It's impossible to celebrate the Emirates' National Day without mentioning its founder and first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

On December 2, 1971, the rulers of six emirates (Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Abu Dhabi, Fujeira, and Umm al-Quwain) out of seven agreed to unite the emirates following the end of the British mandate.

The last of the emirates, Ras al-Khaimah, eventually joined the federation, which formed the United Arab Emirates as we know it today.

Here are some things you need to know about the driving force behind the emirates' unity, Sheikh Zayed, who served as UAE's president between 1971 and 2004.

1. The Muslim Leader


Sheikh Zayed studied Islam, the Quran, Hadith and the basics of Arabic at the hands of the Islamic religious authorities, starting at the age of 5.

2. The Spirited Leader


In 1946, Sheikh Zayed became Ruler's Representative in Abu Dhabi, a role in which he thrived, transforming the city Al-Ain, where he opened its first school in 1959, as well as its first souk and hospital.

Sheikh Zayed went on to become the ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, a role which he kept until his death in 2004.

3. The Leader of Independence


Sheikh Zayed was the driving force behind the unity of the seven emirates and the formation of the United Arab Emirates as a sovereign country.

4. The Arab Leader


Not only did Sheikh Zayed support Egypt and Syria in their October 1973 war against Israel, but he joined Saudi's King Faisal in cutting the supply of oil to Western countries backing Israel, putting pressure on these countries to push Israel to leave the Arab territories it had occupied during the 1967 war.

5. The Diplomatic Leader


Sheikh Zayed signed, alongside his Saudi counterpart King Faisal, the Treaty of Jeddah in 1974 to put an end to an ongoing border dispute between the UAE and Saudi Arabia that had gone on since the latter became an independent state.

6. The Leader Who Welcomed Refugees


When the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait during the Gulf War, the Emirates welcomed around 66,000 Kuwaiti citizens, supporting them financially and exempting them from paying medical fees.

7. "Man of Environment and Development"


Long admired for his interest in green projects and preserving the environment, Sheikh Zayed was awarded the title "Man of Environment and Development" in 1993.

This post originally appeared in Arabic at YallaFeed .