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Indonesia’s fatwa against smoking

jihadLast updated: March 17, 2010

Source: Radio Australia

Indonesia suffers some of the heaviest health impacts from smoking in Asia – and now it’s become a religious target. The country’s second-largest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, has issued a fatwa or ruling, saying that smoking is prohibited under Islamic law. But other religious groups say Muhammadiyah has gone too far.

The full story and audio are after the jump.

Presenter: Matt Abud
Speakers: Dr. Sudibyo Markus, member executive chair, Muhammadiyah; Dr. Seto Mulyadi, Chairman, National Commission for Child Protection; Muhammad Fajrul Falaakh, member executive chair, Nahdlatul Ulama

ABUD: Muhammadiyah’s fatwa says smoking is haram, or prohibited, and has been described as equating it with suicide – and as suicide is prohibited under Islam, smoking must be too. In reality the fatwa’s rationale is more complex than that – it reflects growing health concerns, and very gradual moves against smoking.

Before this, Muhammadiyah said smoking was undesirable, or mubah – but their religious council made the change. Dr. Sudibyo Markus is one of Muhammadiyah’s chairmen.

MARKUS We considered this mainly from health consideration. But because Muhammadiyah is a religious movement, we had to rely on religious advice. Therefore we appealed our council of tadjit SP to review the former fatwa that smoking is mubah, and since that, the council of tadjit responded immediately.

ABUD: The impact of smoking on Indonesian health is extreme. The World Health Organisation estimates that over sixty percent of the country’s male citizens smoke daily.

And around four hundred thousand Indonesians die, every year, from smoking-related diseases.

Dr Seto Mulyadi is Chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, and has been campaigning against smoking for many years. He says cigarette advertising heavily targets children and young smokers – and the effects are disastrous.

MULYADI: Now smoking is start from five years old already, and in a few years, more five times the children who begin smoking at five till nine years.

ABUD: International cigarette companies like Philip Morris and British-American tobacco are leading investors in Indonesia’s free-for-all market – although they insist they don’t condone sales of cigarettes to under-age customers.
Some local governments have passed laws restricting smoking in public places – although enforcement is patchy. And Indonesia only meets some of the guidelines in the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which promotes higher cigarette taxes, and restricts tobacco advertising on television, among other measures.

Dr Mulyadi believes that the fatwa is a key first step.

MULYADI: Maybe not only the fatwa of Muhammadiyah, and I hope so many people follow this step.

ABUD: But Muhammadiyah’s edict has been queried by other religious organisations – including Nahdlatul Ulama or NU, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organisation. Muhammad Fajrul Falaakh is one of NU’s executive chairmen.

FALAAKH: From our point of view it remains debatable. When we heard the Muhammadiyah last week issued that injunction, we heard that within the Muhammadiyah still there is dissenting opinion.

ABUD: NU defines smoking as undesirable, but not prohibited -and leaves the decision on whether to smoke or not, up to the individual.

Just as Fajrul Falaakh claims dissent exists within Muhammadiyah in the ruling… Muhammadiyah’s own Dr. Subidyo Markus asserts leading figures in NU want to follow their example.

But both say religious rulings on smoking have been debated by both organisations for decades.

Fajrul Falaakh says Indonesia’s government faces tough choices on its tobacco policies.

FALAAKH: I think the Indonesian government is confronted with very difficult issues, at least from health point of view, as well as from economic point of view. The cigarette industry is one of the largest taxpayers in the country.

ABUD: Indonesia’s cigarette industry supports around four million workers and farmers combined. Previous measures that constrain tobacco sales have been met with protests – including by farmers who fear they’ll lose income.

But Dr. Sudibyo Markus says farmers get very little for their work – believing most of the money goes to tobacco corporations.

Muhammadiyah has been criticised for accepting money from the New York-based anti-smoking Bloomberg Initiative – the implication being that foreign money influenced the fatwa.

But Dr. Markus says this is part of a backlash by pro-tobacco interests.

MARKUS: There is strong countermeasures from those who do not like this fatwa, indcluding of course from the industrial tobacco cigarette industry who are you know very powerful in Indonesia, very very powerful.

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