First Ever Fatwa Issued Against Wildlife Trafficking

National Geographic image

National Geographic image

Indonesia's top Muslim clerical body, Council of Ulama, has issued a fatwa, or edict, against illegal wildlife trafficking, declaring illegal hunting or trading of endangered species to be. haram (forbidden).

Invoking passages from the Koran, the fatwa is believed to be the first of its kind in the world. It requires Indonesia's 200 million Muslims to take an active role in protecting and conserving endangered species, including tigers, rhinos, elephants, and orangutans.

The fatwa declares such activities “unethical, immoral and sinful”, said council official Asrorun Ni'am Sholeh.  “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,” he said. “Whoever takes away a life, kills a generation. This is not restricted to humans, but also includes God's other living creatures, especially if they die in vain.”

To many in the West, the word "fatwa" became synonymous with a death threat in 1989 when Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses, but a fatwa is merely a call to action.

Hayu Prabowo, chair of the Council of Ulama's environment and natural resources body, said the fatwa is issued to give explanation and guidance to all Muslims in Indonesia on the sharia law perspective on issues related to animal conservation.. The fatwa supplements existing Indonesian law. "People can escape government regulation," Hayu said, "but they cannot escape the word of God."

Animals are Creations of Allah. “It is haram to kill them, and keeping them alive is part of the worship of God." Hayu emphasizes that the fatwa applies not only to individuals but also to the government, noting that corruption can be an issue when wildlife, forests, and the interests of such industries as the oil palm business come into conflict. The fatwa specifically calls upon the government to review permits issued to companies that harm the environment and to take measures to conserve endangered species.

A Time of Unprecedented Wildlife Crime. Transnational wildlife crime is at record levels, at a time when governments are struggling to draft laws and hire more enforcement officers to fight criminal wildlife trafficking syndicates that are increasingly sophisticated and violent.Under Indonesian law, trafficking in protected animals can result in a maximum of five years in jail and 100 million rupiah ($8,700) fine.

Indonesia has some of the world’ ’most unique and endangered species. Although the Indonesian government does not typically react to fatwas by implementing specific policy changes, the Council of Ulama hopes its fatwa, which bridges the gap between formal law and crime, gives strong guidance to Indonesian Muslims and will help reduce wildlife trafficking.

The full text of the fatwa can be read at