The Religious Politics of Meat 1: Moves to Close Pig Farms in West Java
Moves to end pig farming in West Java reflect incoherent policy-making as much as religious intolerance
There have recently been reports that the West Java provincial government is looking to close pig farms in the region. The Jakarta Post reported as below:
West Java Husbandry Agency head Koesmayadi Tatang Padmadinata said the ban on pig farming was related to potential environmental pollution.
The Indonesian Ulema Council [MUI] edict on impurities states that Muslims are forbidden from coming into contact with any dirt related to pigs. That’s the problem,” Koesmayadi said in Bandung on Monday…
Koesmayadi said that in West Java, pig farms were mostly located in the highlands area of Cigugur in Kuningan.
In the regulation, pig farms must be located on land with the lowest water flow. “In predominant Muslim West Java, it could be a problem. The farms are located on higher ground, while based on the law of gravity, water flows downward,” he said.
In the past few years West Java has seen moves to introduce shariah-inspired bylaws in the province as well as violent outbreaks of intolerance towards minorities such as members of the Ahmadiyah community. Given this context there are good reasons for interpreting this report as part of a process in which the Islamisication of local government is making life increasingly uncomfortable for non-Muslims in West Java.
However, looking into the reports more deeply, the policy seems to be the product as much of incoherence as intolerance. For example, whilst in the Jakarta Post report Koesmayadi cited the views of the semi-official MUI, there has been a striking lack of consistency in messages coming out of the body in relation to the issue.
On the one hand the Islamic-oriented Republika reported the MUI backing the ban, but for other reasons rather than environmental concerns. Under the headline ‘Indonesian Ulama Council agrees with West Java’s pig farming closures’ Rafani Ahyar, secretary of the West Javanese section of the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), was reported as saying ‘We are concerned that the community will not be able to differentiate lawful and unlawful livelihoods. So they might work farming pigs’. So apparently this was about the right way of earning a living, rather than about potential environmental contamination. This line of argument is strange given the small scale of pig farming in West Java. Indeed, Koesmayadi had actually cited this small size as a reason for closures saying that ‘whilst there are still not many it’s best that they should just be closed. There also aren’t many workers.’
If this is confusing enough, things were complicated further when the chairman of West Javanese section of the MUI, Hafidz Usman, told the BBC that closure was actually not necessary. He argued that ‘In Islam, pigs are indeed according to law treated as defiling filth (najis berat), but it is not necessary to ban the farming of pigs, I don’t think the problems at that point’ although he added adding that ‘these farms must not contaminate the environment.’
The Indonesian authorities should really have more pressing issues to deal with than pig farming. For example, that last year Indonesia had the second highest number of confirmed human cases of Avian influenza of any country in the world (though thankfully the absolute numbers are down from the peak of 2006-7). It is poultry rather than pork that should be getting their attention.