“TOGETHER FOR THE CREATION”: THE GAMBIAN -NORWEGIAN IMAM’S GREEN SHOT- AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW ON GREEN JIHAD AND CLIMATE CHANGEFebruary 10, 2016
The blizzard that has hit New York is said to be unprecedented over the past two decades and it is likely to trigger floods in other parts of the world. This is a manifestation that Climate Change is real and that everyone is in one way or the other affected. It is the concern for global leaders and their various governments to act to mitigate Climate Change that has pulled together environmental activists of different organizations in Norway in a series of demonstrations. The first of such actions took place on the 21st of January at Eidsvolls Plass in front of Parliament building. Among the crowd was the Imam of Daru Salaam Islamic Centre, Norway. A casual observer might be curious of the presence of a religious leader in an environmental action event but a reflection on the theme of the gathering; «together for the creation» would give the observer a clue on the presence of a religious leader in such a gathering. To protect the environment is a collective responsibility. Every sector of the global community has something to contribute to fix this global threat, be they scientists, economists, politicians or spiritual leaders; each has a part to play. The presence of the Imam, a leader of a religious community is very pertinent for two reasons; 1. He is more or less a nurturer of the souls of believers to ensure healthy consumption of natural resources. 2. He gives a shot that is intended to rectify the negative connotations associated with the word ‘Jihad’. His organization; “Green Jihad for Peace and Sustainable Development” intends to embark on an environmental Jihad. Contrary to the negative connotations associated especially nowadays with Jihad; misused by so-called jihadists to murder innocent souls, Green Jihad for Peace and Sustainable Development is out to make the People recognize their relationship with the environment and their Creator in order to deliver environmental justice and social justice. Green Jihad is out to promote the positive meaning of Jihad, which in essence means a struggle for both inner and outer Peace with the Creator and the creation.
This is why the Imam stood in the ranks of People of other Faiths and environmental activists at Eidsvolls Plass to demonstrate for serious action to be taken by world leaders and politicians in Norway in particular, to mitigate global warming. The Imam granted an interview to shed light on his work, environmental activism and the newly formed organization, “Green Jihad for Peace and Sustainable Development”. Below is a complete replica of the interview conducted by Landing Nyassi.
Landing Nyassi (LN): Imam Ebrahim Saidy, you have been the leader and Imam of Daru Salaam Islamic Centre in Norway for many years. You have been involved in a lot of work including a recent initiative that you have set up, the Green Jihad, which is an affiliate of the Daru Salaam Islamic Centre. It is a pleasure to interview you so that you can shed light on the activities you’ve been doing. Can you kindly start by telling us about you background and the activities you’ve been involved in at the Daru Salaam Islamic Center?
Imam Ebrahim Saidy (IES): Thank you very much Nyassi. Alhamdulillah Rabil alamin wa salaat wa salaam ala Rasulillah. Assallaamu aleikum to everyone! I started with Daru Salaam back in 1994 when I came here from the Gambia upon the request of Daru Salaam Islamic Centre then known as Islamic Movement to come and serve as Imam. Before that I was an assistant secretary at the then Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture responsible for culture and religious affairs in the Gambia. I started actually as a teacher of Islamic Studies at Muslim High School which was my alma mater; from there I studied at the University of Qatar specializing in Education, Languages and religious studies; mainly Arabic, English and French but then for some reasons I didn’t continue with the French. I just continued with English and Arabic. Alhamdulillahi Rabil alamin I’ve been here now for over 20years and my activities with Daru Salaam have basically been as you know, on religious affairs; teaching Islam, leading Islamic rituals like the five daily prayers, naming ceremonies, marriage ceremonies, family counseling, funeral ceremonies, social work and so on and so forth. Until the year 2011 when the Islamic Council of Norway with whom I have been working as a representative from the Daru Salaam Islamic Centre mainly in the Imams’ committee.
They nominated me to represent them on an interfaith delegation to Durban, South Africa when COP 17 of the UNFCC Conference on Climate Change. I was asked to represent them there; the Norwegian Interfaith group that went out as an advocacy group, as part of the international civil society groups that attend these climate conferences in order to put pressure on the politicians and economists to consider also the human aspect: the spiritual, moral and ethical aspects of Climate Change. To make them see that it does not only have to do with politics and economics but it also has to do with morals, the lives of human beings at the very core level. This is basically our mission at the meetings and it was since then I’ve been involved in issues of Climate Change and the fight for climate justice.
LN: Thank you very much Imam for touching on that Climate Change issue and that pushes us to my next question. Recently you have been part of an environmental action or demonstration that took place here in Norway at Eidsvolls Plass in front of Parliament building. A casual observer might be curious to ask what an Imam was doing in such an environmental action gathering. What would you say to such an observer?
IES: Like I have said the issue of Climate Change is not only about politics and economics or science but it’s also about human lives, it touches human beings directly especially the poorest of this world. Religion as I understand it is mainly about saving lives. It is about protecting lives, especially human lives. It is about building up a wholesome human being; protecting lives, property, intellect and so forth and this is why we are basically involved in this movement. The appeal that I made at Eidsvolls Plass was that we must all work together to make sure our earth is protected, to make sure that the beautiful earth that Allah, Subhanahu wa Ta’ala has bequeathed to us is not destroyed because if it is destroyed we would have failed in our mission as human beings in our responsibility towards Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala. We are taught that the Almighty created humans and placed them on earth to be His vicegerents, i.e. to represent Him on earth. Therefore we are to maintain justice, we are to maintain peace and we are to maintain the balance which Allah has placed in our eco-systems and not to disturb them. The Qur’an speaks very clearly about this in many instances. This is basically my personal motivation to be involved in such a cause.
LN: You were there as a leader of the Muslims or Islam as a religion, were there leaders of other Faiths like Christians or Buddhists and if so how is your relationship with them with regards to the fight against Climate Chang.
IES: Yes, there were other leaders from the Norwegian state church as well as what they call the Norwegian free churches. Generally apart from this specific event you have asked about, since I travelled to Durban I have in the subsequent years travelled to Warsaw and to Paris last year. When I travel we are together as an interfaith delegation. It is quite interesting and Norway has been the only country sending interfaith delegations to these climate conferences, many others come but they come as single faith groups. We travel as Muslims; we have Christians amongst us from the Norwegian Lutheran church, Norwegian free churches and Norwegian Catholic churches. We have members from the Jewish community, the Mosaic Society, we have Sikhs and I think that is a possibility of having Hindus and Buddhists on board as well. Although the Sikhs were not with us in the last journey to Paris, they are nevertheless, part of the local interfaith group we have here in Norway. It has grown basically out of a long cooperation between the Islamic Council which is the Umbrella Organization of all Mosques and Muslim religious organizations in Norway and the Norwegian state church and other faith groups in what we call the interfaith council. We have been having dialogue meetings with them and cooperating on many issues. I have discovered during this period that the best way to do dialogue among different faiths is to focus on issues of mutual concern like climate justice, climate change where each one of us would come with the view points of his or her religion. We will say what our religion says about it and we would engage ourselves to work for a common cause that concerns all human beings, that concerns all religions. From these points you would find that there are no disagreements so it is very easy to move on to other areas as long as we have established a common ground which the issue of Climate Change gives us a golden opportunity to do.
LN: Thank you very much for mentioning the need for a common ground; that’s very important. So let’s move on to the initiative that you have started, i.e. the Green Jihad. I understand that you together with other concerned people were able to set up this NGO called Green Jihad for Peace and Sustainable Development. I want you to elaborate more on Green Jihad, how did it come about? Where did the inspiration come from?
IES: Like I said it all came from my experience and dialogue with the Christian community in Norway but particularly during the period I have travelled with them to Climate Change conferences. In this regard it was basically in Warsaw that I thought of the concept Green Jihad. To cut a long story short, the organization we have just formed of which, of course, you are an executive member is a Muslim or Islamic initiative with the aim of establishing an interfaith group or organization. So the nature of Green Jihad is basically interfaith or multi-religious. It would basically address issues of Climate Change, poverty alleviation, combating radicalization and combating illegal immigration via the Mediterranean Sea; the phenomenon known as the “back way” but it will in all of these work for peaceful co-existence as well as for development. The initiative is meant to first and foremost make individual Muslims and non Muslims aware of their roles and responsibilities in the broader issue of Climate Change; that we as individuals have a responsibility to take care and minimize our carbon footprints, CO2 being the main agent responsible for climate change the world over.
We are also of the realization and understanding that we cannot combat climate change if we do not work for peace and social justice. That is why you have the broader concept of Green Jihad for Peace and Sustainable Development. I would like here to touch particularly on the word “Jihad”. It is no news that the concept of Jihad has become one of the hottest issues of our day. It has become one of the most misunderstood or misinterpreted or abused words or if you like concepts in Islam. That has kind of motivated me to stand up and do my part together with good people like yourself and other members of Green Jihad as well as others who share the same thoughts as us to show the world that Islam actually is not what violent extremists or so-called fundamentalist people want to show to the world. What Jihad actually means is a struggle and the best such struggle is a spiritual struggle. It is a spiritual struggle for inner peace, for the purification of the soul and the spirit. It is the improvement and betterment of the human being and the quality of the life of the human being. It is a struggle to establish peace within one’s self and between one’s self and one’s Creator. Peace between one’s self and one’s environment, peace between one’s self and everyone one comes into contact with. This is basically what we hope to achieve in the activities we plan to undertake in Green Jihad.
LN: That is very clear. In order words you are fighting to get rid of the negative connotations that are tied nowadays on Jihad. I understand that you and together with some other organizations organized an International Earth Day in Norway last year. Is this event going to be something that is going to come every year?
IES: Yes, hopefully, insha Allah, for Green Jihad is basically an alternative to violence. Earth day is one of the activities through which we hope to continue our work under the umbrella of Green Jihad. We started it last year as part of the activities geared towards environmental awareness at Daru Salaam Islamic Centre of which Green Jihad is an affiliate; a daughter organization as I’m also the Imam of the Centre. It is a day that we would set aside every year to celebrate if you like the favor which Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala has given us, which is the earth upon which we live and how to maintain it as green as Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala has created it. The Prophet (S.A.W) has stated very clearly in a Hadith that: “this world in which you live has been created by Allah delicious and green and He has appointed you as stewards upon it and He will monitor your activities and see how you behave on it and He will take you to task for that on the day of judgment”. So this is basically the responsibility we are carrying out in our activities of Green Jihad and the Earth Day is to celebrate exactly that. It is with lectures, symposia, workshops, all geared towards creating awareness, fostering positive attitudinal changes and peaceful co-existence amongst ourselves and amongst people generally.
LN: Thank you very much. That is one of the activities you would embark on in Green Jihad. Are there other activities you intend to embark upon apart from the International Earth Day that you have just mentioned?
IES: We do have Alhamdulillah, other activities we plan to embark upon like the idea of “sett settal” (voluntary cleaning exercise) that we have also come up with. This will happen perhaps once or twice a year here in Oslo after massive celebrations like the Norwegian national day. You know the area in which we have our Masjid, the streets are full to capacity on those celebrations and dirt is littered everywhere. We would take up the responsibility and show that positive aspect of our faith and clean the streets when such events occur like the 17th of May and after New Year’s Day. Apart from that we have also thought about going out to refugee camps and schools. To refugee camps the refugees that are coming especially from war torn areas like Syria , Afghanistan, Libya, organizing discussions and seminars and symposia with them , talking to them, helping them resettle mentally and psychologically, helping them understand the new situation in which they’ve come to, helping them find themselves in the bigger Norwegian society . It is to kind of work as bridge builders between these new comers and the broader Norwegian society. Being ourselves immigrants with that experience and background, I believe it would become much easier but we would also collaborate with many other Norwegian organizations; religious and secular that are working in the area of peace or that are working in the area of development or in environmental issues. In the schools we would talk to young people especially of immigrant background and try to see what their needs and concerns or problems are and do our best to collaborate with the authorities in finding solutions that would be peaceful and amicable.
LN: Imam there are some scholars who say that there is a correlation between Climate Change and migration. More or less, there is a nexus between Climate Change and migration. What plans do you have for combating illegal migration especially for those coming from sub-Saharan Africa; do you intend to work hand in hand with people on the ground in Africa for example?
IES: Yes, these are part of our long term plans if you like but there is indeed a nexus or a correlation between climate change and patterns of migration because climate change brings about coastal erosion, populations are forced to move. Climate Change brings about the poverty or depletion of soil nutrients which affects agricultural production which increases general poverty of populations all over the world. All of these contribute to the fact that young people find no other viable alternative in their countries in the third world and they very naturally aspire to migrate to Europe or to other countries in the world where they expect greener pastures. We know that this has resulted in phenomena like the “back way” syndrome like I mention in the beginning. We all know how hazardous this is and the risks that are always involved; the multitudes of lives of young people that are lost in the Sahara desert and in the Mediterranean Sea and other places. Hopefully, the stronger we get with more funding we would be more than happy to work with organizations that … but we would like to go even further to grassroots level back in Africa. In The Gambia for example, to establish projects there that would give renewed hope to young people that they can still make it even without leaving their home countries. They can do better than coming to Europe by staying home and getting an education and getting the necessary training in a trade or a profession that would bring them respectable incomes so that there would be no need to leave their countries. These are part of our long term aims insha Allah. I do not want to go into the minute details right now because they are all in the pipeline and the projects will come insha Allah.
LN: Imam, Daru Salaam Islamic Centre is not the only Islamic centre in Norway and of course it is an affiliate of Green Jihad; so my question is, what is your relationship with the Islamic Council of Norway and your relationship other Mosques , are they aware of your this initiative?
IES: Yes, Alhamdulillah like I mentioned in the beginning Daru Salaam Islamic Centre is a member of the Islamic Council of Norway which is an umbrella organization for all Masjids and Islamic Organizations in Norway and I have been for many years a member of the Imams Committee which serves as an advisory board to the main executive of the Islamic Council. They were the people that got me involved in issues of Climate Change in the first place, by asking me to represent them at the COP conferences. In fact, last year I travelled together with the president of the Council as part of the interfaith delegation to the meetings in Paris and I am happy to mention here that the current annual report that the Islamic Council is about to publish for 2015 features very prominently our activities related to issues of Climate Change and the establishment of Green Jihad which is an affiliate of Daru Salaam Islamic Centre.
LN: I just want to draw you back to the trip you had to Paris at the COP 21. A report came out there about some Imams and religious leaders who were showing concern for the impacts of Climate Change by fasting and leaders of other faiths like priests, through music; can you elaborate more on that.
IES: The trip to Paris was in November – December actually last year. The “fast for the climate” is like a movement that started in Warsaw in 2014. It was inspired actually by the then chief negotiator of the Philippines who at the very beginning of the conference in Warsaw vowed in his speech that he will fast for as long as his people in the Philippines continue to suffer. It coincided with a terrible typhoon in that Island country that destroyed many lives and properties. He vowed to fast until the UN Conferences came to a final, comprehensive, binding and just agreement for Climate Justice the world over. It was there that faith delegations that were in attendance as part of civil society got together. I was invited to join and was part of the panel that drafted the agreement or the concept of “fast for the climate”. I was there to represent Islam. There we agreed, spearheaded by the Lutheran Youth World Federation that we would fast the 1st of every month until the next COP in 2014. That was the one held in Lima, Peru. The one in Warsaw was in 2013 actually. I couldn’t attend the one in Lima because there was not enough funding for many people to travel from Norway. It was only a couple people from the interfaith delegation that travelled to Lima. In Lima it was decided that the fasting would continue. So we continued until last year in Paris and that was where we did that stunt lunch during the COP meetings and the media coverage that followed. The movement however, continues, the fasting continues and the awareness creation continues until a lasting and just final solution is found and the current trend of climate change is addressed properly: that human beings take up the responsibility to clear up the mess we have created in violating the balance which Allah has placed on this planet especially concerning CO2 emissions.
LN: Thank you very much Imam for your time. You are involved in a very noble cause and we pray that Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala help you fulfill all your intentions and fulfill all your aims and objective for this noble organization called Green Jihad. Thank you very much for your time Imam
IES: Thank you for the interview. Alhamdulillah it was my pleasure and I am very proud, I’m humbled actually to be part of this. I’m very thankful to Allah and thank you all very much. Assalaamu aleikum wa Rahmatullah.