Whenever King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is mentioned, so is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s great global impact during his reign, an impact that owes much to his character’s strength, presence and influence. This made him one of the most influential figures on a global level, according to many of the world’s authenticated surveys. Forbes magazine kept classifying him among The World’s Most Powerful People for six consecutive years from 2009 to 2014 (less than two months before his death). Moreover, in August 2010, he was included in Newsweek magazine’s list of World’s Most Admired Men Top 10.
At the level of the Islamic world, the Arab countries and the Middle East, King Abdullah was the leading, most influential figure throughout his reign. He topped the list of most influential figures in the Muslim world issued by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan, in recognition of his efforts in serving Moslems and their issues; his rapport with Islamic communities; and his humanitarian work.
The strength, presence, and influence of King Abdullah’s personality were accompanied by other wonderful traits, as this global figure with a commanding presence was equally compassionate, affectionate, and quickly moved by humanitarian situations. A constant sense of human responsibility was the most salient feature of the King’s personality. There are several records of events in which he could not hold back his tears in public when touched by humanitarian situations. His pride and stature did not prevent him from shedding tears.
King Abdullah earned the world’s respect and appreciation as an exceptional world leader, not only for his fortitude and courage but also for the great compassion he harbored for many people in many parts of the world. People in turn loved him and reciprocated his generosity with their loyalty and blessings.
Courage and noble ethics in this extraordinary king fused with his heightened humanitarian consciousness to render him one of the main initiators for peacemaking in the world. He was able to make a huge impact and build a solid foundation for global peacemaking, supported by his preference for dialogue, ability to effectively listen to and consult others, as well as his transparency, clarity, candor, humility, simplicity, sense of initiative and the influential charisma that characterized him and for which people knew and loved him.
The sum of these traits in King Abdullah’s personality resulted in qualities that distinguished him as a leader: wisdom and patience. He was one of the rulers in the world for whom people were most eager to give an endearing title to express their love, despite his objection to some of these titles that clashed with his extreme humility. The most popular title was “King of humanity” in addition to other titles such as “King of initiatives” and “King of reforms”.
King Abdullah also rejected the tradition of hand-kissing by those wishing to greet him with respect and honor his royal position; he delivered a speech on this topic saying that “hand-kissing is a matter alien to our values and morals and is unacceptable for any free noble soul, as it requires bowing which in turn is reserved only for Allah, so I announce my flat refusal of this tradition”. Because of his sense of human dignity, he refused to see any human being bowing to kiss the hand of another, even if done willingly with love and appreciation. He wanted equality and dignity for all people in accordance with his vision for a dignified human life.
On the local level, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz embodied a father figure for his people, through his kind decisions and leadership in accelerating development at unprecedented rates in the country. He was quick to respond to increasing and supporting subsidies for underprivileged groups and to disbursing compensation for those affected by cold waves or torrents that impacted parts of the country. In addition to pardoning, on different occasions, deceased borrowers from the Saudi Real Estate Development Fund and the Saudi Credit and Savings Bank. He was also known for pardoning “public right” prisoners who proved their commitment and corrected their conduct before the end of their term, so that they could return to society as righteous, active, and productive citizens and carry on their lives among their families. The late King was also known for pardoning debt prisoners and paying their debts. His tendency to pardon and forgive reached its apex when he, after becoming King, pardoned those who had been accused of attempting to assassinate him when he was Crown prince in 2003, after investigations showed external parties were involved in the attempt.
Apart from his all-encompassing sense of human responsibility, King Abdullah had a special place in his fatherly heart for children all over the world. He personally sponsored around 30 surgeries conducted in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for separating Siamese twins, from various countries, that he hosted under his generous patronage. His special care for this cause resulted in ending the Siamese twins’ suffering through sponsoring their surgeries. It further positioned King Abdullah Specialist Children Hospital in King Abdulaziz Medical City at the Ministry of National Guard among the leading hospitals in such complex surgeries. The Hospital also became the world’s first in separating the largest number of Siamese twins conjoined at the head. King Abdullah’s commitment to children is clearly reflected in his focus on their issues and his personal patronage of them. In addition to his support for all the disabled as Chairman of the Supreme Council for Disabled Affairs before assuming office, and granting the disabled legislative and service privileges after he became King, disabled children in particular received a special level of royal care, as evidenced by the inception of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Center for Disabled Children’s Care.
King Abdullah’s fatherly emotions, with all their tenderness and protectiveness, ensured that the children orphaned by the tsunami that swept Aceh province in Indonesia on December 26th, 2004 were not overlooked. The King issued instructions to launch an urgent humanitarian aid program to address the tsunami’s effects and repercussions, allocating within the program funds needed for fostering orphans, as he himself fostered 2000 orphans. This led others to follow suit till the orphans sponsored by the “Fael Khair” program that he financed totaled 5310 orphans. He never stopped following up on their affairs and inquiring about their needs, and received a number of them in Saudi Arabia upon inviting to them to perform Hajj and Umrah.
What distinguishes the life journey of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz is that it lives on in the hearts of generations just as it remains carved in the pages of history. His tender sense of fatherhood reached the hearts of children everywhere. That impact was expressed by Arab children who awarded him the “Order of the Arab Paternity” at the end of 2011, which he received, on behalf of the children, by the Ambassador of the United Nations for Humanitarian Services under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the Arab League. For their part, disabled children wanted to express their love and loyalty by granting him the Disabled Children’s Association for Humanitarian Services Award in 1430 H. The award recognized his leadership and role in supporting the Association and its national programs, and his commitment to achieving a qualitative leap in tackling the problem of disability in Saudi Arabia – in terms of both treatment and prevention.
King Abdullah’s humanitarian initiatives reached people everywhere, ranging from meeting their urgent needs to fulfilling their life dreams, especially those who wished but could not afford to travel to perform Hajj. He hosted thousands of pilgrims each year at his own expense. This is only one example of his magnanimous acts that brought happiness to many people’s hearts by achieving their dreams. It brought him great joy to witness joy in others. As for meeting people’s essential needs, suffice it to mention that he was named “Champion in the Fight Against Hunger” for 2008 by the World Food Programme.
Perhaps the “King of humanity” was the most representative title for King Abdullah in collective memory, not only for the people of Saudi Arabia, but also for those of several countries. He has left his mark on many humanitarian situations around the world through his quick response to relief calls in countries struck by natural disasters and other catastrophes. His sustainable and strategic-impact projects in service of people were numerous. Among them, we recall his global outstanding project “Messengers of Peace”, which prepares young scouts around the world to become messengers of peace and help end conflicts. The project’s impact has reached several European countries and Central American countries such as Salvador, in addition to Haiti, the Philippines, Armenia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Slovenia, Bosnia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Arab states, and countries in the Asia and Pacific region.
As for his “Fael Khair” program, whose sponsor was not revealed until King Abdullah’s death, it has been implemented by the Islamic Development Bank Group to fulfil the needs of many communities in Asia and Africa. This vast program’s projects have transformed the lives of many people in targeted areas such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Indonesia’s Aceh province, Yemen, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Somalia, Niger, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and others.