First Once Fatwa Published Against Wild Traffic

Indonesia’s main Muslim clerical body has issued a fatwa, or edict, against illegal wildlife smuggling.

This unprecedented move by the Indonesian council Ulama, in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, declares haram (prohibited) illegal hunting or illegal trading of endangered species.

For many, the word “fatwa” took on ominous tones in 1989 when Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Oomeome killed a threat against Salman Rushdie for blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses.

But the fatwa itself is only a call to action. Invoking fragments of the Qur’an, it is believed that the fatwa (which you can read in full below) is the first of its kind in the world.

The fatwa forces Indonesia’s 200 million Muslims to actively play a role in protecting and conserving endangered species, including tigers, rhinos, elephants and orangutans.

“This fatwa is issued to give an explanation, as well as guidance, to all Muslims in Indonesia on the sharia legal perspective on issues related to animal conservation,” said Hayu Prabowo, president of the environment and natural resources of the Ulama Council.

The fatwa complements the existing Indonesian law. “People can avoid government regulation,” Hayu said, “but they can’t avoid God’s word.”

The Creations of Allah

The fatwa was inspired in September 2013 by an excursion to Sumatra for Muslim leaders co-organized by Indonesia Universitas Nasional (UNAS), WWF Indonesia and the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation. The Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and HarimauKita (the Indonesian Tiger Conservation Forum) offered further consultation.

During a community dialogue with village representatives to discuss conflicts between villagers and Sumatran elephants and tigers, some villagers asked about the status in Islam of animals such as elephants and tigers.

The Muslim leaders replied, “They are creations of Allah like us. It is haram to kill them, and keeping them alive is part of the worship of God.”

Hayu emphasizes that the fatwa applies not only to individuals but also to the government, noting that corruption can be a problem when wildlife, forests and the interests of such industries as the oil palm trade come into conflict.

The fatwa specifically calls on the government to review permits granted to companies that harm the environment and take measures to conserve endangered species.

Time of Unprecedented Wildlife Crime

The fatwa comes at a time when transnational wildlife crime has reached unprecedented levels, with special burdens on countries – such as Indonesia – that are still rich in rare or unusual wildlife and plants.

It also happens at a time when governments are struggling to create laws and pay for coercive officials to fight criminal syndicates on animal crime that are increasingly complex and violent.

The Ulama Council hopes its fatwa, which bridges the gap between formal law and crime and gives strong guidance to Indonesian Muslims, will help reduce the wildlife trade.

Indonesia’s action is a response to a concern for the country’s ecosystems rather than some Islamic wildlife practices. However, throughout history, religion has played an important role as a driver in the consumption of animal species, some of which are now severely endangered.

In 2005, the Dalai Lama called on his followers to stop trading in animals. Recently the men of the Church of the Nazarene Baptist (Shembe) in South Africa, a traditionalist Zulu church, began using fake leopard skins in their religious ceremonies. As shown in National Geographic magazine’s “Geographic Worship” magazine, Buddhists in Thailand and China, as well as Catholics around the world who collect ivory religious statues, continue to play a role in the smuggling and illegal consumption of elephant ivory.

Following is the full text of the fatwa belonging to wild animals published by the Indonesian Council of Ulama, the country’s main Islamic clerical body.

Read more National Geographic coverage of nature traffic: