RELIGIOUS authorities in Indonesia have declared the burning of land forbidden among Muslims in a fatwa or edict aimed at curbing illegal land clearing.
According to Channel News Asia, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued the fatwa in its bid to influence social change as part of a moral movement.
“The act of burning forests and land, which can cause damage, environmental pollution, economic losses, affect health, and other negative impacts is haram (forbidden),” Professor Huzaemah Yanggo, chairperson for fatwa from the Indonesian Ulema Council, was quoted as saying.
Huzaeman, who was speaking at a media conference on Tuesday, said the council was confident that the ruling can help change attitudes towards the illegal burning of land.
The council denounced the traditional practice, saying it goes against Islamic teachings, and instructed clerics and religious teachers to spread the message.
Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Ministry had in January asked the council to explore the possibility of issuing the ruling on forest fires.
The request led the council to conduct research and assessments before issuing the edict this week.
Prior to the decision, the council consulted various stakeholders and referred to verses in the Koran to substantiate the fatwa.
“We understand that material punishment is not enough, what more with formal punishment. What is more important is moral (pressure),” Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said.
Last year’s fires were the worst since 1997, spreading across over 261,000 hectares (2,610 square kilometers).
Haze largely caused by illegal slash-and-burn agricultural policies in Indonesia has affected the Southeast Asian region annually for decades.
Uncontrolled burning from fires in Riau, South Sumatra, and Kalimantan causes the smoke to spread hundreds of kilometers across the region to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, resulting in major deterioration in air quality levels, health problems, and economic losses.
However, the Indonesian government has been taking proactive steps to reduce the number of fires by 75 percent from last year as there were only 2,256 fires this year compared to 8,247 between Jan and Aug 2015.