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Tradition and Sentiment in Indonesian Environmental Islam1

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image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

In 2010-2011, new public messages circulated in Indonesia’s public sphere to “green” Islam. Formal and semi-formal religious education increasingly reflected and supported new ecological curricula and models. Messages of “eco-dakwah” (religious and environmental outreach) by religious authorities connected theory and practice, long established in the pesantren (madrasa) tradition. This paper highlights two affective strategies that were emerging as forms of environmental Islam: first, adapting “tradition” to be a resource for experiential awareness; and, second, the related expectation that feeling and emotion carry persuasive power to alter perception and inspire action. This dakwah cast moral sentiment and action in this world with respect to natural states anticipated in the world to come.

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30. fn1 1) I would like to thank Amin Abdullah, K.H. Fuad Affandi, K.H. Ahmad Yani, Nasruddin Anshoriy, Hadiyanto Arief, Ian Baird, Mardhani Djuri, Budi Faisal, K.H. Abdussalam Panji Gumilang, James Bourk Hoesterey, M. Nur Ikhwan, Ahmad Izzan, Muhjidin Mawardi, K.H. Thonthawi Jauhari Musaddad, Amanda Katili Niode, Nuki Aminten, Wahyu Prihartono, K.H. Rodja, Tasdyanto Rohady, Syafri Sairin, Nur Saktiningrum, and Jatna Supriatna. Special gratitude goes to Fachruddin Majeri Mangunjaya and Ira Putuhena, without whom this study would not have been possible to conduct. All named subjects who provided information as personal communication cited in this article have granted explicit permission for the material to be used in this manner. Versions of this paper have been presented at UIN “Sunan Kalidjaga” in Jogjakarta, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies a the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies and the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in 2010. The Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison provided funding for the project. Some additional support came from “Inside Islam,” a multi-media project of the Area Studies Centers and Global Studies at UW-Madison with funding from the Social Science Research Council. Short videos by the author also presenting the subject matter of this article are available on
31. fn2 2) See Gade 2004 and Gade 2008for a study of emotion in contemporary Indonesian Muslim religious revival and a survey of traditions of religious sentiment in Islam, respectively; foundational anthropological studies of affect in Indonesian cultures and politics include H. Geertz 1959, U. Wikan 1995and B. Stoler 2009; Indonesianist C. Geertz defined “cultural systems” of religion in terms of “moods and motivations” in 1973.
32. fn3 3) Muhammadiya and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) are two national Islamic voluntary organizations founded in the twentieth century in Indonesia. It is commonly said by observers that Muhammadiyya is more “modernist,” whereas NU is more “traditionalist.”
33. fn4 4) Here is my translation of the key language which appears at the end of the fatwa, from Indonesian: “Anyone who destroys the environment, it is as if he or she has transgressed and defied ( melanggar dan memerangi) the command of God Most High and His Prophet. In so doing, he or she has sowed destruction on the face of the earth( berbuat kerusakan di muka bumi) with an impact that amounts to the destruction of the natural resources that are essential needs of each and every creature on the face of the earth.” ( Yamin 2007: 224; emphasis mine). Through personal communication, K.H. Thonthawi explained that the Qur’anic command not to “corrupt the earth [environment],” carries a severe penalty like other transgressions of limits ( hudud) with criminal punishments specified in the Qur’an. This indicates that “to corrupt the earth” was an offense against others (not primarily God). “If you damage the ecosystem of a mountain,” he explained, “it is really as if you killed a person.” “The loss,” he went on, “can be in the millions.” He quickly added that does not even mention the loss of species.
34. fn5 5) K.H. Thonthawi explained it with these words: “The laws of religion are not ruled by the mind; they are not necessary to rationalize; they are always [already] present in the heart” ( Hukuman agama tidak dihaki oleh otak—bukan akal—sudah hati).
35. fn6 6) See Manjunjaya and McKay, “Reviving an Islamic Approach for Environmental Conservation in Indonesia,” in this volume, for more discussion of educational initiatives, including the recent materials by Mangunjaya, Islam Peduli Lingkungan(for which I attended an intensive “launch” teacher workshop for Muhammadiyya educators already teaching an environmental studies curriculum in 2011).
36. fn7 7) The criteria for the competition in proposals from prospective “eco- pesantren” conducted by the Ministry of the Environment in 2010 were: 1. Teaching and Curriculum; 2. Clean Grounds; 3. Resource Management /Waste Management; 4. Library Resources; and, 5. Love/Care for Environment.
37. fn8 8) The teaching of Nasruddin Anshoriy, head of “Pesan Trend Ilmu Giri” in Central Java (the school’s name is a play on the word, “ pesantren,” as well as the important local site, Imo Giri), prior to the catastrophic eruption of Mt. Merapi in late 2010, included a program by which newlyweds plant trees when they marry. And every time the couple has sexual relations for a month after the wedding, they must plant another tree, he explained. And if they are a good couple, he went on, imagine the great number of trees they might plant! Imagine too all the future rewards, he concluded: the children, the trees (as in the hadith), the carbon offset, as well as the cash value of the mature trees once the children (and the trees) are all grown up.
38. fn9 9) For example, “Trees protect you,” K.H. Thonthawi explained in personal communication. You can go under them in a big rain and stay dry. Then there underneath, the water seeps into the roots. And when the rain stops, you can just kick the tree and water showers down again. The leaves stay wet on the ground. When the sun comes out, the damp leaves protect the soil and keep it moist. The trees protect the water (“ dilindungi oleh pohon”). “A tree is like forever; how much kontribusi(contribution, benefit) is there from just one tree?”
39. fn10 10) Compare Swearer 1997 on Southeast Asian Thai Buddhist ecological recasting of the core concept of “ dhamma.”
40. fn11 11) K.H. Thonthawi explained in personal communication that his first inspiration for developing religious and environmental teaching together came when he visited Bali and began to reflect on the role of the “natural world” in the Hindu religious traditions. (“When they do their rituals in their religion, they need flowers. So, automatically, they look after the flowers. They don’t kill cows. And so I began to think.”) He also said that the “beginning of his story” with environmental activism was in 2000-2001, when he first participated in a program with the World Wildlife Federation (WWF).
41. fn12 12) The national religious personality Yusuf Mansur began his career a decade ago as da’i sedekah, preaching on the future reward for charitable actions, in popular books and broadcasts such as The Miracle of Giving(2008). Since then he has turned to the promotion of programs for Qur’an reading and memorization. In 2010, his Ramadan television broadcast for children, hosted by lively puppets every afternoon for the month, dedicated a whole show to Islam and the environment. Recently, the idea of Islamic charitable giving has been applied in ecological theory and practice in Indonesia through new recycling programs that re-designate rubbish to be sedekah, material of value (charity) to be meritoriously “given back” or “donated” for reuse.
42. fn13 13) K.H. Thontawi said that he would ask the villagers when he retold the story, “How big was her sin?” And they say, “Bigger than big!” And so, if a sin “bigger than big” (he laughs at the phrase) can be forgiven, just by giving some water to a dog (an animal, he points out, not even considered to be clean in Islam), then how much forgiveness must there be from planting a tree? Quickly he added, “But please, don’t misunderstand this.” You can’t just go and do whatever you please and then try to make up for all of it just by feeding some hungry dog.
43. fn14 14) This untranslated material is in Arabic, not an Indonesian language, and is a definitive part of the salawattradition. It calls down peace and blessings on the Prophet Muhammad.
44. fn15 15)  Yamin2007: 246-247. English translation is mine.
45. fn16 16) The five points are, in order: 1. charitable acts ( sedekah jariah); 2. showing gratitude ( tanda syukur); 3. the means of divine forgiveness ( jalan mendapatkan ampunan); 4. mutual respect and good-will ( saling menyayangi/menyalamnya); and, 5. feeling sincerity and warmth ( ikhlas-syukur). These points are also given and discussed based on interviews with K.H. Thonthawi in Yamin2007; for further discussion by K.H. Thonthawi himself, see
46. fn17 17) The hadithtranslates as: “Take benefit of five before five: your youth before your old age; your health before your sickness; your wealth before your poverty; your free-time before your preoccupation; and, your life before death.”
47. fn18 18) A performance by santriof the song as recorded at Pondok Pesantren Al-Ittifaq in 2011, used with explicit permission, is available on

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Affiliations: 1: Associate Professor, Languages and Cultures of Asia and Religious Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1246 Van Hise Hall, 1220 Linden Dr., Madison, WI 53706, USA, Email:


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