Islamic Law and the Environment in Indonesia

Fatwa and Daʿwa

in Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology
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Based on research in Indonesia in 2010–2013, this essay explains how Muslims expect norms of Islamic law to mobilize religious response to environmental crisis. It surveys attempts since the 1990s to develop “environmental fiqh (Muslim jurisprudence)” in Indonesia, justified in theory by rationales such as that actions causing environmental harm stem ultimately from human moral failing, and also that human aims and activities, including those protected by Islamic law, require a healthy biosphere. Many Indonesians expect Islamic ecological rulings to fill a critical gap in global persuasion, and to be successful when other (non-religious) environmental messages fail. Considering several key fatwas (non-binding legal opinions given in answer to a question) from the local level to the national in Indonesia, this paper explains how law and “outreach” (Ind. dakwah) come together to cast Islamic law of the environment in terms of foundational causes and ultimate effects. These religious norms coexist with and complement other globalized constructions (such as those of the nation-state and NGOs) that they increasingly incorporate.

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Hooker, 2003, 61–62 reproduces procedures as stated in an official document from back in 1975. In contrast to the presentation here, there was no mention in the guidelines of decades ago of outside stakeholders playing a role in the process, nor is any means of dissemination “to society” mentioned.

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In personal communication in July 2013, Dr. Prabowo emphasized two additional corollaries to this. The first is that religious norms need to recognize the environment, and in particular religious leaders need to know more science (“scholars have been neglecting the science,” he stated). Second, policy based on sound science needs religion in order to be meaningfully adopted and applied.

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On January 22, 2014, as the final version of this article went to press, the MUI issued Fatwa No. 4 / 2014, “On Protection of Endangered Species to Maintain the Balanced Ecosystems,” which, on the basis of “protecting life,” not “corrupting the earth,” and responsibility of being “khalifa” of God, along with numerous authoritative citations from hadith and other sources, forbids trafficking in endangered species including tigers. (There had been a second plenary meeting in July 2013, with related prepared reports and field investigation available to the commission.) The full text of the fatwa in English translation can be found online at: http://bit.ly/1cm2G4o (accessed 5 March 2014). On March 12, 2014, the edict was formally announced at a public ceremony attended by Emil Salim at Jakarta’s zoo. Global English-language media coverage was extensive, with the story picked up by the news wire Associated Press, and as a consequence the story ran in prominent North American national newspapers and media services, along with The GuardianUK and National Geographic, among others. The written text of the fatwa contains a short clause calling for “review [of] permits of companies” whose activities “cause harm” and threaten species extinction (p. 13, English version; implied by this is potentially licensing of logging and palm oil enterprises); also at the end of the 15-page document there is a stipulation that there be established “religious guidelines” and “environmental preachers” to spread the conservationist message, particularly with respect to endangered species.

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