On a hot and sticky Jakarta day in February 2019, religious leaders representing the six official religions of Indonesia – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism – made their way across the city to a meeting hosted by DKI Jakarta Provincial Government. The aim of this was to bring together key stakeholders and build an inclusive approach to tackle climate change.
The role of Jakarta’s religious leaders in this sweeping goal should not be underestimated. Home to over 10 million residents, Indonesia’s capital is a bustling megacity experiencing the growing pains of rapid urbanization. From congestion and worsening air pollution to slums and sanitation problems, the city has an abundance of challenges equaled only by the spirit, resilience and faith of its diverse communities.[i],[ii]
Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population with over 200 million believers, and Jakarta, the urban heart of the country on the island of Java, boasts incredible religious and ethnic diversity.[iii] The Istiqlal Mosque in central Jakarta is the largest in Southeast Asia and stands barely 100 meters from the Jakarta Cathedral. In a country where religion is a central element of public life, religious leaders are uniquely positioned as figures of authority on social issues ranging from family life to politics to environmental responsibility.
The religious leaders that came together that day are now working alongside the local government to raise awareness of the existential threat that climate change poses to the city and to support their communities to make change. This effort is in line with the urgency of the climate crisis. Jakarta residents are experiencing increasingly frequent and severe flooding as the city itself is sinking at an alarming rate of up to 20 cm per year in some areas.[iv] This threat is not lost on the sinking capital’s leaders as plans to relocate the nation’s capital to Borneo were announced in August 2019.[v]
One representative each from the six official religious groups formed a working committee that aims to actively advocate for the care and respect of the environment through their respective teachings. Together, they are crafting interfaith guides to tackle climate change.
These guides will take the form of a book series targeted at religious leaders and their congregations. The first book is made up of a collection of essays, one from the perspective of each religion, on climate change and the relationship between humans and the environment. Next, each religious group will publish a pocketbook of eco-preaching with verses on key topics of their choice such as water, air, land and waste to be shared widely with their congregations. Lastly, each group will contribute an article that will be compiled into a guide on the challenges and opportunities of running an eco-friendly worship house.
This three-part book series is an “interfaith perspective on how to save the world,” says Nita Roshita, a community development expert working with religious leaders, DKI Jakarta and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability on this initiative.
The aim of the initiative – to raise awareness of climate change and protect the environment – makes for a strong alliance between the diverse religious groups in Indonesia. “All of the religions in Indonesia have one thing in common, that we see the earth as our home,” says Nita. “We may all see it from a slightly different perspective, but this is our home – the only home that we have.”
Environmentalism is not new in religious teachings. Religious organizations around the world have a history of environmentalism on a global stage. On the signing of the Paris Agreement, 270 high-level faith leaders, alongside over 4,000 believers, submitted an Interfaith Climate Change Statement to World Leaders that expressed their “support for the full and ambitious implementation of the Paris Agreement.”[vi]
The Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) has issued six fatwas (rulings by religious authority) related to the environment such as FATWA Number 04/2014 on Protection of Endangered Species to Maintain the Balanced Ecosystems.[vii] The MUI’s fatwas address issues ranging from water recycling in mosques to environmentally friendly mining.
However, this eco-preaching initiative takes a more personal and grassroots approach. “What’s new,” says Nita, is that religious leaders, “really have to get involved actively and personally to write something on eco-preaching,” and then, “they are bringing these preachings to the very common believer.” The aim of this initiative is to bring an awareness and concern for the environment into the hearts and minds and daily lives of communities of faith across Jakarta.
The origin story
The idea for this interfaith book series on climate change first came from DKI Jakarta as they increased their efforts to engage city residents more directly in climate action. Through the Ambitious City Promises project, Jakarta is working alongside other growing Southeast Asian cities such as Hanoi, Vietnam, and Pasig City in Metro Manila, Philippines, to drive bottom-up, grounded climate action. The project was inspired by the Promise of Seoul, Seoul Metropolitan Governments’ comprehensive climate action plan that provides a model of inclusive, ambitious, citizen-driven action.
Working with these communities requires a commitment to engage with them at a deeper level. To do this, these ambitious cities conducted in-depth stakeholder mapping exercises and extensive public consultations. For DKI Jakarta, it was clear from the very beginning that religious leaders would be an integral part of the conversation on how to raise awareness and broaden climate action throughout the city. As central community leaders, they are influential allies in the mission to tackle climate change from the ground up through awareness raising, behavioral change and public pressure.
“It is necessary to have collaboration and cooperation between the city government and religious leaders in terms of increasing the climate awareness for citizens and the religious community,” says Erni Pelita Fitratunnisa, Head of Environmental Governance and Cleanliness Division at the Environment Agency of DKI Jakarta. “Environmental management will not be sufficient if only carried out by the government but also needs participation from the community.”
Religious leaders also see the importance of their role in raising awareness of climate change and promoting environmental protection in their communities.
“Climate change and environmental damage is mostly a result of human action and occurs due to lack of awareness of the existence of nature as a gift created by Allah,” says Dr. Hayu Prabowo, Head of Environmental Breeding and Natural Resources Institute of MUI. Dr. Prabowo is leading the development of Islamic contributions to the interfaith book series. “The effective way to tackle climate change and protect the environment is through behavior change,” he says. “Religion has an important role in making these changes.”
A unified focus on the earth
According to Nita, the priority is to bring the focus back onto earth and the environment. “What comes out in general from preachers is always about the relationship between humans and God and that’s all. We’ve almost forgotten about the relationship between humans and the environment,” she says. But this is not due to lack of teachings on how to treat the earth.
Dr. Prabowo confirms that “Islam not only regulates the relationship with God, but also regulates the relationship between human beings and their natural environment.” Nita says this is a common teaching across many religions. “When we shared the idea [of the interfaith guides] everyone said ‘oh, we actually have that kind of teaching on how to save the earth’ and now they are trying to collect their own teachings relating to the environment. It’s really exciting.”
This commonality across religious teachings allows for a strong coalition and a unified movement towards renewed environmentalism. Religious leaders “realize they don’t talk much about the environment and it’s about time. Because climate change is real. This is the time that all religious leaders really have to come together and bring awareness to their believers,” says Nita.
Clearly, care for the earth is a needed and unifying value that can bring benefits beyond increased environmentalism. “Whenever we talk about religion it is always connected with something violent, or about terror,” says Nita. She says that this is a shared sentiment throughout the group whenever they meet. “Let’s not talk about terrorism,” they say. “We all agree that we hate violence and terrorism. How do we get people talking about climate change?”
This interfaith coalition can be an effective way to build bridges and reach diverse communities across Jakarta as the city and religious leaders are focusing their attention on the issue at hand. “Through the issue of climate change we can actually come together with all faiths to save Jakarta’s environment,” says Nita.
The book series which is due to be released in February 2020 is already creating a buzz in certain communities in Jakarta. “Whenever I post about the project on my social media,” Nita shares, “everyone says ‘when can we read it?’ Everyone is excited to see how other religions see the world.”
Not only are Jakarta residents excited, religious and city leaders have lots of ideas about how to put this book series to good use.
“This module is good for students and the wider community,” says Js. Liem Liliany Lontoh, SE., M.Ag., Head of the Supreme Council for the Confucian Religion in Indonesia and lead writer of the Confucian contributions to the interfaith book series. “It is good for solving environmental problems with examples of concrete action in the modules [such as saving water, reducing plastic waste and planting trees].” She emphasizes that these guides should be more than just words: “We have put more emphasis on concrete actions rather than just boasting verses that we have read in the scriptures.”
DKI Jakarta sees great potential for these guides to be used “to inform the public through both socialization and publication,” says Fitratunnisa, but also to, “develop special training so that the preachers can learn to deliver the information to the people in more detail and have more understanding.”
This initiative starts with awareness raising about the realities of climate change and promotes a bottom-up, behavioral change approach, but religious and city leaders know they must go further to create systemic change that can truly tackle the climate challenge. Nevertheless, this interfaith coalition is growing in strength and numbers and is united in its mission to protect our earth and environment. After all, it’s the only home we have.
Acknowledgments: This article was made possible by the Ambitious City Promises project and supported by the dedicated project team. Ambitious City Promises is implemented by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) through the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The ICLEI World Secretariat is responsible for project management and coordination. ICLEI Southeast Asia Secretariat and ICLEI East Asia Secretariat are also implementing partners. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is a supporting partner.
[i] Mustasya, T. and Andriyanu, B. Jakarta’s enemy is air pollution. The Jakarta Post [online] (June 2019). https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2019/06/29/jakartas-enemy-is-air-pollution.html
[ii] News Desk. Slums remain a fact of life in Jakarta, ministry finds. The Jakarta Post [online] (May 2019). https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/05/28/half-of-jakarta-is-slum-ministry-says.html
[iv] Kusumawijaya, M. Jakarta at 30 million: my city is choking and sinking – it needs a new Plan B. The Guardian [online] (November 2016).
[v] Lyons, K. Why is Indonesia moving its capital city? Everything you need to know. The Guardian [online] (August 2019). https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/27/why-is-indonesia-moving-its-capital-city-everything-you-need-to-know
[vi] Interfaith Climate Change Statement to World Leaders. [online] (2016). http://www.mipandl.org/faith_resources/Interfaith_Climate_Change_Statement_2016.pdf
[vii] Fatwa, The Indonesian Council of Ulama, Number 04/2014 On Protection of Endangered Species to Maintain the Balanced Ecosystems. [online] (2014). https://jliflc.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Fatwa-MUI-English-Jun-2014.pdf