Islamic Fatwa Aids Indonesia’s Endangered Species

orangutan of indonesia wikicommons

The islands of Indonesia are carpeted with densely forested jungles offering shelter to a rich array of God’s creatures. However, more and more forests are being cleared to make room for palm oil tree plantations. Legal and illegal logging and mining in Indonesia are also encroaching on wildlife habitats, placing additional stress on the endangered animals.

Home to the disappearing Sumatran tigers, rhinos, orangutans, and elephants, the natural habitats of Indonesia’s jungles are disappearing, too, but are now benefitting from a new Islamic focus on wildlife conservation.

Home also to the largest population of Muslims anywhere in the world, 200 million Muslims in Indonesia are now required to take an active role in protecting their countries’ threatened species. By issuing an Islamic fatwa, or legal edict, the Muslim Council of Ulema in Indonesia (MUI) has turned to Muslim’s respect for shariah law to boost respect for God’s creatures.

Protecting Animals is a Component of Worship

When Muslim leaders of MUI learned of elephants being killed in retaliation after incidents of human-wildlife conflict in Sumatra, they decided to take action. Soon a coalition was formed between MUI, World Wildlife Fund-Indonesia (WWF-I), Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), and Indonesia’s National University (UNAS) in Jakarta. Together they organized a field trip with financial assistance from WWF-UK to visit the trouble spots in Sumatra.

While visiting one of the villages, the MUI spoke with community representatives about their conflict with the wildlife. Several villagers asked the Muslim leaders, “What is the status of the animals like elephants and tigers in Islam?” The Muslim leaders replied, “They are creations of Allah, as we are.”

Furthermore, the Muslim leaders explained about animal rights in Islam, “It is haram (forbidden) to kill them and keeping them alive is part of the worship of God.”


Drafting Indonesia’s Fatwa on Wildlife Conservation

Returning to Jakarta, the Muslim leaders recognized a need to express more widely the Islamic principles of animal conservation. They decided the best action to take was to create an Islamic fatwa, or ruling, to guide the Muslims of Indonesia toward protecting God’s vulnerable wildlife.

The fatwa was put together by MUI in consultation with environmental activists and academics affiliated with the UNAS in Jakarta. The group soon grew to include the Director for Biodiversity Conservation at the Indonesia Ministry of Forestry, WWF-Indonesia, and Harimau Kita, the Indonesian Tiger Conservation Forum.

Although unenforceable under Indonesian secular law, the fatwa is based solidly on Islamic Law and tradition and is binding upon Muslims within the context of religious duty. It provides strong testimony to Indonesia’s Muslim population that Islam highly values and strongly advocates responsible treatment and protection of wildlife.

There’s No Escaping the Word of God

MUI’s Agency for Honoring Environment and Natural Resources was established in 2010 to help protect Indonesia’s natural environment. Agency Head Dr. Hayu Prabowo said, “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.” He added, “People can escape government regulation, but they cannot escape the word of God.”

The fatwa reinforces the government of Indonesia’s policies on preserving and protecting threatened wildlife. It focuses on providing legal Islamic authority over Muslim activities related to animals classified as “endangered,” “vulnerable,” or threatened with extinction.

Dr. Hayu explained, “Animals are viewed in Islam as being key parts of an ecosystem that in the end, also benefits the livelihood of all God’s created creatures, especially human beings.”


“Indonesia has Suffered a Huge Loss of Wildlife”

Dr. Fachruddin Mangunjaya, Religion and Environment Program Manager at National University’s Institute for Research and Community Service applauds the MUI’s prompt action. “It is a critical time for the MUI to issue such a fatwa to support attempts to protect rare animals,” Dr. Fachruddin said. “Indonesia has suffered a huge loss of wildlife, due to hunting, logging, unsustainable plantations development and encroachment.”

Dr. Fachruddin, also ARC’s chief advisor on this wildlife program, explained, “In the wild we now have fewer than 400 tigers, 200 rhinos, several thousand elephants, and just a few thousand orangutans in the whole country.” He continued, “At this time of environmental crisis it is so important to remember our religious beliefs and values. Muslims must change their behavior in accordance with Islam and with Allah so that other species can live in peace.”

“For the next step,” said Dr. Fachruddin, “we need to help MUI disseminate and put the fatwa into action to remote areas where tigers, rhinos, orangutan, turtles, elephants and other threatened species live, working through sermons or preachers in mosques, religious gatherings and Islamic schools.”

Broad Optimism for Religious Approaches to Conservation

Anwar Purwoto, WWF-Indonesia Program Director of Sumatra and Kalimantan, also commended MUI’s extraordinary move. “We hope that religious approach, like this fatwa, can support conservation efforts and promote conservation awareness to the public, especially Muslim communities so they become aware of the importance of conserving endangered animals and its life supporting ecosystem.”

Except for a fatwa issued in Yemen in 1992 forbidding rhino horn use for ceremonial daggers, ARC notes that this is the first time an Islamic fatwa has asserted authority on animal conservation. ARC Secretary General Martin Palmer brings the matter home to all Muslims. “We hope the announcement of this new fatwa in the most populous Muslim country in the world will inspire other fellow Muslims worldwide to protect threatened wildlife and their habitats,” appealed Palmer.

“Often environmental issues are debated only in terms of economics,” continued Palmer. “This fatwa reminds us that most people are motivated by beliefs and values, not just by money. It is an exciting and defining moment for both Islam and for the greater protection of God’s Creation.”


(All images of wildlife in Indonesia are in the public domain, from wikicommons or pixabay)
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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid (Birth-name Kathleen Vail) is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, sustainable economics, corporate social responsibility, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.