Could a fatwa, a religious Muslim order, save a tiger? Watch and see, because the Indonesian Council of Clerics (ICC), the country’s highest Islamic body, has just proclaimed that hunting endangered animals is haram!
This fatwa (a world first!) was officially announced on March 12 at Jakarta’s Ragunan Zoo, inspired by a joint visit to Sumatra by clerics and conservationists last year.
Leaders had spoken with villagers about how they must coexist alongside elephants and tigers; they claimed endangered species are creations of Allah and it is forbidden (haram) to kill them.
The edict aims to encourage people to protect the environment, which includes endangered animals such as rhinos, orangutans and elephants.
Developed in consultation with environmental charities and academics from Jakarta’s National University, the fatwa also forbids commercial trading of rare species and urges government review all palm oil plantations. (Those agricultural estates, which have been making headlines for their damage to natural orangutan habitat, require government licensure to operate.)
Indonesia is home to some of the world’s most threatened animals: in the last century, 93% of all Sumatran tigers (pictured above) have disappeared. Java rhinoceros are critically endangered and already extinct in China and India and Lar Gibbons are threatened by deforestation (not to mention an increased demand for their meat!). Rare and endangered species are also captured and sold as exotic pets.
The United Nations now classifies the illegal trafficking of exotic wildlife as second only in scale to the illegal drug trade, with Dubai emerging as a major smuggling center for the world’s most rarefied creatures.
The ICC isn’t the first religious body to embrace conservation: the Dalai Lama has called upon Buddhists to end trafficking and South Africa’s traditional Zulu Nazareth Baptist (Shembe) Church has begun to use fake leopard skins in its ceremonies to protect real leopards.
While council edicts carry no legal weight, this announcement shows the hive-up of conservation and culture; endangering species is flatly considered immoral behavior. There’s hope that the message could resonate strongly within Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population.
Fatwas have been flying in recent weeks – new releases have banned Muslims from one-way Mars travel and damned Russell Crowe’s new “Noah” flick. But as governments struggle to create effective laws to stop poaching and criminal trafficking networks, maybe God can give a vital assist.
“People can escape government regulation, but they cannot escape the word of God,” ICC member Hayu Susilo Prabowo told National Geographic.
Image of Sumatran tiger from Shutterstock