By Pallavi Aiyar
In what the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) has called a first, Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body issued a fatwa this week, against illegal wildlife trafficking.
The Indonesian Council of Ulama have made public their opinion that illegal hunting or trading of endangered species is haram, or forbidden by Islam. The context for this ruling is an alarming depletion in recent decades of the Indonesian archipelago’s once-abundant forests. The clearing of forests by business interests linked to paper and pulp, as well as the palm oil industry, has resulted in large-scale habitat desiccation. According to the NGO Greenpeace, an area equivalent to more than nine Olympic swimming pools is still cut down every minute in the country.
Habitat loss is exacerbated by poaching and trafficking of animal parts. As a result, every one of the four species of Indonesian mega fauna: the tiger, rhinoceros, elephant and orangutan, is today on the critically endangered list.
According to AFP, Asrorun Ni’am Sholeh, an Indonesian Ulama Council official, explained that wildlife trafficking was “unethical, immoral and sinful.” The fatwa supplements Indonesian law on the matter, and is not enforceable in courts. Hayu Prabowo, chair of the Council’s environment and natural resources body is quoted in local media reports as saying, “People can escape government regulation but they cannot escape the word of God.”
The fatwa was inspired by a field trip to Sumatra for Muslim leaders in September last year, co-organised by Indonesia’s National University, WWF Indonesia and the U.K.-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation. It quotes various verses from the Koran in support of its conclusion. For example: “There is not an animal [that lives\ on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but [forms part of\ communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they [all\ shall be gathered to the Lord in the end” [QS Al –An’am [6\ :38\. With a population of 250 million, the majority of whom are Muslim, Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country.