Appealing to Indonesia's Muslims

The Indonesian government and Greenpeace have teamed up with Islamic organisations to promote plastic waste reduction. Can including religion make environmental campaigns more effective? By Rizki Nugraha and Ayu Purwaningsih

By Rizki Nugraha and Ayu Purwaningsih

During Ramadan 2018, Indonesia's top Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), together with Greenpeace and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Environment launched an awareness campaign to solve the problem of plastic waste in Indonesia.

Together, they have a mission to promote the use of reusable bags to cut plastic bag use in Indonesia. The Indonesian government and clerics from the country's largest Muslim organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah are seeking to influence the consumer behaviour of the groups' combined 100 million followers.

NU and Muhammadiyah, together with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Environment, announced the Plastic Waste Reduction Movement in Jakarta on 6 June.

According to Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, the waste management director at the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the amount of plastic garbage in Indonesia is continuing to increase significantly. "We want to encourage citizens to start with the small things like carrying a drinking bottle, instead of disposable plastic bottles, or using non-plastic shopping bags," she said.

A plastic-free Ramadan

During this yearʹs Ramadan, the Indonesian ministry of environment and environmental organisations encouraged religious leaders to popularise breaking Ramadan fasts without plastic. Greenpeace Indonesia has said it wants to use the influence of religion through the MUI to spread the message of environmental conservation and invite Muslims to stop using disposable plastic.

Greenpeace launched its #PantangPlastik (#AntiPlastic) campaign by holding a gathering dubbed "eco-iftar" in South Jakarta. Muharram Atha Rasyadi, a Greenpeace urban campaigner said Indonesians tend to consume more during Ramadan. For example, many people gather to break fast at restaurants or order take-away food. As a result, the amount of trash increases.

"In mosques, for instance, at the end of the day during Ramadan, people break fast together by using many disposable plastic food containers," Rasyadi explained, adding that Greenpeace recognised the need to include Islamic religious organisations to reach ordinary people. He believes that imams can play a vital role in campaigning together for the environment. "In contrast to urban populations, people in rural areas tend to obey what clerics say." Rasyadi hoped the eco-iftar event would inspire Muslims to consume less single-use plastic in their daily activities.Indonesia is currently listed as one of the largest sources of waste pollutants in the world. Every year, the average Indonesian dumps 17 kilograms of plastic waste in various forms. As a result, 187.2 million annual tonnes of plastic waste from Indonesia ends up in the ocean.

Is religion effective for activism?

It is not the first time that religion has been used as a vehicle for conservation in Indonesia. In 2014, MUI issued a fatwa that forbade the poaching of endangered species. The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences also brought in Indonesian schools to campaign for the so-called School4Trees programme.

According to Media Zainul Bahri, a professor of religious studies, at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) Jakarta, Islam has many messages about environmental preservation. "There are many threats in the Koran regarding environmental issues. God blames people if they cause environmental damage."[embed:render:embedded:node:31685]He believes these messages tend to be forgotten, because many think that, compared with today, there were no environmental problems. "Theological teaching from the 1950s to the present has tended to focus on issues of humanity," says Bahri.

Religious conservation around the world

Religion has played a role in saving the environment in other countries. In 2008, the secular ideological conservation group The Alliance for Religions and Conservation (ARC) launched an environmental project by engaging local religious leaders to invite fishermen on the island of Pemba, Tanzania to stop using explosives for fishing.

"This conservation idea isn't from the West," said a fisherman who took part in a conservation programme in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "It's from the Koran."

While religion can play an important role in raising awareness, the involvement of conservation organisations is necessary for religious leaders to deal with technical issues. "Many imams do not have a sufficient understanding of how nature works and how to take care of the ecosystem," said Bahri.

"We want people to realise that conservation is an Islamic issue," the waste bank director of the NU's Disaster Mitigation and Climate Change Agency (LPBI NU), Fitria Ariayani, told Indonesian media.

Rizki Nugraha and Ayu Purwaningsih

© Deutsche Welle 2018