An RAF airman, who died this month after a battle with bowel cancer, has been commended by senior officials, who said the force was 'honoured to be able to call him one of our own'.
Shahbaz Saleem labelled the hospice in which he spent his final weeks a 'Heaven on Earth,' after being informed that he had just days to live in late November.
Thousands attended the funeral of the 28-year-old father of two, who died on December 21st having raised over £17,000 for Pendleside Hospice, where he received palliative care in his last few weeks.
RAF Squadron Leader Matt Kingsman was quoted as saying in the Burnley Express:
"Shabz's family have every right to be exceptionally proud of everything he has achieved and the inspirational man he was. The Royal Air Force is honoured to be able to call him one of our own, and we thank him for [his] loyal and exceptional service."
Shahbaz's family, meanwhile, spoke about how they were touched by the number of people who came to pay their respects.
His brother Shahzad paid tribute to the support received from the RAF community and Shahbaz's time in the Air Force:
"The service, the ceremony from the RAF, and everything that the mosque did - it sums up Shabz. He was all about inter-faith and raising awareness - building bridges - between communities and faiths and he did just that even after he was gone.
"I was so proud of what he's achieved not just in life, but even after his death. He brought communities together. I looked around and saw people from all walks of life and that was truly remarkable and sums up my brother."
After nine and a half years in the Royal Air Force, Shahbaz was granted a military burial. The funeral was held at Ghousia Mosque in Nelson, after which he was given a guard of honour by RAF Leeming personnel, while 'The Last Post' was played.
RAF Leeming Station Commander, Group Captain David Arthurton, who laid a wreath at Shahbaz’s grave, said:
"Shahbaz was [a] remarkable young man who always put others before himself. He was the epitome of the Royal Air Force airman, and he will be sorely missed."
His brother emphasised the importance of the funeral's RAF element, saying:
"My brother was a proud RAF airman; my elder brother was in the RAF before him and, when Shahbaz was 11-years-old, he used to try on my brother's Number One uniform. He'd look in the mirror and say 'When I grow up, I'm going to be an aircraftman.' He did us so proud."
Shahzad said of the service’s overwhelming turnout:
"We were so proud as a family to see how many hearts Shahbaz’s has touched. It gave us an extra bit of comfort - we knew my brother was terminal but as soon as he passed away it came as a massive shock, so knowing that all these people were coming down to pay their respects and offer condolences gave us comfort and showed that this particular chap was a true friend of God."