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BRG-ICRS Webinar "Fasting, a Spiritual Act of Abstinence from Harming Nature"

  May 14th 2020

On 12 May 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) and Badan Restorasi Gambut (BRG) held an online seminar from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Nearly 200 participants joined the seminar via Zoom and YouTube live streaming. Thousands of santri from Pondok Pesantren Nurul Haramain, Kota Narmada, Lombok Barat, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), led by Tuan Guru Hasanain Juaini, also joined the meeting through Facebook Live from Tuan Guru Hasanain Juaini’s account. The overwhelming response reveals the enthusiasm and desire to learn more about the connections between religion and ecology. This seminar, entitled ‘Puasa: Laku Spiritual Menahan Diri dari Merusak Alam’ emphasized the connection of fasting as a means of spiritual action and its influence on how humans practice self-control as it concerns their use of natural resources.

To open the seminar, Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir, as Director of ICRS and the moderator of the seminar, welcomed the speakers and related the origins of this seminar series drawing from the cooperation of ICRS and BRG. Both institutions believe that the authority of religious leaders is a helpful tool to better educate the public and to persuade them to adopt a preservation mindset. Dr. Myrna A. Safitri, representing BRG, welcomed the participants of the seminar with a brief introduction about the work of BRG. Dr. Myrna shared that presently BRG’s work centers on the restoration of 2.7 million hectares of peatland across four islands in Indonesia (Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Papua). An important component of the restoration program is to educate the society about the importance of peatlands. This is done through partnerships with religious leaders and religious organizations. BRG works in cooperation with the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), Nahdlatul Ulama, as well as the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI). BRG and these institutions work together to train religious leaders, Muslim da’i and Christian ministers, to become agents of the campaign for peatland restoration. BRG’s work involves a “3R” model: (1) Rewetting peatland, (2) Re-vegetation, and (3) Revitalization of livelihoods around peatlands. In this first of three online seminars, four speakers delivered material from their religious perspectives, experiences, and contributions to assigning religious value to environmental preservation.  

The first speaker, Tuan Guru Hasanain Juaini, is well-known as a religious leader who expresses great concern for ecological issues. His contributions in this sphere have been recognized nationally and internationally, reflected by his receipt of the  Ramon Magsaysay (2011) and Kalpataru (2016) awards for his environmental work. In his presentation, Tuan Guru Hasanain mentioned that the great obstacle in preserving nature is the lack of consciousness of humans regarding their role. People often focus on what they can get from nature, or the profit which nature can give to them. However, Tuan Guru Hasanain argued that from an Islamic perspective, humans are reminded to not only take profit from nature but also to manage and sustain the environment as a form of gratitude and worship to God. He further mentioned that there are two mandates from God for humans as his creation, to worship God and to manage and preserve nature, because it is impossible to worship God while destroying his creation. According to Tuan Guru, in Islam the concept of perceiving Earth as a mother figure also quite strong. Therefore, Tuan Guru Hasanain believes that faith should be exerted as an energy which moves humans to do good toward nature. Religion offers many stories, narratives, and values with the potential to energize and build consciousness among humans about their role in preserving nature. Tuan Guru Hasanain,himself, has done much to foster sustainable use of nature. In Lombok, he empowers and involves his santri in reforestation work. They provide millions of trees to be planted in damaged forests while encouraging others to join them in this work. He and his students also clean the beaches, rivers, and markets from any rubbish, especially plastic pollution.

The second speaker was Parada Lewis, representing the Hindu Kaharingan Community, Kota Palangkaraya. Interestingly, in his presentation Parada Lewis explained that Kaharingan simply can be understood as an ‘Eternal Life’ in which humans live and are expected to maintain the life of nature. There are three aspects of human relations according to Kaharingan: humans should relate with Ranying Hatalla, or the Creator of nature; humans should build good relations with other humans by helping each other; and humans should love and care for nature. In his presentation, Parada Lewis shared that Dayak people practice farming using a migratory system which incorporates sustainable land use. When they leave one farming area, they will replant trees and fruits to ensure animals can return to that area in order to maintain the fertility of the land. Furthermore, they also have many taboos in their farming culture which help to prevent the overuse of the land, including:

  • Layu Dandang Kubur/Pali Pasa is a taboo warning against farming after the burial of family member
  • Pali Lumpeng Puser is a taboo warning against farming after the breaking of the umbilical cord/at the birth of a child
  • Pali Batatamba is a taboo against work when people are undergoing health treatment, they are forbidden to go to the forest or field
  • Pali Bulan Lembut is a taboo warning against farming during the time of crescent moon
  • Pali Petak Runtas is a taboo warning against farming in disputed land

These taboos serve as limits on the members of the Hindu Kaharingan community and help to preserve the land.

The third speaker was Juwita Jatikusumah, from the Sunda Wiwitan community. In her presentation, she emphasized the importance of fasting in managing and controlling human desires and to remind them about their duty and role toward nature. She introduced the concept of Pikukuh Tilu in which humans should Ngaji Diri, or know themselves and their life’s destiny, know and love nature, and consider the next generation. In doing so, people will understand the need to preserve the environment. Juwita Jatikusumah also shared that the best way humans can receive God’s blessing is through nature. Therefore, humans cannot only think about their needs and how nature can fulfill it, but human should realize that they are inseparable from nature and live in the holistically, integrated with nature.

Lastly, the fourth speaker was Rev. Robert P. Borrong, a retired lecturer from Jakarta Theological Seminary. In his presentation, Rev. Borrong stressed the importance of the concept of Sabbath in Jewish and Christian traditions as a time to rest, for humans and for nature. In this time of rest, humans may think about their life and their role as part of creation. Rev. Borrong reminded the audience of the story when Jesus fasted for 40 days. Rev. Borrong interpreted the three temptations of the Devil in the framework of developing good attitudes toward nature. Jesus refused three things: to transform stone into bread, to worship the Devil in order to get wealth, and to leap from the top of the temple. Rev. Borrong interpreted this story as Jesus’ refusal of over-consumption, greed, and lust for power. According to Rev. Borrong, these three things are the root of the ecological crisis all over the world. From Jesus, we can learn to reject those desires. Rev. Borrong shared an example from his own practice. He reminds himself that if he has more than four shoes, then it means that he, too, has contributed to the destruction of nature. Fasting will help humans to manage their desires and enable them to not follow or fulfill those desires. Therefore, Rev. Borrong proposed concept of “4R” (Repent, Restrain, Respect, and Responsible) in order to participate in preserving nature.