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Forest-burning is a sin, says Indonesian fatwa. Story reported around the world.

September 15, 2016:

Indonesia's highest Islamic authority has said it is a sin for people to deliberately burn forests to clear the land for growing crops.

The news, which was widely reported around the world yesterday, by news agencies, newspapers and radio/news stations including the BBC, described how the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, stating that it was forbidden to burn forests.

Illegal slash-and-burn farming has devastated large areas of Indonesia and causes air pollution which affects countries around the region.

The fires are started deliberately in order to quickly clear land for palm oil and pulpwood plantations. But they create smog in Singapore, Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo during the dry season. In 2015 the fires and pollution were among the worst in memory cloaking large areas of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in choking smog for weeks.

Indonesia has repeatedly been accused of not doing enough to stop it. Government officials said they hoped the moral impact of the fatwa would help reinforce laws against it.

The fatwa was the concept of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) with the help of ARC, and ARC's local partner, the Centre for Islamic Studies (PPI) at Indonesia's National University. MUI is now in talks with the Indonesian environment ministry on how to enforce it.

Hayu Prabowo, head of environmental protection at MUI, said that most of the forest burning was done by companies, but Indonesia's Muslim leaders declaring it haram, i.e. forbidden by Islamic law, should allow the public to feel empowered to stand up to them.

While not legally binding in Indonesian secular law, the fatwa is firmly based on Islamic law and tradition and is binding within that context. It gives strong guidance to Indonesia’s Muslim population on how forest protection fits in with their core beliefs and values.

"This fatwa will make religious leaders and the general public who in the past didn't care, care and start to take responsibility to end forest burning in their area," he said.

A fatwa in 2014 made it clear that it was our human duty to protect wildlife
"I'm excited and proud that our work has led to a Muslim response to the fires that are burning so much of Indonesia's forests and peatlands," said ARC's programme director, Chantal Elkin. "I hope it will help Indonesians feel more empowered to take action against agricultural land clearing."

ARC, PPI and WWF Indonesia are following up this high level edict with on the ground awareness raising among clerics and community leaders near priority conservation sites in Indonesia to translate the edict into on the ground conservation action amongst Muslim communities.

In the past, environmental fatwas issued in Indonesia have been taken up later in, or adapted for use in Malaysia.

For example, based on the success of the 2014 fatwa on threatened species in Indonesia, the Malaysian state of Terengganu passed Malaysia's first wildlife trade fatwa in late 2015. The team is now partnering with the local NGO Rimba and the University to follow up on awareness-raising using the Indonesia methodology.

Earlier environmental fatwas

In 1992, in response to the growing use of imported rhino horn for making ceremonial jambiya daggers, the Grand Mufti of Yemen issued a fatwa against killing animals unless for meat or self-protection. In 2006/2007 the MUI issued a fatwa on illegal logging and illegal mining, via its regional council in Kalimantan region, Sumatra. This was followed in 2011 by a national fatwa on “Environmentally Friendly Mining”.

In March 2014(MUI) issued a fatwa requiring the country’s 200 million Muslims to take an active role in protecting threatened species including tigers, rhinos, elephants and orangutans.

The fatwa reinforces the Indonesian government’s policies on preserving and protecting threatened animals and is aimed at providing legal certainty on the question of Islam’s perspective on animals classified as “vulnerable”, “endangered” or threatened with extinction.

“This fatwa is issued to give an explanation, as well as guidance, to all Muslims in Indonesia on the sharia law perspective on issues related to animal conservation,” said Dr Hayu. “Animals are viewed in Islam as being key parts of an ecosystem that in the end, also benefits the livelihood of human beings,” Dr Hayu added.

LINKS on Forest Fatwa

BBC story Daily Mail story about forest fatwa

LINKS on earlier Indonesian Muslim environment action

Indonesian women act on sanitation and health

Indonesian clerics issue fatwa to protect endangered species

Full text of the wildlife fatwa in Bahasa Indonesian and English

Report from National Geographic magazine on wildlife fatwa How Islamic boarding schools helped make a National Park

Contact in INDONESIA:

National University LPPM: Dr. Fachruddin Mangunjaya (fmangunjaya@civitas.unas.ac.id

Contact in UK:

Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC): Wildlife & Forests programme manager, Chantal Elkin chantal.elkin@arcworld.org +44 1225 758004



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