Articles & Blog Posts
Meet the Green Shaykh
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.
The Green Sheikh, Damascus
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.
Remco Anderson in Damascus
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