Alliance of Religions and Conservation: Engaging Muslim Communities in Threatened Species Conservation in Indonesia
The seven #NatureForAll strategies offer solutions to a worldwide problem of disconnection from nature. They have been developed based on recommendations received from the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress and the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, and advice from #NatureForAll partners worldwide. They will continue to evolve over time. Not every strategy may be applicable in every situation, so our partners choose the one(s) that work best in their local context
In 2013, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and our Indonesian partners, the Centre for Islamic Studies at the National University in Jakarta (UNAS), posed the question to Indonesia’s Muslim leadership: is there a Muslim response to Indonesia’s biodiversity crisis? We brought together key members of the national Islamic council (MUI) and leading conservationists to discuss this question, and six months later, the MUI issued the country’s first national edict (fatwa) calling on every Indonesian Muslim to protect threatened species, and specifically prohibiting the wildlife trade under Islam. This was an unprecedented declaration by the highest Muslim authorities that protecting wildlife is part of a Muslim’s religious duties.
What Strategies Contributed to the Success of your Work?
Strategy 5: Share cultural roots and ancestry in nature
In this strategy, the connection with nature conservation and Indonesian Muslim’s deep cultural and religious beliefs and values were highlighted. The fatwa fundamentally changed the way that wildlife is viewed in Quranic teachings in Indonesia. Using fatwa-based approaches in Indonesia reaffirms national laws protecting threatened species, but adds the weight of Islamic teachings prohibiting participation in the wildlife trade.
Strategy 6: Seek Out Diverse Partnerships
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country yet few conservation groups have reached out specifically to Muslim audiences. Through our work we are engaging with the biggest slice of civil society, Muslim communities, in key conservation areas in Sumatra and West Java. By training 200 Muslim leaders on the fatwa’s guidelines, they are empowered to spread awareness about the fatwa to 20,000 people in their communities. This can be widely replicated across Indonesia.
Strategy 7: Empower a New Generation of Leaders
In this work we are engaging a new generation of conservation leaders, specifically among Muslim religious leaders, female community leaders, school teachers and school pupils at Islamic schools. We have developed training programmes for religious and community leaders as well as conservationists on the guidelines of the fatwa, and educational materials (a sermon handbook on 12 fatwa themes; a teaching supplement on the fatwa; posters; a 150-page Islam and the environment resource book). In this way we are empowering current and future leaders in Muslim communities with the scientific knowledge of conservation issues affecting them as well as how their religious beliefs are linked with nature conservation.
Our results so far are very encouraging and demonstrated a very high awareness about the fatwa’s teachings in communities in Sumatra and West Java where we conducted our outreach.
After fatwa trainings with religious and community leaders, 96% of participants agreed that the Quran teaches that humans have an obligation to protect nature (baseline=50%). After fatwa-themed sermons, congregants demonstrated improved understanding of conservation issues and regulations (e.g. understanding about prohibitions on caging wildlife as pets increased from 37.5% to 64.4%).
In 2017 we found that after two years of raising awareness on the fatwa in Muslim communities in Sumatra had led to a strengthened intention among villagers to support and take action on conservation (48.4% in 2015 vs. 71.6% in 2017). In the theoretical model we applied, this high level of intention to act in ways that benefit conservation suggests there will also be a correspondingly high level of success in behaviour change.
WWF Indonesia conducted a separate assessment of communities living near Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java. They found that 18 months after our fatwa trainings with local clerics, 76% of respondents knew about the fatwa and that almost 70% had learned about the fatwa from their religious leaders.
The fatwa received strong support from Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF). The MOEF was so pleased with the passage of this fatwa that they asked the MUI to issue a new fatwa prohibiting the forest and peatland fires that are causing so much biodiversity destruction and climate change/ pollution in Indonesia. In August 2016 the MUI passed this new fire fatwa, and requested UNAS/ARC assist them in disseminating the fatwa and raising awareness about it in key communities. The national peatland agency is now supporting our work to carry this out.
A conservation group, Rimba, read about our work and as a result facilitated the first Malaysian wildlife trade fatwa with religious authorities in Terengganu state in 2015. We are now working together using the Indonesian model to spread awareness of the fatwa in Malaysia.
There can often be misunderstandings between conservation and religious groups due to their differing world views. Engaging with a facilitator who is sensitive to both the conservation and religious worlds has been key to the success of our work.
Religious declarations and edicts on nature conservation are enormously helpful in societies where religion is a defining element in the culture. This is true of many of the world’s most biodiverse nations. Once these high level proclamations are in place, however, it is important to find practical ways to translate them to the local level where religious communities can integrate their teachings into their daily lives. Our focus has thus been on developing practical tools for use in mosques, Muslim prayer and community groups, and in Islamic schools.
The Society for Conservation Biology’s Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group has issued guidelines for conservationists engaging with faith communities: https://conbio.org/groups/working-groups/religion-and-conservation-biology/