Articles & Blog Posts
"The Sun of Damascus in the 20th Century"
VERILY, Ibrāhīm was a man who combined within himself all virtues
(Qurʿān, Al-Naḥl 120)
On the eve of the ʿEid festival in the year 1924, a special event took place in Damascus. As the ancient city’s walls shook with festive cries of glorification, a baby boy was born to the prestigious Al-Yaʿqoubi family. The Damascene people welcomed the sacred festivities with joyous cognition, but were completely oblivious to the fact that the boy--who was named Ibrāhīm--would become the cause of an altogether different kind of festivity. There was an exception to this however. The father of the boy, known amongst his people as an ascetic scion of the Prophet ﷺ, knew with certitude that his son would become a great man of Allāh.
Like all the prolific scholars of our history, the upbringing of Sheikh Ibrāhīm Al-Yaʿqoubi was meticulous. His father, the great man of Allāh and descendant of the Prophet ﷺ Sheikh Ismāeel Al-Yaʿqoubi, taught Sheikh Ibrāhīm the Qurʿān and the tenets of Islamic creed while he was still a young child. He then entrusted Sheikh Ibrāhīm to the Islamic seminary of Sheikh Muḥammad Al-Ḥijāzi where Sheikh Ibrāhīm remained for six years and drank from the oceans of the Islamic sciences till he quenched his thirst. Throughout his childhood, Sheikh Ibrāhīm was surrounded with giants of sacred knowledge who imbued within him the sanctity of the Sharʿiah. His paternal uncle Sheikh Moḥammad Al-Sharīf Al-Yaʿqoubi was the official Imām of the Malikis in the grand Ummayyad mosque, and his maternal uncle Sheikh Moḥammad Al-ʿArabi al-Yaʿqoubi took over this position after Sheikh Moḥammad Al-Sharīf in the same mosque.
In the tender years of his youth, Sheikh Ibrāhīm memorised scores of classical texts across the spectrum of the Islamic sciences, until he memorised over 30,000 lines of such texts, a phenomenal and rare achievement at a time when Islamic scholarship had begun to dwindle and decline. Amongst the texts which he memorised were works which modern students of sacred knowledge would struggle to simply study from beginning to end, such as the Hāshiyah of Ibn Abideen (an advanced text in Islamic law according to the Ḥanafi school). He also taught certain texts so many times that he would all but memorise the texts such that he would immediately recall them from memory when asked questions by students. Thus he taught Mughnī Al-Labīb of Ibn Hishām (an advanced text in Arabic grammar) twenty times and Al-Hidāya of Al-Marghināni (an intermediate text in Islamic law according to the Ḥanafi school) twenty two times.
He also taught master-works of the Sharīah which only the most adept of scholars are able to teach, such as the Kitāb of Sībawayh, Sharḥ Al-Kāfiyah of Al-Raḍiy, Tafsir Al-Kashāf of Al-Zamakhsari, Sharh Al-Mawāqif of Al-Jurjāni, Al-Muwafaqāt of Al-Shaṭibi, Sharḥ Jamʿ Al-Jawamiʿ of Al-Maḥalli and Mirāt Al-Uṣūl of Mullah Khusraw. All in all the classical works which he taught during his lifetime numbered over five hundred. This may seem like a farfetched feat, but Sheikh Ibrāhīm was extraordinary scholar. He had devoted every breath of his being to the service of the students of sacred knowledge, and was aided in his efforts by his incessant remembrance of Allāh all-mighty which he would maintain at all times.
Sheikh Ibrāhīm had an outstanding level of persistence and diligence in seeking sacred knowledge, studying throughout the day and into the dark depths of the night. He also ensured he took each Islamic science from its experts, maintaining their company until he mastered their respective field of knowledge. Describing this remarkable habit, Sheikh Adīb Kallās states, “the similitude of Sheikh Ibrāhim Al-Yaqoubi is that of a jewel collector; he travels around the country to the most prestigious jewel merchants, taking from each merchant the most precious jewel which he has, then returning home with a glimmering collection of the most precious jewels.” Indeed Sheikh Ibrāhīm continued studying until he was compared to Al-Imām Al-Suyuṭi for achieving the rare feat of mastering no less than seventy disciplines of knowledge.
His classes bore a unique mark which left a permanent impact on those who attended them. Such classes would sometimes go on for three hours, and he would be like an ocean with streams of knowledge gushing forth from his noble chest. He had an amazing ability at simplifying the most sophisticated of issues, making clear what was ambiguous, and making easy what was difficult. He would never leave his class without paying attention to and taking care of his students, who he treated as if they were his own children. For Sheikh Ibrāhīm, rearing and mentoring students of sacred knowledge was just as important as teaching them the sacred sciences. Due to the light of faith in his heart and his crystallised sincerity, he would sometimes say things in his lessons which could not be found within books but rather were a gift bestowed upon him directly from Allāh all-mighty. His status as a teacher is best illustrated by the fact that the vast majority of Islamic scholars and university lecturers in Syria after his death had either studied at his hands or indirectly benefited from his knowledge. He left works which number close to fifty, including books, epistles, poems, manuscripts which he edited and classical texts which he commented upon, most of which remain in manuscript form. He dictated two of these works entirely from his memory-one on the legal topic of inheritance and the other on the topic of classical logic.
He taught in the mosques of Damascus for almost 40 years, and led the people in prayer as an imām in several mosques, including the grand Umayyad mosque. He was appointed as an Imām by the ministry of religious affairs in several mosques in 1952, as a teacher in the Darwish Bāsha mosque in 1954, and was eventually appointed the official Imām of both the Malikis and Ḥanafis in the Umayyad mosque, positions which he upheld until 1971. In 1983 he was given the task by the ministry of religious affairs to edit classical Islamic manuscripts and monitor the publication of new Islamic works, a task which he maintained until his death. The importance of such a task cannot be underestimated-one example should suffice to illustrate this. In the second half of the 20th century, a book of Islamic creed (ʿAqeeda) was written by a young Syrian scholar who was slowly becoming one of the shining stars in the field of sacred knowledge and gaining a huge following amongst the masses. As per his role within the ministry of Islamic affairs, Sheikh Ibrāhim proof-read the work before its publication and found no less than thirty two errors which the author had made. This was then politely raised to the author’s attention, who duly corrected them. The book later became one of the most widely respected modern works of Islamic creed in the Muslim world.
Sheikh Ibrāhīm would also pay great attention to modern-day issues faced by the Muslim ummah, studying them closely and exhausting his efforts in trying to resolve them. In this way he played the role of a reviver of this deen, during a time when the Muslim ummah was on the verge of collapsing under the weight of the false ideologies which were bombarding it from every direction. Thus in his lessons and speeches he dealt with ideologies such as democracy, communism, socialism, Arab nationalism, Islamic modernism and modern scientism. He would remind students in his approach to such ideologies of Hujjat Al-Islām Imām Al-Ghazzāli, by carefully studying them and ensuring he had fully understood all their intricate nuances before responding with the insight and wisdom of an inheritor of the Prophetic legacy. Sheikh Ibrāhīm always harboured a deep concern for the state of the Ummah, and his most beloved duā for his son Sheikh Moḥammad Al-Yaʿqoubi was that Allah all-mighty would benefit the Ummah through him. He would for example always recall the plight of the Palestinian people in his classes, and encourage Muslims to resist the Israeli occupation in whatever means were available to them.
The scholars of Syria all recognised his merit and virtue, and they would seek his counsel and advice when faced with particularly difficult questions related to the Islamic sciences. Thus Sheikh Moḥammad Al-Makki Al-Kattani the mufti of the Mālikis in Damascus would often turn to Sheikh Ibrāhīm to aid him in the issuing of difficult legal edicts. When Sheikh Abdul Wahhāb Dibs-Wa-Zayt--known in Damascus as ‘the young Abu Hanifa’--was asked “who should we turn to in issues of Hanafi fiqh if we cannot find you?”, he would reply “go to Sheikh Ibrāhim Al-Yaqoubi, who you will find teaching in the Maliki niche of the Umayyad mosque”. The grant mufti of Syria Sheikh Moḥammad Abu Yusr ʿAbidīn would also magnify his praise, stating that “there is no one in the principles of Islamic jurisprudence or the sciences of the Arabic language who can compete with Sheikh Ibrāhim…he is my successor after me”. Sheikh Moḥammad Saeed Ramaḍan Al-Buṭi aptly sums up his status by saying “he reached the peak of knowledge.” Sheikh Ibrāhīm would receive questions related to Islamic law from cities and towns from all over Syria, as well as from the Arab world in general and Europe, to which he would duly respond. His relationship with the scholars of Damascus was defined by love and respect; he would preserve their status and protect their honour. The scholars had certitude about his sainthood and would as a result seek out his dua.
His Spiritual State
Sheikh Ibrāhīm combined his knowledge with action, and fused his action with sincerity, marking him out not only as master of the intellect, but also as a master of the heart. He undertook his spiritual wayfaring primarily under the guidance of his father the great gnostic and man of Allāh Sheikh Ismāeel Al-Yaʿqoubi. Under his father’s guidance, Sheikh Ibrāhim undertook the following daily litanies at different stages of his life all of which illustrate his high spiritual station: fifty thousand ‘Yā Allāh’, five thousand ‘Surah Al-Ikhlas’ and one thousand ‘Surah Al-Fātiḥah’. Sheikh Ibrāhim’s character was defined by unyielding humility which made people completely at ease in his presence. Nor did his humility know any bounds; he would clean the shoes of his students without them realising, and continued to do so until his son Sheikh Moḥammad Al-Yaʿqoubi realised this and took upon himself to undertake this task. Whenever he would enter the mosque with his son, he would advise him: “place your shoes on the lowest shelf, because this is our station.” Many years later, after the death of his father, Sheikh Moḥammad would recall this advice to his students whenever they would insist on placing his shoes on the highest shelf in the mosque upon their entry with him. Sheikh Ibrāhim’s being was beautified with god-consciousness, and he never busied himself with anything other than sacred knowledge and the remembrance of Allah all-mighty. He maintained a state of absolute religious caution in all his affairs. Whenever he would visit the homes of wealthy merchants in Damascus to resolve a dispute or issue a legal ruling, he would warn his young son Sheikh Moḥammad not to eat anything which they offered as it may have been earned from an illicit source of income. The words with which he would persistently advice his students throughout his life were: “Persist upon the pursuit of sacred knowledge and the remembrance of Allah. Persist upon maintaining sincerity, and beware of ostentation”.
True spirituality for Sheikh Ibrāhim was acting upon sacred knowledge. He would constantly repeat that “the true Sufi is the scholar who acted upon the sacred knowledge which he learnt’; he would also say “Tasawwuf is good character and manners; whosever is better than you in Tasawwuf is by necessity better than you in good character and manners, and whosever is better than you in good character and manners is by necessity better than you in Tasawwuf.’ Sheikh Ibrāhīm used to view Tasawwuf as nothing other than an expression of the station of Iḥsan mentioned in the authentic prophetic hadith recorded in Saḥih Muslim; when Gabriel asked the Prophet ﷺ “what is Iḥsan?” he ﷺ replied “it is to worship Allāh as if you witness him, and if you cannot witness him then know that he witnesses you”. How, one may ask, does one reach this station? Sheikh Ibrāhim taught that the way to reach such a station was spiritual self-exertion (mujahada). This was the way he personally adopted. It was also the way practiced by the Prophet ﷺ, by standing up for the night prayer until his blessed feet became swollen, by remembering Allah at all of his times, by secluding himself in the cave of Hira’ in order to whole-heartedly worship his lord, by calling his people to Allāh, and by living amongst the companions as a teacher and guide.
Alongside his god-consciousness and scholar, a particularly unique characteristic Sheikh Ibrāhīm possessed was the attention which he paid towards the upbringing of his children. Many scholars over the last century have failed to give the raising of their children its full due by virtue of the numerous responsibilities which burdened their shoulders. This has contributed to the general decline of Islamic scholarship currently witnessed in the Islamic world, because a primary means of preserving Islamic scholarship is through families of sacred knowledge. Sheikh Ibrāhīm however was insistent that his children inherit all of his knowledge and scholarship, becoming the next bearers of the prophetic legacy. His oldest son, Sheikh Moḥāmmad Al-Yaʿqoubi, thus became his successor and the bearer of the Yaʿqoubi torch of sacred knowledge. The below passages give a glimpse of the special care and attention which Sheikh Ibrāhim paid towards his son Sheikh Moḥammad.
Sheikh Ibrāhim taught Sheikh Moḥammad all disciplines of knowledge, including the ‘worldly’ sciences such as algebra, poetry and astronomy. From the age of five, Sheikh Ibrāhim began teaching his son didactic poems and texts before his son was even able to read, simply by reading the texts to him and asking him to repeat and then memorise each line. The first text he taught his son was Jawhara Al-Tawhid, followed by the Lamiyya of Ibn Al-Wardi, the Burda, Al-Jazariyya, Al-Rahabiyya, Alfiyya ibn Malik, Al-Arbaeen Al-Nawawiyah and several other texts. At the tender age of 7, Sheikh Ibrāhim taught his son Nur Al-Idah in Hanafi Fiqh, and then continued after completing this text with all other major texts in the Hanafi madhab, including Al-Lubāb, Al-Ikhtiyār, Al-Hidayah, Kanz Al-Daqaiq and Hashiyat Ibn Abidin. Sheikh Ibrāhim would insist from an early age that his son attend all his classes, public and private, beginner and advanced even if simply for the blessing of doing so. Thus Sheikh Moḥammad started attending a class in which his father taught the Hashiya of Ibn Abidīn at the age of ten. All in all, Sheikh Moḥammad read with his father no less than five hundred classical texts. This gave Sheikh Moḥammad the honour of being in the company of Sheikh Ibrāhīm throughout the years of his youth. Sheikh Moḥammad insists that the source of all the success and blessing in his life and the secret of all his openings lies in this time which he spent in serving his father, breathing the same air which his father breathed, being able to see his radiant face and being able to carry his blessed shoes. Indeed was in the company of his father that Sheikh Moḥammad learnt of the true meanings of spiritual stations such as Zuhd, Maʿrifah, Muraqabah and Adab. Sheikh Ibrāhīm’s adab would be at the most sensitive level. Once at the age of seven Sheikh Moḥammad asked his father a question about Al-Sheikh Abdul Qadir Al-Jīlani, referring to him as “Sheikh Abdul Qadir Al-Jīlani”, at which his father frowned and he reminded his son, “we only say Sayyiduna Al-Sheikh Abdul Qadir Al-Jilani”.
The following two anecdotes narrated by Sheikh Moḥammad aptly illustrate the meticulous nature of this upbringing. Every day after his son’s morning school session, Sheikh Ibrāhīm would wait for his son to arrive so that he could take over his tutelage. One day Sheikh Moḥammad came back from school, and as was the usual custom of his father, he began asking Sheikh Moḥammad what he had learnt in that particular day’s classes. Sheikh Moḥammad informed him that one of the teachers had taught them of the theory of evolution, and that human beings are evolved from apes. Sheikh Ibrāhim became distressed to a level which Sheikh Moḥammad had rarely seen upon hearing this, and he immediately began explaining to his son at length how this theory was completely false and in total opposition to the story of creation taught in the Qur’ān. Sheikh Ibrāhim then wrote a letter to the Headteacher of the school warning him that the children were a trust placed by Allah all-mighty in his hands, to which the Headteacher duly responded by sacking the teacher who had attempted to brainwash the children with this idea.
On another occasion, Sheikh Moḥammad decided to remain after school to play football with the other boys. As he was playing, he began to hear the faint calls of his father, “Mohmmad…Moḥammad…” This is a categorical example of one of the many miracles bestowed by Allah all-mighty on Sheikh Ibrāhīm. Sheikh Ibrāhim’s voice had extended from his home where he was sat in a state of deep concern for his son all the way to the school playground. When Sheikh Moḥammad eventually arrived home, his father did not give his son his hand for him to kiss as it was customary for him to do. This in and of itself was enough of a punishment for Sheikh Moḥammad. Sheikh Ibrāhīm then solemnly addressed his son with the following timeless words: “do you not want to become a scholar like me?” Today Sheikh Moḥammad is ranked by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute as one of the 500 most influential Muslim scholars in the world, and maintains that the key to all his openings lie in the fact that he was the bearer of his father’s shoes.
The attention which Sheikh Ibrāhīm paid to his son may be summed up in the words of Sheikh Moḥammad Al-Yaʿqoubi, who states: “I was like his shadow, never departing him whether he was resident in a particular place or travelling between places. I would accompany him in the house and the mosque, in the houses of his students, in his visits to scholars, in public gatherings and celebrations, as well as in private gatherings, nay the most private of the private gatherings. There was never a student who had a lesson with him ever since I became mature except that my father would command me to bring a copy of the particular book being studied and sit in the class. My master and father may Allah all-mighty have mercy on him was the jewel of my life. He was my reliance in every science of sacred knowledge, my refuge in every moment of difficulty, and my greatest mentor. The happiest days in my entire life were those days which I would spend in the company of my father and in his service and learning from him.”
His Passing Away
Sheikh Ibrāhīm informed his family of his death six months before his passing away, and informed them once again 3 days before his death that he would be meeting his Lord on the night before the day of Jummah. He instructed them to pray over him on the Aṣr of Friday and asked to be buried next to his mother, and that they not do anything against the sunnah nor anything unlawful during the preparation and performance of his funeral and burial. He also asked for his debts to be paid and the trusts left with him to be returned to their owners.
As he had promised, Sheikh Ibrāhīm passed away to his lord on the night before the day of Jummah on the 26th of Rabi al-Awwal in the year 1985, at the age of sixty three. His eldest son Sheikh Muḥammad Al-Yaʿqoubi lead his funeral prayer in the grand Umayyad mosque. A large funeral procession followed respectfully to the cemetery of Bāb al-Saghir where he was lowered in to his grave, leaving the city of Damascus in darkness and grief having lost its radiant sun.
The following is an article published by the Invitation Magazine, October 2010.
Ask someone about environmental pollutants and without a doubt most would firmly base their answers on CO2 emissions – a greenhouse gas that is held to be partly responsible for global warming. Pushed further and asked about endocrine disruptors (ED’s), most people would answer with a vacant look. Endocrine disruptors, a part of what we usually just call “environmental pollution”, are waste products of industry. They are pesticides used by intensified farming practices, compounds of air fresheners and household cleaning products, they are even found in food containers.
What is perhaps most startling is the use of materials that have been shown to have endocrine disrupting activity in baby bottles and breastfeeding instruments. The culprit is something called Bisphenyl-A, which is found in plastic bottles used by the drinks industry to sell us water, which in some cases is merely tap water.
Unbalancing the Human Body
Essentially the endocrine system of animals, including humans, is responsible for the hormonal balance of the body. At exquisitely small concentrations, glands within the body secrete hormones into the body in response to various stimuli. When foreign chemicals that have structural characteristics that can mimic human hormones enter the body, either through breathing or through the consumption of food and water, our natural balance is disrupted. This imbalance could manifest itself through the changing of our metabolism, our ability to reproduce, a lowering of concentration and even effect our moods. However, the most susceptible group in society are children.
The Green Shaykh
Leading a charge to highlight the effects of endocrine disruptors is Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), who is well known for pulling no punches when it comes to environmental matters; this has lead to him being labelled within some media circles as “The Green Shaykh”. Shaykh al-Yaqoubi ‘s knowledge of the modern global problem of pollution makes his ‘green’ moniker a worthy title, and he is using his prestige along with his near-boundless energy to highlight the environmental issues we all face from an Islamic perspective.
Interestingly, Shaykh al-Yaqoubi sees beyond the effects of the wanton neglect of creation to the sociological aspects of the degradation of our ethics and values, to an increase of street litter within our communities, and draws parallels to the almost total disregard we have shown towards corporations who have been pouring millions of tons of hazardous materials into the ecosystem of the world.
We asked the Shaykh if he could explain from an Islamic perspective what is incumbent on our individual stewardship of creation and how he sees our relationship to big businesses. In particular, What how we should be guiding the latter’s moral obligations without threatening our economic prosperity.
Shaykh al-Yaqoubi Speaks
“Praise be to Allah who has allowed us as human beings to benefit from what He Almighty created;
Prayers and Salutations be on the Merciful and Compassionate, who is sent but as a Mercy to the worlds.
Allow me first of all to express my thanks for choosing this important subject to discuss. There is indeed a lot of ignorance amongst Muslims and indifference amongst those who know the obligation to protect our environment. Yes, there is no doubt from an Islamic point of view that pouring hazardous material into the ecosystem of the world is forbidden. There is no difference between doing this on an individual level, community or state level.
The legal judicial basis for this ruling is derived from the Book of Allah (The Holy Qur’an) and the Sunnah (The traditions and teachings) of the Prophet (ﷺ). The Ulama (Islamic Jurists) summed up general rules which can cover and include many examples such as the following:
'No harm to be inflicted and no harm to be exchanged.'
This is a translation of the exact words of our beloved Prophet (ﷺ). Although this topic, like many modern issues, was not a subject of discussion during his time, but in his anticipation of this environmental matter, he issued several statements which became guidelines for the Ulama in earlier generations until our present time. From this ruling, we have two other related rulings which are:
1. Harm is to be removed.
2. Harm can never be justified on the basis of being ancient.”
Be Careful with your Fruit and Veg
Non-organic food produce in the fruit and vegetable sections of our shops have small amounts of pesticides, fungicides and all manner of chemicals that can become toxic to the health of the human body when exposed to them at high levels. Although these compounds are vigorously regulated so that residual levels on our food produce is kept to a minimum, there is evidence that long term consumption of small amounts of ED’s can still have negative effects – the increase of male infertility is one prime example. At a time of economic hardship, especially for people living on a small income, it is not possible for everyone to switch to organic produce as it is marginally more costly in comparison to non-organic produce. You can, however, take steps to reduce the intake of ED’s by washing all fresh fruit and vegetables thoroughly before consumption.
Can We Afford to Neglect Chemical Pollution?
On this subject, Shaykh Al-Yaqoubi is fully aware of how the focus of public attention is firmly placed on the rise of CO2 emissions. However he discussed at length the importance of highlighting the poisonous materials that are placed into our food chain, and are found within food containers, cleaning materials and air fresheners and so on; chemicals that are far more hazardous to human health then CO2 which, after all, exits our mouth every time we breathe..
“On protecting life: This is one of the major higher purposes of our Shari’ah (Islamic Law) which are known as 'Maqasid al-Shari’ah'.
Life is on top of these principles. Here, it means human life. Prioritisation in our Islamic Shari’ah puts protecting human life on top of all other priorities, but without neglecting the rest. These would be our requirements when a budget is apportioned or a media campaign is launched. When we have two threats: one imminent and another anticipated; of course the priority is given to the imminent. Another point would be drawn in this context which is the difference in scale between the impact of CO2 emission on humanity and impact of endocrine disruptors on large communities and individuals; neither should marginalise the other. The problem in my view, lies in the media which is heavily influenced by the gigantic corporations and manufacturers of fast foods, tinned and genetically modified (GM) foods. On the contrary, there are media campaigns to market such products.
As a practical measure, as it has become forbidden to advertise for tobacco, I personally called for the ban of such commercials and adds in all types of media. And as it has become mandatory in secular law to have printed on all cigarette packaging a warning that tobacco smoking may cause cancer and other diseases, then it should be obligatory to place a label on all fresh food products a warning of what chemicals have been used in its production, coupled with clear information on its hazards to human health.”
Are we Polluters in our Own Homes?
Other sources of contamination come from ordinary household cleaners and everyday cosmetics such as soaps and deodorants, air fresheners and kitchen sprays. On average a small family will consume 250ml of liquid soap bi-weekly, which is 6 litres of soap a year. If someone was to turn up at a lakeside or at a tranquil river spot and poured a bucket of detergent into the water, onlookers would be horrified, but that is essentially what we all do, year in year out. Annually, we as individual families, dump millions of litres of chemically enriched products into our food chain, destroying creation and placing suffering onto the creatures of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى). Furthermore, in regards to aerosol deodorants, are you aware of that dryness at the back of the throat after spraying? Think about what those chemicals are doing to your lungs, and the lungs of the youngsters in your household. Perhaps we need to consider alternatives and use under-arm roll-ons – it is cheaper and more environmentally benign.
On a final note, Shaykh al-Yaqoubi mentioned further Islamic principles which are to be used while dealing with environmental issues.
“The theological basis for protecting the environment and preserving the ecological world is in the Holy Qur’an, the Book of Allah. This includes the following principles:
Everything belongs to Allah; it is on loan to us to use but not to destroy. An example for this is that a person is religiously (morally) prohibited from breaking a glass of his, although he purchased it and he legally owns it; he is ordered to keep it so that others can use it after his demise, or sell it so that others can use it (recycling). Spiritual leaders amongst the Muslim scholars put this principle into practice. In one of the major Islamic works known as Qut al-Qulub (the Nourishment of the Hearts) the author, Imam Abu Talib al-Makki, mentions that earlier generations liked using kitchenware made of pottery because when it is destroyed, it can dissolve into the earth and it is not foreign to its soil.
Long term planning or looking ahead to the future of human beings: this is taken from our plans for the Final Day and our preparations for the Reckoning. This means, as Muslims, we are trained to look ahead of ourselves and to look at the consequences of our works and avoid what is harmful. This applies on everything we do in our life, be it business or study, travel or manufacturing. So, why not look at the consequences and the harm caused by industry and find a solution to it at the time of establishment not two centuries on. The whole Islamic system is based on looking thoroughly at the outcome of the project and judging it at the time of planning to either cancel it or find solutions to the expected problems.
There are other principles which cover the other aspects of our environment such as: rules for protecting animal life; rules for protecting forests and green open areas etc. which I am not going to tackle in my answer to your question due to time limits. This is one of the most important issues which needs to be highlighted.
There was not much emphasis in the past in our literatures on this subject because it was part of everyday practice. Children grew up while being taught not to litter, not to cut a plant, not to cause harm to an animal, etc. I find it strange that nowadays, children should educate their parents. It is a signal of the deterioration of ethics in our communities. However, I also see it as a revival in the practice of our deen amongst the youth.
Muslims would be better to hold to the preservation of the environment, as it is a way to come closer to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى) and earn rewards. As our beloved Prophet (ﷺ) put it: “Belief is of seventy-plus branches; the top of if is la ilaha illa Allah, the bottom of it is removing any harmful material from our streets; and protecting one’s chastity is a branch of belief”. We should be proud that Islamic civilisation did not produce anything harmful to the world or to human life, quite the opposite, there is every reason for us in Islam to be the first and foremost amongst all nations around the world in protecting the environment and having health awareness to observe what we intake as food, beverages and medicine.”
Shaykh Al-Yaqoubi sends his blessings to all the Muslims of the UK for their dedication to the environmental cause. We thank him also for taking the time to speak to us at The Invitation Magazine.
TATIANA ANTONELLI ABELLA / JULY 2, 2010
Published in Syria Today
“Go to the mosque near the Dedeman Hotel and look for the man with the red hair.”
These were the only directions I got when asked where I could find Sheikh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, the mild-mannered Friday speaker and spiritual leader of the Al-Hassan Mosque near the Dedeman Hotel in central Damascus.
The colour of Yaqoubi’s hair isn’t the only thing that makes him stand out. The 45-year-old is rapidly gaining a reputation as a local environmental pioneer and the only imam in Damascus focusing on the connection between Islam and the environment.The importance of reusing plastic bags and bottles, conserving water, and preventing pollution are just some of the green themes he has dedicated his Friday afternoon address to.
He is very different from other sheikhs,” Zuhair Melah, a flower shop owner who has attended Yaqoubi’s Friday speeches for more than a year, said. Sheikh Muhammad, he said, has changed how he treats the environment. “We need to walk the true way,” Melah said. Yaqoubi believes that making the connection between Islam and conservation is important, particularly in Syria where environmentalists say a government-dependent mentality has left many residents unaware of – or uninterested in – the damage they are causing to their local environment. For decades, electricity was free. Water is cheap. Garbage men work through the night to pick up the litter that others have thrown to the ground.
For Yaqoubi, who remembers being taught not to litter or spit on the street as a child in 1960s Damascus, it’s a painful sight.
“It’s catastrophic,” he said. “You could cry when you see the litter and pollution in the city. I understand the frustration of Westerners and tourists who come here and see how polluted the streets are.”
Still, the 34-generations-removed grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) sees his work less as an isolated mission and more as simply another lesson he must teach his fellow Muslims, particularly in an era when there is “a degradation of values in every area”.
“This is not the only subject that I am fighting for every day,” Yaqoubi said. “We have so much to do. Environment, ethics, marital conflicts… The needs of humanity and Muslims in particular are like a map in front of me.”
Sitting in a flat near the mosque and surrounded by piles of books, Yaqoubi details passages in the Koran which deal with the environment. There are many. While recycling is, of course, not discussed explicitly in terms of our modern plastic, paper and glass-separating world, Yaqoubi said the general principle spelled out in the Koran is very clear: don’t waste what you don’t need.
“Our principle in Islam is that everything we have in our hands is not ours,” he said. “It is lent to us to use as long as we need it. It is our job to preserve it.” The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was very clear about water pollution and conservation, forbidding believers from urinating in the forest, beside a river or on a tree and urging them to save water during their ritual ablutions.
Yaqoubi started memorising and reciting portions of the Koran when he was five years old, growing up in a family in which “all the interest was in the sacred knowledge of religion”.
Many of Yaqoubi’s fondest childhood memories are from the time he spent at the Umayyad Mosque where his father preached. Inspired by this man in whose hands “miracles happened”, Yaqoubi began giving Friday speeches at the age of 14. When he turned 18 he was officially appointed as a Friday speaker at the Al-Atassi Mosque.
In 1990, his career took a momentous turn: Yaqoubi resigned from his job to devote his time to studying foreign languages. He travelled to the United States and Germany and focused on learning English and German in an effort to better equip himself to spread the word of Islam.
Specifically, Yaqoubi said he worked to “create a new direction in the West for Muslims, one based on knowledge instead of protests and violence; a more spiritual approach”. After the events of 9/11, Yaqoubi said his goals have become even more important as he began to teach Muslims to focus on spiritual growth, rather than getting caught up incurrent events.
Today, since returning to Syria three years ago, it is not only local, devoted Muslims Yaqoubi istrying to bring “back on track”. He is also reaching out to those who need a little prodding to make it to Friday prayers, to English-speaking visitors at Sheikh Mouheddine Mosque in Souk Al-Juma who want to learn more about Sufism, and to those who watch his speeches around the world via YouTube.
7 januari 2011 (Google translator - original article in Dutch)
Published in the Netherland by Trouw
Just on a Friday in December something very strange happened in Syria. In an attempt to solve the persistent drought-it had not been raining in the country for months-religious leaders came together and decided during the Friday prayer to ask God massively to bring down his rain on the land. And so it happened. In the night from Friday to Saturday the first showers broke loose, and after that it rained, snowed and stormed for more than three days in the country.
During the next Friday prayer Sheikh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, Imam of a large mosque in the center of the city, seizes the opportunity to explain to his listeners how to deal with water. "Times have changed," he preaches from his green-lit chair to the hundreds of people present. "The water is no longer abundant as in the time of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. People die of thirst every day. Therefore, do not waste anything: the water is a gift from God. "The crowd listens with sincere attention, the focus on the pastor or a point on the ground, some even with frowning eyebrows. Imam al-Yaqoubi is a gifted speaker.
The choice of subject is remarkable: although sermons in Damascene mosques have become more modern in recent years, chances are that a random mosque visitor ends up on a story about the minute execution of Koranic commandments or historical events from Islamic history.
But sheikh al-Yaqoubi is an exception: the immensely popular imam, who speaks four languages and lives on the worldwide successful sale of his books and CD sets with sermons, is known for the way he constantly connects Islam to everyday issues. He deals with topics ranging from correct internet use - "Like everything the internet has a good and a bad side" - to the question of how to deal with corrupt officials, or the causes and consequences of the global economic crisis. All based on the principles of Islam. One of his favorite topics: the environment and everything that has to do with it.
"Our society is much more religious than in the West, and as an imam I have an influential position," says al-Yaqoubi. "I can use it wrong, for example for political gain, or to do good."
The situation in which Damascus finds itself is important to al-Yaqoubi, he says. From the green paradise that it was decades ago, the city turned into a heavily polluted metropolis where the smell of Damascene roses has given way to the stench of diesel, and from Al-Yaqoubi's apartment on a hill on the edge of the city it becomes view now obstructed by a huge smog cloud.
"There is a big gap between the Islamic principles regarding dealing with nature and the behavior of Muslims today," explains al-Yaqoubi. "Mohammed used sustainable and natural materials: his plates were made of wood and are clay cups. Nowadays everything is plastic. "
Islam is clear in how man should deal with his environment, says al-Yaqoubi: everything on earth was created by God and given to man only on loan, and a good Muslim does not use more natural resources than strictly necessary, so that there is still some left for the people after him. "We do not have the right to destroy anything."
And that also applies to the scarce supply of water in Syria. In the past, the environmentally conscious Sheikh has already covered topics such as air pollution and the Syrian habit of throwing empty cans, bottles and bags where you are at that moment, but al-Yaqoubi likes to reflect his sermons on current events.
Today, the mosque is about water saving. He does so with statistics, common sense and the use of Quranic verses and traditions from the life of Mohammed, who form a guideline for the life of every Muslim. "One day Muhammad saw his comrade Saad bin abi Waqaas wash by a river," recounts al-Yaqoubi, "in which he lavishly sprayed the water on all sides. Mohammed stopped him, pretending to wash yourself without using too much of a drop. 'Because', Mohammed said, 'even if you're at a river you have to be careful'. "" And think about it, "warns the imam. "You have the religious duty as a Muslim to follow the Prophet Muhammad."
That argument always makes an impression. On the way out, it turns out that many mosque goers do not simply dismiss al-Yaqoubi's sermon. They never said to have really stopped at economical water use. You may wonder how long the good intentions will remain, but at least one has started thinking: one person solemnly promises to wash his car less exuberantly, the other goes from a little more careful with the dishes. A young man in his twenties admits with an apologetic smile that he likes to be in the shower for a very long time, but that will now be limited to five minutes - although al-Yaqoubi's suggestion that washing with a pan is also sufficient for him.
Al-Yaqoubi is well aware of his own position and the impact his words have. Religious arguments work, he says without a lot of wipes to wind, because the group that is sensitive to it is just the group that pollutes the most. "You can convince people who are highly educated on ethical arguments, whether they have to do with God or not," says al-Yaqoubi. "But people who have not had a good education are more sensitive to the logic of reward for good deeds, and punishment for bad deeds. And they are the ones who make the most mess. "
Be that as it may, Al-Yaqoubi's mosque is chock-full every Friday - if the imam is not in Sweden, Britain, South Africa or America to proclaim the word. Al-Yaqoubi himself receives many positive reactions, but fears that there is still a long way to go before Syrian society deals responsibly with the environment.
But now other preachers in the country - such as a radio imam in Damascus and a famous Sheikh in Aleppo - are already starting