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."

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

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