AJMAN // The three students were holding back until Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Ali al Nuaimi broke the awkward distance between them by holding out his hand for the young men to shake. Explaining his informal style, the Sheikh, a member of the Ajman royal family and a cousin of the Crown Prince, explained it was "about breaking barriers and reaching out to the new generation". In addition to his formal titles, Sheikh Abdul Aziz is known among his peers as the "Green Sheikh" and to his admirers as the "Down to Earth Sheikh".
He is never happier than talking to young people, and had just completed a lecture to students on the importance of the relationship between the environment and their mental well-being. "Students spend too much time inside buildings, and are not in touch with nature and its benefits," he says. "That much needed harmony between the human and nature is disrupted." Born in India, where his father was working at the time, the 42-year-old nephew of the ruler of Ajman has an unconventional style that includes filling his pockets with ginger sweets that he likes to hand out to anyone who crosses his path, explaining they are "to give you boost".
He gives out his business card freely with his email "firstname.lastname@example.org" saying "people can reach me at any time. We sheikhs are from the people and we should never forget that." His official role is as the environmental adviser to the Ajman Government, where he is also chairman of Green Base Environmental Services and the founder of the Majlis for Holistic Knowledge and Holistic Health. His philosophy brings a new age touch to the teachings of Islam. "Self jihad is critical to living a good and holistic life," he says.
The sheikh has a formidable list of academic qualifications, including a doctorate from Griffith University in Australia, bachelor degrees in petroleum and chemical engineering and several diplomas in environmental and related studies. Since then, he has put his studies to practical use, joining dozens of environmental groups. He regularly makes TV and radio appearances to advocate a more environmentally-friendly approach to development.
"In a country that is developing so fast, we sometimes forget about balance between the boom and the environment," he says. For those who say they are too busy for such concerns or do not have time to appreciate the beauty of nature, he has this message: "I have lived through all scenarios, poor, rich and middle, and all throughout, I never forgot my connection with my surroundings." A father of four, he likes to sit and talk with young men in his majlis where they discuss everything from social to relationship problems. "They just need guidance and someone they can talk to openly," he says.
"We even talk about sex and the importance of expressing feelings properly." His previous jobs include the post of youth director at the Ministry of Sport and Youth, the CEO of the Alihsan Charity Centre for children and divorced or widowed women, the director of trade control at the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, and even a sky diving instructor. After taking his wife around the world for their honeymoon, he persuaded her to parachute from an aircraft, saying: "Why not? We can't live with limits, it is good to challenge one's self and break out of one's box."
As for breaking more barriers, he has another goal on the horizon. "Space travel interests me, and I am now trying to see if there is a way to get a chance to have an Emirati go to space," he says with a smile. email@example.com