Photo By: Benji Aird (unsplash.com)
On Tuesday, 19 May 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) and Badan Restorasi Gambut (BRG) held the third and final online seminar with the theme ‘Agama dan Lingkungan’ or “Religion and Environment” entitled, ‘Mengasihi Sesama dan Generasi Berikutnya’. In this seminar, ICRS and BRG brought together four speakers: Prof. Abdul Kadir Riyadi (UIN Sunan Ampel, Surabaya); Pdt. Merry Kolimon (Chief of Synod of Gereja Masehi Injili Timor/GMIT, Kupang); Iskandar Woworuntu (Bumi Langit, Yogyakarta); and KH. Zamroni Hasan (MUI Kubu Raya, Head of Pondok Pesantren Nurul Yaqin Kubu Raya, and activist of Da’i Peduli Gambut movement. Dr. Wening Udasmoro, Dean of Fakultas Ilmu Budaya (FIB) Universitas Gadjah Mada, served as moderator and there was also a closing statement from Suwignya Utama, representative for Badan Restorasi Gambut, to close the ICRS and BRG seminar series.
Opening the seminar, Dr. Wening Udasmoro emphasized that this seminar demonstrates that religion, as Emile Durkheim said, has a positive force in which religion potentially plays a role in moving society towards positive action. Aligned with that thought, the first speaker, Prof. Abdul Kadir Riyadi argued that Islam has three aspects: reason/intellect, religion, and morality. Those three aspects show the importance of human reason/intellectuality in order to understand religion and the actual life context of people so that they may form moral values. Prof. Abdul Kadir finds that Islam is a conceptual religion which has a great concern for the problem of environmental damage. In QS Ar-Rum 41, for example, it is mentioned that the damage to the land and the sea is caused by human hands. According to Prof. Abdul Kadir, this is a reminder for humans to consider their contributions to nature and to prevent damage to creation by their actions. Prof. Abdul Kadir also argued that in Islam, especially in Sufist traditions, there is a mandate to love nature. He mentioned a short story about Abu Yazid Al-Bustami, a Sufi from the 9th century, who in the case of drying his clothes did not want to damage the trees and grass by putting his clothes on the grass or trees. This story and many other stories demonstrate the strong will in Islam to preserve nature. Moreover, Prof. Abdul Kadir argued that Islam proposed the concept of finding God in all creatures. Kadir believes that God can be found in his creation, in the forests, seas, mountains, and in the created beings. Prof. Abdul Kadir mentioned that it is impossible to find God in manmade skyscrapers. To love the next generation and to allow them to find God and God’s love, we have to make sure that nature will remain preserved.
The second speaker, Pdt. Mery Kolimon, also emphasized the importance and ability of humans in pairing religious texts with the actual context of human life today, notably the destruction of the environment due to human exploitation. According to Pdt. Mery, there are two large obstacles in preserving nature, human ignorance and human greed. Related to peatlands, for example, they are natural resources which serve to balance the natural environment, as a source of life, water, medicine, and climate control. When peatlands are destroyed, humans do harm to their own lives. Religious people should live their religious lives with sensitivity. Religious texts and doctrines, like Imago Dei, which sees humans as God’s image, and humanity’s role in managing creation should be reconstructed to include an acknowledgement that God is seen in his creation. Furthermore, religious texts can be combined with local wisdom in order to preserve nature. Pdt. Mery mentioned that in East Nusa Tenggara there is a concept of nature as mother, and the accompanying rituals and traditions were banned in conjunction with the arrival of Christianity. Today, both local wisdom and religious narratives should work together to empower people to preserve nature. Pdt. Mery argued that there is a great demand on the role or contribution of religious leader. Religious leaders should develop the ability to do social analysis and to educate society about the threats of environmental destruction and its effects on the greater ecosystem, including those on humans. Religious leaders also need to empower their communities to join together with the government for the preservation of the environment
The third speaker, Iskandar Woworuntu, delivered his unique insights on the subject. He argued that the damage to nature is real and it is complicated reality. There are many aspects of the damage of nature, many discourses about it, but the main question which he proposed is, “From what standpoint can we begin improve?” In order to answer that question, Iskandar Woworuntu explained that, actually there are two ecosystems, internal (humans, themselves, each with more than 70 trillion cells) and external (nature). The damage of one ecosystem is inseparable with the other ecosystem. If we see the damage of nature today, actually it is caused by the damage of the internal ecosystem which is human itself. Humans exploit nature because they are not able to control their greed, to live in simplicity, everything is in excess and according to Iskandar Woworuntu, this excess, in time, will destroy human life itself, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Therefore, to preserve nature and human life, the improvement should begin with the internal ecosystem, by doing what is good in terms of living in simplicity, returning to nature which is the real blessing from God. Iskandar Woworuntu said that if financial benefits are the primary motives of humans, then we will tend to live excessively and act despotically toward the environment.
The last speaker, KH. Zamroni Hasan, shared the concept of Islam as rahmatan lil alamin or “a grace for all universe.” KH. Zamroni related that it is important to understand that one of the core goals of religious life is to build piety as a result of our relationship with God. However, piety can be divided into two kinds, ritual piety and social piety. In ritual piety, people may be very strict in performing various rituals in order to show their piety to God. If people only focus on ritual piety, then they may become fanatic and judgmental toward others. Therefore, the ritual piety should be followed by social piety, in which each person builds positive relationships with others, not only other humans but also with other creatures. If Islam is a grace for all, then Muslim should contribute to the integration of their ritual piety and social piety. God created humans as khalifah on the Earth to manage, maintain, and preserve nature. Humanity’s role as khalifah is part of their piety to God. Therefore, humans should defeat the greediness within themselves by balancing the spiritual dimension with their knowledge, spreading the grace of God to all creatures.
Finally, closing remarks came from Badan Restorasi Gambut, represented by Suwignya Utama. In his closing statement Suwignya Utama shared some important points from the three online seminars. He mentioned that, from the presentation of all speakers who have different religious backgrounds (Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Kaharingan, etc) it is clear that all religions actually share a common concern related to the environmental crisis. Therefore, all religious values or doctrines should be converted to a form of energy helping people to realize the environmental crisis which threatens all creatures today. Religions should remind people that this crisis is caused by human action and desire, a greed which exploits nature uncontrolled. However, educating and reminding people is only the first step. All parties and all stakeholders should come together to contribute for the preservation of the environment, because this also means that we preserve our own existence.