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Pesantrens inspire forest replanting in Aceh, Indonesia

November 28, 2008:

The spread of oil palm plantations are a threat to the Indonesian wilderness.

A small but expanding group of eco villages have formed around local traditional Achinese religious schools in the beleaguered Indonesian province of Aceh, formerly best known internationally for its civil war and for the devastation caused by the tsunami on December 26, 2006.

These newly founded Pesantren, as the Muslim schools are called, are being established in the interior of Aceh one by one, undertaking operations to replant forest land devastated during the 30 year war between the army and Achinese freedom fighters.

At that time many villages were burned down and vacated so that there was no one to watch over the forest – meaning that overseas companies, army soldiers and others could cut down vast swathes of forests, selling the hard wood illegally in international markets. “This was one of the eco-disasters and scandals of the 1980s and 1990s,” said one of the project promoters Ayman Ahwal.

The new religious schools that are repairing the damage, replanting forest lands and developing multi-species nurseries are the inspiration of an old, revered Sheikh – the 107 year old, Abu Ibrahim Woyla.

“All is small, small scale,” Ayman Ahwal said. “But the enthusiasm is now running high [and it is so exciting to see the] students fanning out digging and planting".

The big danger is the oil palm plantations, which are inexorably spreading throughout Indonesia’s remote wilderness, funded by the international hunger for biofuels.

Meanwhile, Irwandy Yusuf, Governor of Aceh's newly autonomous region, is heading to the USA to attend a "Green" conference consisting of regional governors from around the world discussing environmental issues, hosted by Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Irwandy will present the new Green Aceh programme, for which much of the advice comes from ARC’s sister Muslim organization IFEES.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, nearly 500 mosques in the state of Kuala Terengganu preached about turtle conservation last Friday (November 21st) in a bid to raise awareness on the species.

The New Straits Times quoted state deputy assistant commissioner of mosque administration Kamaruddin Muhamad, who said the sermon would also include threats to the environment and the importance of preserving it in line with Islamic teachings.

"We found that the congregation became more environmentally sensitive after the sermon in 2006. We hope we can do the same for the turtles as they are under threat For now, it will be a one-off sermon, but we are willing to conduct more if necessary," he told the newspaper.

It was part of a project designed by local NGO Mekar and by WWF international to help turtles around three fishing communities in Kertih, Paka and Kemasik, starting with a one day workshop organised with imam from various mosques to discuss how to integrate conservation messages in their ceramah, Maghrib lectures and Friday sermons.

Link here for The New Straits Times article about Mosques preaching for turtle conservation in the state of Kuala Terengganu .

*** Link here to read the Islamic Faith Statement.

*** Link here for the latest news from around the world of faiths taking up Seven - or Eight - Year Plans.

*** Link here for news of the launch of an Islamic Conservation Guide helping Muslim fishermen protect the sea.

*** Link here to read about the success of the Living Islam Camp 2008.

*** Link here to read more Islamic news stories.

*** Link to (IFEES) UK-based Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental SciencesIslamic Federation.

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