Articles & Blog Posts
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