Indonesian Clerics Join Smoking Fatwa Row

By : webadmin | on 12:40 AM March 15, 2010
Category : Archive

Dessy Sagita & Anita Rachman

A growing debate in the religious arena over smoking intensified on Sunday, with senior officials from the country’s largest Muslim organization and its top council of clerics deriding a recent fatwa issued against the habit.

  Officials from Nahdlatul Ulama and the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) both took issue with Muhammadiyah, the nation’s second-largest Muslim organization, issuing the religious edict last week, saying it went too far. Both organizations maintained their positions that smoking cigarettes was not haram, or forbidden in Islam.

“It’s not that easy declaring something as haram. There are many considerations that should be taken into account,” Masdar F Mas’udi, an NU deputy chairman, told the Jakarta Globe. “Nahdlatul Ulama still considers smoking as makruh [undesirable], and we have no plan to change that in the near future.”

Masdar said a full ban on cigarettes would adversely affect the tobacco industry, which directly employs 600,000 workers, as well as 3.5 million tobacco and clove farmers.

Masdar said there were more sensible ways to curb smoking, such as better awareness campaigns, enforcing smoking regulations in public places and raising taxes on cigarettes.

Aminudin Yakub, vice secretary of the MUI’s fatwa body, said that while the council supported fatwas issued by other Muslim organizations, the MUI would also stick to its makruh ruling.

Muhammadiyah issued the fatwa on Tuesday, comparing smoking to suicide, which is prohibited in Islam. The next day, the organization and antitobacco campaigners jointly targeted cigarette advertising as one of the main culprits behind a spike in underage smokers.

Over the weekend, however, Muhammadiyah found itself on the defensive, denying that the fatwa was related to a grant it received from a US-based antitobacco organization. The Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, funded by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, lists a November 2009 grant to Muhammadiyah worth $393,234 on its Web site.

Among the grant’s stated purposes is “the issuance and dissemination of religious advice on the dangers of tobacco use.”

At a press conference on Sunday, Muhammadiyah’s central executive chairman, Sudibyo Markus, denied any connection between the grant and fatwa. He defended the ruling that smoking was haram, saying that half measures were useless given the health impacts of smoking.

A 2008 study by the World Health Organization found that more than 20 percent of all deaths here, or about 400,000 Indonesians a year, were the result of tobacco-related illnesses. “It is very dangerous for our health and, considering its impacts, we are certain that we should ban it,” Sudibyo said. “We started this process years ago. We’re just renewing our stance after conducting further study.”

In January 2009, a limited fatwa on tobacco use by the MUI, banning smoking in public places and prohibiting children and pregnant women from taking up the habit, prompted the Ministry of Finance to warn that its excise revenue from tobacco could fall below its expected Rp 48.24 trillion ($5.26 billion) target for 2010.

Seto Mulyadi, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas PA), however, said a ban on cigarettes would save the government trillions of rupiah on health spending.

“Every year, Indonesia spends more than Rp 100 trillion on tobacco-related health problems, three times more than the income from tobacco revenues,” he said.