RAF pay tribute to "special" airman at Brierfield mosque

Following the death of the Reedley-born airman and father-of-two last year, representatives from the Royal Air Force have paid their respects to Shahbaz Saleem by visiting his local mosque for a cultural learning event.

A member of the RAF for nine-and-a-half years, Shahbaz - known as Shabz - died of bowel cancer at the age of just 28 on December 21st last year, and was given a guard of honour by RAF officials at his burial at Nelson Cemetery.

Shabz receiving his award from RAF Leeming Station Commander, David Arthurton, with his wife, Anum, and his daughter, Aisha.

Shabz receiving his award from RAF Leeming Station Commander, David Arthurton, with his wife, Anum, and his daughter, Aisha.

Fulfilling one of his final wishes, 27 members of Shabz's squadron at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire travelled to the Jamia Sultania Mosque in Brierfield on October 25th, 2017 for a tour of the mosque to garner an appreciation of his Muslim heritage and the culture that shaped their former colleague.

"Shabz was a very special individual and very inspirational," said Matt Kingsman, Shahbaz's Squadron Commander at RAF Leeming who spoke at Shahbaz's funeral. "The RAF is a community in itself, and it's important all the armed forces are representative of their communities; that's something Shabz realised, and he inspired people to be here today through the seed that he has sown."

Following his terminal diagnosis shortly before his death, Shabz dedicated himself to raising awareness about bowel cancer and funds for Pendleside Hospice, where he received palliative care and which he called "Heaven on Earth". Shabz's JustGiving page raised over £20,300 in donations.

"When Shahbaz first found out he had cancer, he was still thinking of helping others rather then worrying about his own illness, said Sergeant Faraz Saleem, Shahbaz's brother. "He made it one of his final wishes to raise money for the hospice, saying: 'I'm here today, they looked after me and made sure I'm not in any pain. I want to make sure the next person in this bed is looked after.'"

Matt Kingsman, Shahbaz's Squadron Commander at RAF Leeming, speaking at his funeral.

Matt Kingsman, Shahbaz's Squadron Commander at RAF Leeming, speaking at his funeral.

"[I'm] extremely proud, it's a real privilege to be here," added Mechanical Transport driver, Glen Butler, of the cultural leaning event "I was lucky enough to work with Shabz and seeing what he did - always thinking about other people to the end - was a really good thing.

"He touched many people in the RAF and in his home town and that's a legacy that will last for many years to come," Glen added. "He was always thinking about other people: he had a terrible illness, but right up to the end it was always about others."

Embracing the chance to further strengthen the bond between the armed forces and the Islamic community, Jamia Sultania's Imam, Khalid Mehmood, said: "We're very proud to be welcoming the RAF, and obviously this is a good sign of the relationship between our two communities. The mosque is open to everyone."

"Islam meant a lot to Shahbaz," Faraz added. "He was quite religious, and for him to know that his work colleagues have come here today to learn about his religion, to understand more about his spiritual side, I'm sure he'll be very proud."

Shahbaz with Pendle MP, Andrew Stephenson.

Shahbaz with Pendle MP, Andrew Stephenson.

"He would teach those around him about his faith and about Islam," said Matt of Shahbaz. "It's important we understand all faiths and cultures that make up society and therefore make up our armed forces.

"I'm very proud to be here today as a representative of the Royal Air Force and that we are growing the legacy that he started."