By Michael Taylor
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Worshippers in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country, are set to go green with a new initiative that aims to establish 1,000 eco-mosques by 2020.
Launched this week by Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, the initiative will help the mosques to source renewable energy, manage their water and food needs sustainably, reduce and recycle waste and provide environmental education.
The project will see the top Muslim clerical body work with the private sector, the government's health and planning ministries, universities, and other religious groups in a bid to boost environmental awareness in communities across the country.
"Most Muslims in Indonesia listen more to religious leaders than the government," Hayu Prabowo, head of environment and natural resources at the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"If an Islamic leader says something they will follow but if the government says something, they may not."
Indonesia, with 250 million people, has a mixed environmental record.
The archipelago is the world's top thermal coal exporter and palm oil producer, which has led to the clearing and development of swathes of forest land and intense international pressure to limit deforestation.
Many of Indonesia's rural and poorest provinces suffer regular droughts due to climate change, while children's education is often hampered by the lack of regular power supply.
Hening Parlan, coordinator for environment and disaster management at Aisyiyah, the women's wing of Indonesia's second-largest Islamic organisation Muhammadiyah, said the idea of eco-mosques stemmed from asking how to make mosques the centre for environment and education within a community.
"For many Indonesians, their understanding of the environment only happens when they see the impact of climate change (rather than through education) ... if they suffer from floods or landslides for example," Parlan said.
She said the initiative would help mosques establish better water supplies and storage facilities, offer fundraising advice and provide funding to mosques to help them become environmentally friendly.
Solar power and biogas will also be promoted over fossil fuels and imams will teach better environmental awareness.
The eco-mosque initiative is not the first time MUI has taken the lead on the environment - it has also issued edicts, or fatwas, on forest fires and sustainable mining.
There are more than 800,000 mosques in Indonesia but officials hope to create more eco-mosques after the initial 1,000 are established and also include other places of worship.
An eco-mosque roll-out of this scale is rare. In Dubai a mosque built in 2014 was the first to meet the U.S. Green Building Council's guidelines, while Britain, the United States, Morocco and Malaysia all have mosques aiming to be more green.
"We need concrete action to help mosques and their communities overcome the oncoming water and energy crisis by building resilience," said Prabowo.
(Reporting by Michael Taylor; editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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