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Exciting results from working with Muslims in Sumatra on eco-programs

May 10, 2013:

Minangkabu celebrations PICTURE DARWIN INSTITUTE

A new report by the Darwin Initiative (DI) shows the exciting results they saw when they ran a major project to engage faith leaders in Indonesia in environmental action.

Integrating religion within conservation: Islamic beliefs and Sumatran forest management includes significant papers by Fazlun Khalid of IFEES, Professor Stuart Harrop of the Durrell Institute at the University of Kent, Fachruddin Mangunjaya, Yoan Dinata, Erlinda Kartika, Rusdiyan Ritonga, Jeanne McKayNurul Firmansyah, Feri Rolis, Rudi Febriamansyah, Jomi Suhendri, Ari Sutanti, Sandra Winarsa and Yasser Premana


The Indonesian island of Sumatra, Indonesia, is rich in diversity but has an average deforestation rate of two percent a year, which is clearly alarming. Seeing that Islam plays a central role in the daily lives of millions of people in Indonesia, the DI project started a project to promote the importance of biodiversity conservation and its sustainable use to religious leaders who had until then largely been uninvolved in environmental issues.

"By engaging them and their followers in sustainable natural resource management approaches that are explicitly based on their religious principles, the DI project piloted a new conservation model... in a way that was both culturally appropriate (through the teachings of Islam) and replicable across most of Indonesia."

They found that, by directly involving members of the community in activities such as agroforest nurseries, a strong sense of ownership and pride was created towards the project.

It also generated a strong commitment from the two focal communities to continue conducting Green Mosque campaigns, community litter clean-ups and replanting activities around their water sources (using native species from the DI nurseries).

The Green Mosque campaign

The DI Green Mosque campaign in Guguk Malalo was so successful that it received nationwide media attention and went on to win the provincial nomination to represent West Sumatra in a national environmental competition sponsored by the Ministry of Forestry. This then led to Guguk Malalo receiving a special budget allocation and technical support from the Government of Indonesia for its future conservation activities, which will build upon the framework developed by the DI.


Evaluation was important, and this was done through questionnaire surveys before and after each training activity, reporting significant increase in both knowledge of the issues and of the role of Islam in protecting nature.

The pre- and post-questionnaire surveys distributed during a Ramadan campaign conducted in the mosques and pesantrens (religious boarding schools) revealed that in the mosques, Islamic teachings on water conservation had raised levels of concern, as the proportion of people who prioritised funding for watershed forest conservation in the exit group was significantly higher than those in the entry group.

From just the entry group, on the environmental issues, younger and better educated respondents tended to correctly identify the ecosystem services provided by watershed forests than other respondents. Younger and better educated respondents tended to correctly identify the threats to water quality in West Sumatra. However, on religious issues, women and less educated respondents tended to identify a greater number of correct answers on Islamic teaching towards the environment.

Women have key impact on Environment thinking

The results from the Ramadan campaign in the pesantrens found that female respondents were more likely to correctly identify the services provided by watershed forests and more likely to contribute their time to conservation activities. As the report observed, this raises an interesting issue when considering the prominent positions that men hold within Islam and the importance of engaging women in a project of this nature.

Further, the Minangkabau culture recognises the importance of women within their matrilineal system. Throughout the project's duration, the involvement of women and their support in the design and implementation of its activities was met with such success and enthusiasm on their behalf that, coupled with the results previously mentioned, a scientific publication on the gender aspects of this project is being prepared.

An unexpected outcome

In closing, a somewhat unexpected outcome of the project was the noted pause for reflection and appreciation received from many religious leaders and devout followers, both men and women (who considered themselves to be well versed on the teachings of the Qur’an) when introduced for the first time to Islam's many environmental teachings.

The future

"This further highlighted the potential that such an approach could have on developing culturally appropriate conservation practices, not only elsewhere within Indonesia, but also throughout the rest of the Muslim world."

More information

Download the full report

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