“Eco-pesantren” movement takes Islamic perspective on nature conservation


Photo: Environmentalist, educator and environmental activist Fachruddin Mangunjaya in his office in Jakarta. Courtesy of Fachruddin Mangunjaya


One man’s fusion of faith, education and environmentalism is changing Southeast Asian landscapes


When Fachruddin Mangunjaya was researching his master’s dissertation in 2006 on attitudes toward wildlife conservation in Indonesia’s Islamic boarding schools, or pesantren, he got a lot of blank stares from his friends.


“They said, ‘Why religion? Why are you connecting this with religion?… How do you make the connection between pesantren and the environment?’” he recounted, at his spacious office in Jakarta’s National University (UNAS).


His reception today is rather different. Over the last decade and a half, Mr. Fachruddin pioneering work in Islamic environmentalism has gone from fringe to mainstream. He has trained more than 1,000 Indonesian clerics in using theology to promote conservation, equipped teachers at over a dozen schools to become “eco-pesantren,” and helped shape the international Islamic Declaration for Climate Change in Istanbul in 2015.


As the writer or editor of 22 books and dozens of journal articles, he has done more than any other single person to shape both the theory and practice of Islamic environmentalism in Southeast Asia.  


Divine inspiration

“One of my favorite Quran verses is this,” said Mr. Fachruddin: “And there is no creature on the Earth or bird that flies with its wings except that they are umma [the community of believers] like you (6:38).” To him it’s a clarion call to conservation.


In his body of work, he has scrupulously collected Quran and hadith (sayings of the prophet) verses as well as excerpts from other texts like the Malay Islamic book Sabilal Muhtadin, contextualizing them alongside modern conservation goals like fighting deforestation and decreasing waste.


A broader view

 Mr. Fachruddin’s philosophy has now gone beyond the classroom.


“Last week I went to Riau and met with 84 clerics from three provinces,” said Mr. Fachruddin.  “The clerics didn’t only come from pesantren, but also from the kampung,” or villages. He trained them about the dangers of haze and burning crops and trees and prepared a Friday sermon pamphlet that they could use to educate congregants about how to combat forest fires on a grassroots level.

Photo: Mr. Fachruddin looks at a map of Riau, an Indonesian province on the Strait of Malacca that was fiercely affected by 2019’s fire season. Courtesy of Fachruddin Mangunjaya


As his movement has grown, Mr. Fachruddin has consulted for bodies like the United Nations. In 2015, he worked with Muslim leaders from countries as far as Morocco and the U.K. to draft an Islamic declaration on climate change.


Mr. Fachruddin’s academic and experimental work runs against a backdrop of a larger cultural shift in both his country and the world at large. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put religion front and center in its 2030 Agenda, noting that about 80 percent of the world’s population follows some kind of faith and that religious communities everywhere can “leverage the considerable financial, moral and ethical influence at their disposal” in the service of conservation and environmentalism. Their report noted that nearly all faiths argue, in their own way, that “there are legitimate and illegitimate uses of nature” and that “greed and destructiveness are [condemnable].” Pope Francis also issued an encyclical in 2015 entitled “Laudato si’,” criticizing unchecked consumerism and development and calling for “swift and unified global action” on climate change.


Inside Indonesia, the national council of Muslim clerics issued afatwa on climate changein 2010. And the country’s largest Muslim organization, the civil society group Nahdlatul Ulama, has also taken a green turn in recent years.


“We’ve been interested in the environment for quite some time now,” said Ali Yusuf, who leads Nahdlatul Ulama’s Disaster Management and Climate Change Institute. “In 2007 we created a ‘national front’ for the environment, in 2010 we had a climate change conference, then we created a NU Green Movement, then branched out into water conservation, energy conservation, planting trees, and so on.” 


“The Indonesian religious tradition is quite easy to intervene in,” opined Mr. Fachruddin, “because of the democratic situation. And also because we’re a moderate country, and easy to adapt.”



* This article is a short version of the article published by Landscapes News and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). To read the full version please click HERE.


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