Sajila Saseendran, Senior Reporter, Gulf News
Photographed above: Zainab Taher, founder director of Arab Unity School during the interview with Gulf News. File PhotoImage Credit: Gulf News/archive
Dubai: Rich tributes have been pouring in for Zainab Abdul Hussain Taher, 85, one of the pioneering educators in the UAE who passed away in India.
Founder director and founder principal of Arab Unity School (AUS), Taher passed away on Monday, May 2, in her hometown Mumbai in India, the school said in a message posted on social media on Thursday.
“We lost a dynamic and compassionate educator who impacted so many so positively over more than 47 years,” the school’s principal Leonard Murphy told Gulf News.
“As the current principal, I had the honour of meeting her fleetingly, while she was in retirement, in preparation for one of our Founders’ Day celebrations. She struck me as a very humble and compassionate personality with a very clear vision who understood the importance of staying true to one’s values. Her daughter, Ms Arwa Taher, who took over her role as Director, is following faithfully in her footsteps and leading AUS to a new era of affordable, quality British Curriculum education here in Dubai. Our thoughts and prayers accompany the family during this challenging time,” he added.
In its message, the school described her as “an educator and humanitarian with an impactful and dynamic personality touched thousands of lives in her lifetime.”
“Her contribution in the field of education is incredible and unprecedented. Arab Unity School is on its path of excellence always guided by her vision, mission and philosophy of life and education. She is and will always be loved and respected by all her students, staff and parents’ community. Her death is an unbearable loss to the Arab Unity family, but her valuable teachings and rich memories will always be cherished, honoured and emulated,” the school added.
Dr Amna Ahmed, who graduated from Arab Unity School in 2013, said Taher’s was a phenomenal educator who touched the hearts of many.
“Mrs Taher interviewed me for my kindergarten admission. From the little snippets I can remember she was a firm yet kind woman. Someone who wanted to see her students to succeed and do their best. She inspired thousands of students to pursue their dreams and reach for the stars. A resilient woman who will be always be remembered by all,” said the former student.
Mala Ismail, head of the Humanities Department, said she was devastated to hear the sad news of Taher’s demise. “She was a great leader who had solutions for any problems big or small. She was very understanding and fair with all staff. Possessing a majestic personality, she would always keep calm and listen patiently to everyone. Mrs Taher once gave me her handwritten folder for my subject documents which I treasure till date. She has left us all with an irreplaceable loss.”
Tasneem Hussain, head of Secondary Girls, said: “I still see that dignified yet soothing face of our beloved madam. The one I saw as I entered her office on my first day at school, the day of my interview. She acted as a dual personality which amazed me to the core. She asked me very challenging questions but at the same time she was encouraging and allowing me to answer confidently. That day, I realised what true teachers are like. My heartfelt salute to the teacher, educator, disciplinarian and caring mother figure, Mrs Zainab Taher. She will be sadly missed by all of us.” Syed Aamir Hussain, whose daughters studied in the school, said he had been honoured to sit in madam’s office many times and “always learnt life lessons from Beloved Mother Zainab.”
“She used to advise me about my daughters’ studied and always kept saying, you are not father of daughters but consider you as father of brave sons, make them so strong and independent and sometimes comparing her own life examples and experiences.”
Helen Johnson, physics teacher, said: “Mrs. Taher reminded me India’s Iron lady, Mrs. Indira Gandhi — both were visionary leaders. She was a kind educator, humanitarian, and a stern administrator.”
Sitwat Hameed, Humanities teacher, said: “Ms Zainab Taher was a woman of determination. She was an inspiration to all. I am proud to say that I am associated as a teacher with Arab Unity School for over 36 years and my experience of teaching has been so fulfilling due to Ms Taher’s wonderful guidance. Working with her was like a family. She was kind, humble, caring and a great visionary. We all have lost a great mentor.”
Born on June 6, 1936 in Gujarat in India, Zainab began her teaching career in 1963 as an English and social studies teacher after completing her education from Bombay University.
When she came to Dubai in 1974, there were only a few schools around. This prompted her and her husband Abdul Hussain Taher to start Arab Unity School. “She turned her dream of providing quality education on an affordable fee by founding the school,” the school said in its message.
She was instrumental in building up the reputation of the school, one of the oldest in Dubai, that began with only 15 children and six teachers in two apartments at Al Nasr Square, Deira.
Following its establishment, the family was given a huge plot of land by the late Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, former ruler of Dubai, at its current location in Al Mizhair, to start off with a nursery, kindergarten and grades 1-3. The school following a UK-based curriculum was approved as a Cambridge University centre for IGCSE, GCE, O, AS and A levels in 1993.
In 2002, Cambridge University awarded the “Fellowship Status” to the school, thereby making it the first centre among 300 schools in the Middle East affiliated to the prestigious institution to be so honoured. In 2007, the family opened another school following the American curriculum — the North American International School.