyan - may God bless his soul - who visited his studio at the age of 12 or 13 years old accompanied by Mr. Muhamad Bin Abdul Jaleel AlFaheem. He also photographed Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed AlNahyan in his childhood and early youth, Mr. Humoda Bin Ali AlDhaheri and many others.

Mr. Amir Rohani remembers clearly the times that the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan - may God bless his soul - would invite him to lunch and sit next to him as a friend would sit next to his friend. ‘He would invite us to attend many events and banquets, whether private or public, and not just to take photos of the occasions.’

Regarding his photography work, Mr. Rohani says: ‘I was invited to photograph 2 major national events; the third National Day celebrations in 1973, and the celebration of the first anniversary of the leadership of Sheikh Zayed in the 1960s. I was honored to take the photos at this momentous event and among the guests present were his brother; Sheikh Shakhboot Bin Sultan and many other Sheikhs and dignitaries of the UAE and other countries.’

As Mr. Rohani was known for his good conduct and trustworthiness, he was chosen to sell fuel oil at that time. He recalls; ‘Mr. Khalifa Bin Yousef Bin Omair AlMuhairi was the agent for BP company oil sales in Abu Dhabi and when I met him once, he told me he was looking for a trusted person to help in marketing, so he chose me to work alongside him (Mr. Khalifa). I held two jobs at that time; I would sell fuel during the day and at night I would develop my prints under gas light.’ And so, his life was filled with honesty, dedication, service and love for humanity.

The aforementioned stories are but a few examples of some early Baháʼís who resided in the UAE before the formation of the Union. They dedicated themselves to serving their communities and contributed to the process of development and progress. Today, we are proud to belong to a united land in which people can live together, joined by the sense of belonging to one society. We work sincerely to serve and contribute to the prosperity of our beloved homeland, the United Arab Emirates. The love we have for this land of generosity is based on the deep faith in the Baháʼí teachings that direct us to serve humanity, country and all the world. We are driven by our desire to contribute to the advancement and prosperity of our country, our society and fellow countrymen, hand-in-hand with others.

Mr. Rahmatullah Hosseini in Badie Radio Shop, Central Market in Abu Dhabi in 1956

Was the first to come up with the idea of establishing a post office in Abu Dhabi. He chose his radio repair shop located in Abu Dhabi Souk to be the Post Office. As a recognition for his valuable volunteer efforts, the late highness Sheikh Zayed awarded him with a post box number: 86 and ever since then, he would send and receive mail of Abu Dhabi residents to and from various countries.

Doctor Ahrari while practicing medicine in his clinic in Ras Al Khaimah - early sixties

He arrived in Ras Al Khaimaih in 1958 and opened a clinic there, later, in the early 1960s, he opened a pharmacy named: Ahrar Pharmacy, one of the first pharmacies to get official license from the municipality. Dr. Ahrar was a popular doctor in RAK and people loved and respected him. He would see patients in his clinic or visit them in their homes and give them necessary medical attention and do whatever was in his capacity to help them heal.

Dr. Ghulam Reza Habib Allah Azimi

Arrived in Dubai in 1954 and worked in Dr. Mahboubi’s dental clinic then moved to RAK in 1956 and opened a dental clinic there. He would go to all the regions around RAK by bicycle such as Muaridh, Rams, Shaam, Nakheel and Khor Khaweer, as well as further locations of the Emirates such as Dibba and Kalba. At times he would be out of RAK for a whole week in order to care for patients in distant areas. In 1958, he and Dr. Reyhan opened the first private pharmacy of RAK called: Al Noor Pharmacy. He gained the trust, respect and love of the people because of his dedication to his work.

Mr Ahmad Rafi’ee

In 1951, Mr Ahmad Rafi’ee worked in the first known pharmacy in Dubai known as ‘the National Pharmacy’, the owner of the pharmacy was Doctor Muhammad Habib Al Rida who was the personal doctor to the late highness Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed AlMaktoum the ruler of Dubai. Mr. Rafi’ee won the trust and respect of Dr. Muhammad, as well as that of the ruler Sheikh Rashid Bin Sa’eed and other dignitaries. After his death, the bonds of friendship and brotherhood were continued with his wife until her passing and continue with his children and grandchildren.