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Indonesian Muslim clerics issue fatwa protecting endangered animals

Indonesia's highest Islamic clerical body is using its influence over the estimated 200 million Muslims in the country to try to save local wildlife, including the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger.

The religious fatwa issued by the Indonesian council of Ulama urges Muslims in Indonesia to protect endangered animals by conserving their habitat and curbing illegal trade.

The word "fatwa" can have negative connotations to some but it is merely a call to action for Muslims.

“All activities resulting in wildlife extinction without justifiable religious grounds or legal provisions are haram [forbidden]. These include illegal hunting and trading of endangered animals.”

- Asrorun Ni'am Sholeh, Muslim leader

“All activities resulting in wildlife extinction without justifiable religious grounds or legal provisions are haram [forbidden]. These include illegal hunting and trading of endangered animals,” Asrorun Ni'am Sholeh, secretary of the Ulema Council's commission on fatwas, told the news agency AFP. 

“Whoever takes away a life, kills a generation," he said. "This is not restricted to humans, but also includes God's other living creatures, especially if they die in vain.”

The council’s fatwa called on the Indonesian government to protect the environment, review permits granted to companies which have been accused of damaging the environment and to prosecute illegal loggers and wildlife traffickers.

Indonesia is home to many of the world's most endangered animals including the tigers, elephants and orangutans.

Indonesia's wildlife is trafficked by international networks in the same way that drugs and arms are by smuggling them over borders.

And it's big business with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network estimating its worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Here in Thailand, they are trying to break the networks which use this country as a hub to move the animals from Indonesia to China to be used as ingredients for traditional medicines or to be eaten.

Last month, for instance, five tiger cubs were rescued by police from the back of a pick-up truck which had been stopped in northwest Thailand.

They were part of a massive haul which also included over 300 monitor lizards, 174 turtles and 11 turtles.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature is welcoming the religious fatwa, saying the use of religion is a positive move to help wildlife.

“It provides a spiritual aspect and raises moral awareness which will help us in our work to protect and save the remaining wildlife in the country such as the critically endangered tigers and rhinos,” WWF Indonesia communications director Nyoman Iswara Yoga told the Jakarta Globe.

National Geographic has called the fatwa "unprecedented" and says it came about from a trip taken by Muslim leaders of Sumatra that was organized by Indonesia's Universitas Nasional, WWF-Indonesia and the British-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation.

During the trip villagers discussed with them the ongoing conflict between their people and Sumatran elephants and tigers and some asked about the position of animals in islam.

The Muslim leaders replied: "They are creations of Allah, as we are. It is haram to kill them, and keeping them alive is part of the worship of God."

The difficult is that there are plenty of laws in Indonesia to protect wildlife but they seem to be flouted or ignored.

The government usually doesn't respond to religious fatwas.

But Hayu Prabowo, chair of religious council's environment and natural resources body was quoted as saying: "People can escape government regulation, but they cannot escape the word of God."