The ‘Green Sheikh’ of Ajman

Meet H.H Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Ali Al Nuaimi, the man on a mission to give the UAE a green legacy.

Sheikh Al Nuaimi is a member of the Ajman royal family and a nephew of the ruler of Ajman. Known as the “Green Sheikh,” he has a mission to break down barriers and reach out to the youth to raise consciousness about environmental and sustainable issues by encouraging and instilling a general sense of awareness.

He earned his Ph.D. in Clean Production and Industrial (Ecology) Eco-Systems from the Griffith University, Australia, in 2007. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, a diploma in Military Science, and a Master of Science in Environmental Management.

The Sheikh is the official Environmental Advisor to the Ajman Government. He is also the International Senior Board Advisor at WANA (West Asia North Africa) Forum in Jordan and an honorary member of the Arab Thoughts Forum, both chaired by H.R.H Princess El Hassan bin Talal. In addition, he is also the Vice President and CEO of the Ajman-based Al Ihsan Charity Association, which supports orphaned children and women struggling to raise families alone as a result of spousal bereavement or divorce.

Most of Sheikh Al Nuaimi’s efforts and talks are centred on the importance of building a harmonious relationship between humans and nature. His convincing approach in involving the community to adopt eco-friendly ways is united with his passion for “greener communities.” He participates in various organisations supporting sustainable development and does frequent appearances on television and radio stations to encourage environmentally friendly lifestyles.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Nuami praying during a trip to Antartica in 2010.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Nuami praying during a trip to Antartica in 2010.

There are very few countries around the world which have modernised as fast as the UAE has in the last 40+ years. And one positive result of this fast-tracked modernisation is an increased awareness of environmental issues.

It may still have far to go in this respect, but it’s clear, the UAE has begun to prioritise the environment and one man, in particular, has made it his personal mission to make sure this happens.

In recent years, he has become more and more vocal about the need for environmental policies to be enacted by both the government and private companies in the UAE. What’s more, he aims to serve as an example by following an environmentally conscious lifestyle himself.

His philosophy, he says, is rooted in the teachings of Islam, which state that man on Earth has been given a responsibility for the environment by Allah, and that he will, therefore, be accountable for his actions upon his death.

“Everything I do, I do from a sense of responsibility first and foremost as a human being,” explains Sheikh Al Nuaimi, adding that he tries to motivate others to do the same.


 

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 organisations; 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 other Arab countries, like Jordan.

What 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 an Islamic philosophy guiding your way?

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 principle that forms the foundation of the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) holistic environmental policy is the belief in the interdependence 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, and 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 one of the world’s most dry area, water 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
  • Adoption of integrated water resources management
  • Put in place national policies for short and long term goals
  • Water demand management programmes based on consideration of water as public good without depriving the disadvantaged people
  • More efficient wastewater treatment technologies and reducing the cost of desalination processes

Who do you think has the command to change the green problems in the Arab world; the people, the religion, or governments/ruling families?

In the Arabian Gulf countries (GCC), it would be the royal families with government support, using religious values and the support of people. In other Arab countries, it would be the government, represented by the president or head of state.

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 critique for the environmental movements in Europe and the US? If so, what are they?

I never criticise anyone involved in noble causes and try to help people with their well-being and try to sustain life for all of 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
  • Respect
  • 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

Do you have any favourite environment heroes, projects or organisations whose work you admire?

Heroes:

  • The Late Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan (Founder and President of the UAE)
  • Robert Swan
  • Frederic Hauge
  • David de Rothschild
  • Al Gore

Favourite Organisations:

  • UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme)
  • WANA Forum
  • Green Peace
  • Earth Scan
  • Friends of the Environment

Favourite 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 a capacity of 50 beds specialised for less fortunate families in the UAE, a new school for talented and less fortunate children, and on a training centre for empowering young leaders and endowment projects.