Religion and conservation

Practise what you preach: a faith-based approach to conservation in Indonesia

Jeanne E. McKaya1 c1, Fachruddin M. Mangunjayaa2 p1, Yoan Dinataa3, Stuart R. Harropa1 and Fazlun Khalida4

a1 Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NR, UK.

a2 Conservation International, Indonesia Programme, Jakarta, Indonesia

a3 Fauna & Flora International, Indonesia Programme, Jakarta, Indonesia

a4 Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Birmingham, UK


Faith-based teachings on the environment have been identified as a potentially effective form of conservation outreach but one that remains largely untested. Indonesia contains 10% of the world's tropical rainforests and is the most populous Muslim country. A faith-based approach to conservation could therefore yield significant conservation benefits here. Within Islam several key principles in the Qur'an underpin and outline the role of humans in nature conservation. Here, we report on a Darwin Initiative project component that sought to assess the applicability of Islamic teachings to conservation action in West Sumatra. We developed water-conservation-themed sermons that were delivered by project-trained religious leaders in 10 mosques and nine Islamic boarding schools during the holy month of Ramadan. We conducted entry–exit questionnaire surveys to assess levels of concern, awareness and intent to act amongst male (n = 389) and female (n = 479) worshippers. The results revealed that greater attention should be paid to raising awareness of the linkages between Islam and conservation rather than on conservation principles alone, which were already adequately understood. This study provides the first insights into the important role that women could play within a faith-based project. Female respondents demonstrated greater knowledge and understanding of Islamic teachings about the environment and the services provided by watershed forests. They were also more likely to contribute to conservation activities, suggesting that future projects should seek to involve this often marginalized stakeholder group fully, as well as provide practical ways for men and women to transform words into action.

(Received April 09 2013)

(Revised June 11 2013)

(Accepted July 06 2013)

(Online publication November 08 2013)


  • Biodiversity;
  • customary law;
  • deforestation;
  • ecosystem services;
  • Indonesia;
  • Islam;
  • REDD;
  • religion


c1 (Corresponding author) E-mail jeanne.e.mckay@gmail.com

p1 Current address: Universitas Nasional Jakarta, Pejaten, Jakarta, Indonesia