Addressing Climate Crisis with Ummah

If there is one opportunity that Indonesia’s government has neglected for decades in achieving our climate commitment, it is its huge potential of the biggest Islamic population in the world. As the world’s religious leaders make a pre-Cop 26 appeal, Indonesian Muslims had the opportunity to play a critical role in the global fight against the climate crisis.

Unlike in other countries where religious conservatism often distances itself from climate issues or even closely identifies itself with climate denialism, there is no close connection between conservatism and the anti-climate movement in Indonesia. At least the connection is not obvious yet, and we can avoid it from happening in the future.

This becomes important because various reports have indicated the growth of Muslim conservatism in Indonesia. one report by Alvara in 2019 indicated that both Generation Z (aged between 14 and 21 years old) and Young Millennial (22-29) respondents dominate within those who identify as “puritan & ultra-conservative”, accounting for almost 60%.

Islam has deep roots in Indonesian society. Indonesia hosts approximately 225 million Muslims or 87% of the population. Prominent ancient kingdoms in the archipelago were holding on to Islamic values, which caused cultural assimilation and gave birth to unique segments like Abangan, a subculture that is practicing the archipelagos’ traditional dynamism and animism along the line with Islamic values. Islamic groups were also a driving force for the fight for independence and almost inaugurated an Islamic government, but retreated to give more room to the nationalist groups.

Fast forward to the modern era, Islamic values have been interfering with politics and government. During the first democratic election, after the fall of 32 years of dictatorship, Megawati was forced to be the vice president although she won the parliamentary votes for the presidential position. The majority of Muslims parliament believed that based on certain Islamic values, a woman shouldn’t be a higher leader than a man. 18 years later, Anies Baswedan won against Basuki Tjahaya Purnama in the most polarized gubernatorial election. The public narrative during that election was that Muslims should only vote and elect Muslims as a leader.

Aksi 212, Jutaan Umat Islam Tumplek di Monas Menuntut Ahok Dihukum pada 2  Desember 2016 - Galamedia News
212 Movement on December 2016

Based on a 2021 national polling by Purpose and FiftyFive 5 across Indonesia, 92% of Indonesians believe that they have to be the good custodian of God’s creation on earth. This means that Indonesians believe that we are doing good, according to Islamic values, when taking care of the environment.

Based on this survey, 89% of the respondents believe that religion and faith play an important role in their lives. 76% and 86% of Muslims believe that Al-Quran and Hadith in respective, have an important role in defining their approach to environmental protection.

75% percent of Indonesians also believe that disaster is a punishment from God. With this belief, people believe that God also plays a role in the climate crisis: without God’s blessing, the climate crisis and the disasters proceeding would not happen.

Hence, 61% of the responders believe that humans are partly responsible for the climate crisis, along with other variables, including God. However, this is not always in line with Islamic values. As mentioned by surah Ar-Ra’d, verse 11, “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”

Interestingly, when presented with a list of messengers, Indonesians trust the religious leaders more as messengers on climate change than President Joko Widodo and other famous political and government figures, the UN, NGOs, scientists, and media.

In general, Muslims in rural areas have a high degree of trust and obedience towards the religious leaders. Historically, Indonesians are closed and have good relationships with their religious leaders. The civilization has been interacting with faith leaders thousand years back before having the first scientist. There is a potential for further education on the climate crisis through Islamic education entities like Islamic schools and boarding schools. The challenge is how we could make the Islamic leaders talk about critical issues like solutions to the climate crisis accurately and impactfully.

Post Prayer Waste

With the religious beliefs on the mandate to be a good custodian of the earth, it shouldn’t be surprising that environmental and climate movements have been developing throughout Islamic organizations and movements all over the archipelagos. NU has the Agency for Disaster Management and Climate Change (LPBI) and Muhammadiyah has the Environmental Assembly.

Furthermore, sustainable Islamic boarding schools and ecological Islamic boarding schools are sprouting throughout the country, especially in Java, the most developed island in the country. Some mosques have also been operated with energy efficiency and waste management. Nasarrudin Umar, the Grand Imam of Istiqlal--the biggest Mosque and the symbol of the Islamic community in the country, has been leaning towards more sustainability approaches. He has been initiating better waste management, energy efficiency, and solar panel rooftop installation in the mosque.

In the same race, the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) has an Institute for Honoring the Environment and Natural Resources and at least has published fatwas on animal conservation, forest burning, and mitigation, funding for water and sanitation, recycled water, and environmentally friendly mining.

However, these initiatives are relatively small, scattered, disconnected, and often unheard of as well as not publicized. There is a belief that Muslims shouldn’t show off on their good deeds. This belief somewhat hinders the publication and promotion of good Islamic environmental and climate movements.

Islamic movements or approaches to climate initiatives are often overlooked. As we navigate and develop the Islamic climate movement in the country, we are facing a good amount of skepticism coming from scientists, environmentalists, or donor organizations on the Islamic approaches of climate interventions. Most of them are referring to the MUI Fatwa on forest burning while arguing this has not been effective.

If current approaches are perceived as less effective, then perhaps this is the time to diversify and leverage the approaches and sizes of the initiatives. For example, we should start the conversation with the least engaged demographics, those that often feel that science threatens their deeply held values--often time the more conservative ones; while avoiding the science-religious debate and the war of religious verses.

We could Instead talk about and focus on what we deeply care about: the well-being of our community during Jakarta's worst floods as a climate-induced disaster, the air quality our children will grow up in, or the kind of (climate-sensitive) policy and leaders we need to see for the life of the future generation.

The conversation around how to be a good khalifa as a good custodian of the earth that will share it with the future generation also often opens up to unlimited options of common ground. This narrative and conversation needs to be mainstreamed by engaging important Islamic leaders and actors to talk about this. Narrative mainstreaming is important because, without one accepted narrative in the language of Muslims, the diverse values around Islamic segments will be a challenge for collaborations among Islamic groups.

That being said, given all the approaches, the most crucial point for success is to let the ummah lead their climate movement. This has to be something that comes up from within the Islamic communities, although it could be supported by other organizations, and focusing on putting the Islamic community as the decision-maker of the agenda.


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