Share & Connect
In Sumatra, some Islamic leaders believe that religion is the key to conservation for Indonesia – the country with the highest rate of deforestation and some of the most diverse habitat in the world.
The island of Sumatra, with its population of over 50 million people, has seen its habitat disappearing fast, mainly due to oil palm plantations, and its population of endangered species such as the Sumatran orangutan and tiger is dwindling. Leaders of the religious community believe that education is key to solving the region’s environmental problems and that religion has the potential to spark wide public interest in environmental awareness.
In an article by freelance environmentalist writer Melanie Jae Martin, the spiritual initiative, who calls themselves FORDALING (the Islamic Leader Forum for Environmental Care), is said to believe that the Quran, the religious text of Islam, directly addresses the need for protecting the natural world. Martin explains that their newly released book Ayat-Ayat Konservasi (Islamic Verses for Conservation), promotes a religious mandate to respect the earth and other species. Though their material and projects, the religious leaders of Sumatra preach to Indonesian Muslims why conservation should be important to them and the world.
Martin explains that the Ayat-Ayat Konservasi consists of chapters such as “Earth, Our Collective Home,” “Leuser [National] Forest, an Invaluable Gift from Our Creator,” “Nature Conservation in the Age of Muhammad the Messenger”, and “Implementation of Islamic Principles in Conservation by Communities around the Leuser Forests.” One chapter, “The Good Deeds of Muhammad the Messenger to Wildlife,” tells how the Prophet Muhammad and his followers saw a pair of baby birds as they were traveling, and caught them. The Prophet noticed the outraged mother bird trying to rescue her babies, and told his followers to give the babies back to their mother immediately. In another story, his followers set an ants’ nest on fire, and he told them such thoughtless treatment of wildlife is unacceptable. The collection of verses highlight the Prophet Muhammad’s compassion for other species but the book also emphasizes that the consumption of animals should be humane. Furthermore, the authors draw parallels to current environmental and social concerns that stress compassion for individual animals as well as for the greater ecosystem in local practices.
The work of FORDALING involves multiple projects. The organization’s works to educate Islamic leaders on how to teach their congregations about the urgent need for conservation through sermons. Their training program has so far reached out to more than 150 Islamic scholars and leaders and 50 of its members have also taken a guided tour of Gunung Leuser National Park, a popular orangutan viewing area, to learn more about the problems facing the biodiversity hotspot.
FORDALING also works to educate the general public. Projects includes a ‘sermon roadshow’, a partnership with the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) to create easily accessible material for the general public and held a speech competition for Islamic students in Langkat and Aceh Tamiang. For this last event, 75 children participated and the winners presented their sermons in across villages and Islamic schools. Additionally, FORDALING runs conservation efforts such as tree nurseries, where volunteers raise seedlings for planting in the OIC’s restoration site in Besitang. Like many other areas, the national park there has been tainted by illegal logging and replanting with oil palms. Young Muslims are encouraged to join the group Islamic Student Nature Lover (SAPA) to learn and help with the conservation effort.
Martin cites Panut Hasisiswoyo, OIC founding director, for supporting FORDALING’s work, saying that it has the power to change people’s attitudes across Sumatra. He asserts that “with direct, religiously inspired sources to share and cite to the largely Islamic population of Indonesia, the effort to save the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan has a brighter outlook.”