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Religion and nature

I’ve opened my hotel room window and drifting through a very hot, dark evening from every direction is a chorus of the evening call to prayer of several imams (or recordings at least as that’s what I understand most of them are these days) on what is the first day of the Ramadhan period of fasting in Indonesia.

Having flicked through a copy of the Jakarta Post today, I understand a little more how deeply religion runs through most things here. The first day of Ramadhan is even officially announced by the Government and there’ll be general elections next year and several of the parties are faith-based ones.

I also came across an interesting concept in one article: energy theology. The journalist explained that this concept could help to restore balance and reduce Indonesia’s overuse of energy and nature’s resources. People currently see nature as there for the taking, something to be exploited. This, the author argued, goes against the theological understanding that Allah created nature and that people should take care of it, but do not own it. And, most importantly, that nature is not infinite. A better understanding of these theological tenets could reduce energy use, make it more sustainable and minimize impacts on the natural environment. A second piece a few pages later described the anthropocentrism of people’s current attitude towards the natural environment.

These high-minded ideals contrast radically with the scale of deforestation (alongside countless other environmental problems which exist here). Although this destruction is certainly no worse than what’s undertaken in the West – and much of what’s slashed and burned here in Indonesia is to make way for oil palm to feed western mouths and energy markets. It’s interesting to consider the potential power of a theologically rooted environmentalism in a country of millions of practicing Muslims. It’s something many Western countries certainly couldn’t call on and I want to find out how widely and deeply held are these beliefs are among the population, or whether they’re confined to the op-ed pages of the country’s broadsheets.

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