The environment movement is no stranger to royalty: Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales has made his commitment to supporting the green movement, and over in Jordan, Prince Hassan has told Green Prophet that he’s committed to water protection and environmental education for his people. But green royalty from wealthy oil nations? From a ruling royal family in the United Arab Emirates, Green Prophet has befriended Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Ali Al-Nuaimi, better known as the “Green Sheikh.“
Sheikh Abdul Aziz, 44, is the nephew of Highness Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid al-Nuaimi (Arabic: شيخ حميد بن راشد النعيمي) – the Ruler of Ajmān and member of supreme council of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates UAE federation.
An emirate is a political territory that is ruled by a dynastic Muslim Monarch-styled emir. Ajmān, where the Green Sheikh lives, covers an area of just 260 km2 and is located along the Arabian Gulf. About 95% of the people in Ajman (population of 360,000) live in the city of Ajman. Historically the Emirate was was known for its fishing and trade industries; more recently as guardian of some of the UAE’s oil reserves, and for property development.
Gaining a reputation for his zealous interest in environmental issues, which started as a child, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, today is CEO of the of Al Ihsan Charity Centre, which supplies food and essentials to the needy. He has a life mission which is guided by Islam: “to achieve all manners of excellent deeds for the satisfaction of Allah (God).”
In that mission is protecting the environment.
Educated in chemical and petroleum engineering, with an MA in environmental management, and a PhD in clean production and industrial ecosystems, Green Prophet interviews this newcomer to the green scene, with high hopes that the Green Sheikh will radically reform education and respect for the environment in the Middle East.
He’s won awards for his research, and the Mayor of Miami has given the Green Sheikh a key to the city. He currently advises the public, private and academic sectors on environmental issues.
Here’s our interview:
How has your passion for the environment influenced any policies in the Middle East?
I’ve activated and coordinated the formation of environmentally and socially responsible non-governmental organizations; I have created partnerships between public, private and local communities; have advised and raised awareness among decision makers, have participated in steering committees for strategic sustainability in major sectors, and have promoted these issues in the media in the regions of the United Arab Emirates, the GCC (Arabian Gulf Region), and in some other Arab countries, like Jordan.
Whatever inspired you to become a “Green Sheikh”?
It started in my childhood, when my father would train falcons to take with him on hunting trips. Subconsciously I had learned the balance of ecosystems without knowing. Also through my education in high school (science), and when I continued my career as a chemical and petroleum engineer, and worked in LNG Plant. This impacted me heavily.
I was the chairman of Environment Friends Society in the UAE for few years and was leading the Union for Youth and Environment in the region: I’ve been to the Antarctic as a polar explorer, have been awarded volunteering and competitions, and I love the colour green: the way to paradise!
Is there any Islamic philosophy guiding your way; or are you self-made?
Yes, I am following the core values of an Islamic philosophy based on appreciation and respect. The environment lies at the core of the Islamic faith, and the underlying principal that forms the foundation of the Prophet Muhammad’s holistic environmental policy is the belief in the interdependency between all natural elements, and the premise that if humans abuse or exhaust one element, the natural world as a whole will suffer direct consequences.
The three pillars of the Prophet’s environmental philosophy are based on the Quranic teachings and the concepts of tawhid (unity), khalifa (stewardship) and amana (trust).
In line with the concept of tawhid, the Prophet acknowledges that God’s knowledge and power covers everything which is why abusing any of his creations (a living being or a natural resource) is considered a sin.
The Quran explains that humankind holds a privileged position among God’s creations on Earth: he or she is chosen as khalifa, “vice-regent” and is entrusted with an amana – the responsibility of caring for God’s earthly creations.
The importance of sustaining the environment was highlighted by Prophet Muhammad:
“When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he or she should plant it,” which suggests that even when all hope is lost for humankind, one should sustain nature’s growth.
How has your family and friends reacted to your green passion?
My family and friends continue inspiring and encouraging my passion, momentum and vision for a noble cause, even though there are many obligations and priorities.
What do you think are the biggest environmental problems in the Middle East, and what can Arab Nations do to change them?
The major challenges:
Water demand in the region is on the rise, as we live in the world’s most dry area, water is represents a challenge to the development and sustainability of the region’s economy.
What can be done:
- Reinforcement of environmental regulations
- Environmental awareness among decision makers
- Databases and required information for environmental planning and policies
- Public, private partnership is needed to address water challenges
- Investment needed for the infrastructure and technologies of water and wastewater
- Adaption of integrated water resources management
- Put in place national polices for short and long term goals
- Water demand management programs based on considering water as public goods without depriving the disadvantaged people
- More efficient wastewater treatment technologies and reducing the cost of desalination processes.
Who do you think has more power to change the green problems in the Arab world: the people, the religion, or governments/ruling family?
If in the Arabian Gulf countries (GCC) it would be the royal families with government support, using religion values and the support of people. If in other than Arabian Gulf Countries, it would be the government, represented by the president.
If you had one wish, what would it be?
Holistic living which describes one as being connected to the daily circle of life; balancing the spiritual, the intellectual, the physical, the emotional, the aesthetic, the environmental and my own inner peace to help spread peace throughout the world and in the process achieve wisdom.
Do you have any criticisms of the environment movement in the West (i.e. Europe and the US)? What are they?
Normally I never criticize anyone involved in noble causes and try to help people with their well being and try to sustain life for all God’s creation.
My values are based on those short letters:
3C’s and 3L’s:
No complaints…No comparison…No criticisms
Learn more…Love more…Lend more
What can the West learn from the Middle East?
- Learning more about the true values of Islam
- From Muslim women’s rights and her duties
- History and heritage
- Cultural understanding
- Family relationships and tradition
- Social responsibility
- Arabic Hospitality
- Arabic art and music
- Our food and spices
- Arabic medicine
- Indigenous Arabs (Beduin from Al Badiyah or the deserts) have a lot of wisdom to share
Please let us know about a few of your favourite environment heroes, projects or organization anywhere in the world?
- The Late Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan (Founder and president of the UAE)
- Robert Swan
- Frederic Hauge
- David de Rothschild
- Al Gore
- UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme)
- WANA Forum
- Green Peace
- Earth Scan
- Friends of the Environment
Favorite Green Projects:
- Masdar City (World hub of renewable energy)
- E-base in Antarctica
- Industrial Symbiosis in Denmark
If you could meet one person, alive or dead, who would it be and what you ask them?
I’d like to meet Abraham the Father of Prophets and ask him: How can we learn in our modern day the lessons from the sacrifice of your son?
What are you currently working on now?
A new charity hospital with capacity of 50 beds specialized for less fortunate families in the UAE, and a new school for talented and less fortunate children, on a training centre for empowering young leaders and endowment projects.