Islamic Environmentalism in Indonesia: Inherently Ecological or Reactionary Apologism?

How does the Muslim-majority Asian State of Indonesia combat the effects of anthropogenic climate change through people’s mobilization efforts and policy, and what is the role of Islam in influencing environmental preservation efforts? This blog explores the radicalization of both Muslim and Asian identity in Indonesia, their relationships with Islamic ecological ideology, and whether the interaction with environmentalism is a product of this radicalized identity and manifestation of modern Muslim apologism, to ultimately find how the interplay of these factors have created contemporary environmental preservation efforts in Indonesia.

From a functionalist perspective, religion is often seen as a being influential, or even determining factor, in facilitating the acceptance and adaptation of certain norms and morals needed to mitigate anthropogenic climate change. Islamic scholars and activists responded to critiques that religion was the cause of humanity’s ecological crisis, by asserting Islam was not only inherently compatible with environmental preservation but was unique in its environmentally conscience traditions and encouraged sustainable behavior (Nasr 1968 and 1976; Khalid 1992; Foltz 2003; Davary 2012). It is integral to understand that “religious behavior may have larger ecological impact[s] than political, social and economic factors” which have large implications for environmental conservation policy, constructing social norms, and public perception of the importance of environmental sustainability (Sachdeva 2016, 10). Cultural factors are interrelated and considered inherently tied to religious beliefs, exemplifying how constructed identities are influential in people’s everyday lives and behavior since it is “clear that local and regional environmental concerns and conflicts are influenced by history, religion, and ethnicity” (Peace 2012, 217). Since it can be inferred that religion is a determining factor for action, Islamic environmental principles are expected to have substantial influence in Muslim majority countries.

While there are a plethora of Qur’anic verses, hadiths, and principles that have been cited to be environmentally conscious, six principles will be explained to illustrate Islam’s proclivity to environmental sustainability that stress ethical behavior regarding environmental preservation. Concepts such as harim and hema, legal concept that refer to protected zones, tawhid, understanding the unity of God and his creation; ayat, seeing signs of God in nature; khalifa, being a steward and protector of the Earth; amana, honoring the trust we have with God to be protectors of the planet; adl, an ethical and legal concept which the focus is to move toward justice; and mizan, to live in balance with nature, illustrate the interplay between Islamic belief and environmental principles of preservation (Abdul-Matin 2010; Foltz 1992; Gade 2019). However, these theological, philosophical, and legal concepts have been reinterpreted recently as the foundation for conservation policies.

The attempts by scholars to showcase how Islam is inherently aligned with environmentalism, and therefore modern science, works as an effort to reassert the legitimacy of Islamic principles and actions surrounding the environment, allowing Muslims to claim science and environmental policies as being aligned with their beliefs, and even symbiotic to each other. However, even if Islamic principles and traditions are intrinsically environmentalist in nature, environmental acts in countries such as Indonesia, could be seen as a form of apologism, since they are unable to act without participating in a globalized, Eurocentric, framework that systemically radicalizes Muslims and Asians (Devji 2007; Aydin 2017). This relationship is further compounded as “Islam and science became charged polemically in colonial contexts…as reflected within both sides of the orientalist and occidentalist imaginary, “Islam” and “West” (Gade 2019, 187). Within this context, Muslim majority countries and their scientific environmental findings and policies are racialized by their inherent inferior standing in the global order.

While Muslims throughout history and in contemporary society, have never seen the concepts of Islam and science as mutually exclusive, this development between Islam and environmentalism is a direct product of Eurocentric conceptualizations of the environment and science. It would be difficult to assert that this racialization has not been internalized by state such as Indonesia that view “contemporary Islamic writings of environmentalism directed at Muslims tend to treat science as outreach” (Gade 2019, 188). This interplay is augmented in Indonesia, as it is both a majority Muslim, and Asian, state. Empirical examples from Indonesian environmental efforts are characteristic of this paradigm.

Indonesia holds the largest Muslim population and is a country that faces some of the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change. Indonesia has responded to these events by attempting to implement more sustainable policies, which are greatly influenced by the countries religious values. While there is a plethora of examples, the primary empirical case that will be used to illustrate these policies is regarding waste management. The Hayu Prabwo agency within the body MUI (Majelis Ulama Indonesia) issued a modern fatwa citing Qur’anic verses and hadiths regarding preservation of the environment in response to a landslide at a trash dump that killed 100 people in Cimahi near Bandung, West Java in 2005 (Gade 2019, 151-154). This fatwa concluded with “an emphasis on the Muslim community’s legal obligation to attend to waste management at large, through organizing community recycling efforts, clean their personal environments, throw away garbage in a sustainable manner, and encouraged government entities to manage waste through coordinating local cooperation (Gade 2019, 151). The fatwa directly inspired water resource management infrastructure to develop around Bandung to prevent future disasters.

Fundamentally, Indonesian environmental policy is inspired by Islamic ecological principles and serves as a mobilizing force for personal mobilization and policy implementation.  Since actions done by people who are systemically radicalized for both their constructed religious Muslim identity and ethnicity as Southeast Asian cannot be removed from the framework of oppression, every act can be interpreted as a form of apologism – but this does not negate the inherent principles in their belief systems of environmental benefits of their mobilization. This paradigm presents a more nuanced understanding of how “modern” environmentalism in Indonesia is both a product of the interrelation of Muslim, Asian, radicalization and politicization. Regardless, and most importantly, Indonesians assert their autonomy and legitimacy in religious beliefs and identities, through acts of environmental preservation that are culturally important, socially poignant, religiously motivated, and indigenously crafted.


Abdul-Matin, Ibrahim and Ketih Ellison. Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2010.

Aydin, Cemil. “Muslim Politics of the Interwar Period (1924-1945)” In The Idea of the Muslim World : A Global Intellectual History / Cemil Aydin. 2017.

Davary, Bahar. “Islam and Ecology: Southeast Asia, Adat, and the Essence of Keramat.” The ASIANetwork Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts 20, no. 1 (2012):12-22.

Devji, Faisal. “Apologetic Modernity,” Modern Intellectual History, 4, 1 (2007), pp. 61–76.

Foltz, Richard C. Worldviews, Religion, and the Environment : A Global Anthology / Edited by Richard C. Foltz. Australia ; Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2003.

Gade, Anna M. Muslim Environmentalisms: Religious and Social Foundations / Anna M. Gade. 2019.

Brown, Patrick. 2005. A view from the doorway of the mosque, the only surviving building in the town of Lho-Nga, following the tsunami which struck South Asia on 26/12/2004. An earthquake of magnitude 9 triggered a series of tidal waves which caused devastation when they struck dry land. In total 12 countries were affected by the tsunami, with a combined death toll of over 280,000..

Peace, Adrian, Linda H. Connor, and David Trigger. “Environmentalism, Culture, Ethnography.” Oceania 82, no. 3 (2012): 217-27.

Khalid, Fazlun M., and O’Brien, Joanne. Islam and Ecology / Edited by Fazlun M. Khalid with Joanne O’Brien. World Religions and Ecology. London, UK: Cassell, 1992.

Sachdeva, Sonya. 2016. “Religious identity, beliefs, and views about climate change.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science.

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