Muhammadiyah Bans Smoking, Calling it ‘Suicide’

A young man smoking at a Jakarta food court

Comparing smoking to suicide, one of the country’s largest Muslim organizations on Tuesday issued a fatwa banning followers from lighting up. Yunahar Ilyas, chairman of the fatwa committee at Muhammadiyah, said that since suicide was forbidden in Islam, so should smoking also be forbidden. “Smoking negatively affects our bodies, killing us slowly,” he said, “therefore it is haram [forbidden] because Islam forbids suicide.” The decision was reached after the fatwa body convened a meeting in Yogyakarta on Sunday. Aside from issuing the ban on smoking, Muhammadiyah, the nation’s second-largest Muslim organization, is also expected to urge the government to immediately ratify the World Heath Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Indonesia is one of just four countries that has no yet ratified the FCTC, which came into force in February 2005. The convention mandates that the 152 nations that signed implement effective methods to reduce tobacco use. “We have studied it comprehensively and believe that smoking results in more negative impacts than those that are positive,” Yunahar said. “It can affect passive smokers too, such as our families.” He said Muhammadiyah issued a directive in 2005 declaring smoking mubah , which means allowed but not recommended. “We are confident that our followers will be able to obey the fatwa,” he said, adding that of Muhammadiyah’s estimated 30 million members, he was sure that smokers were among the minority. In January 2009, the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) issued a limited restriction on tobacco use. The fatwa banned Muslims from smoking in public places and prohibited children and pregnant women from taking up the habit. The MUI’s fatwa prompted the Ministry of Finance to warn that its excise revenue from tobacco could fall below its 2010 targets. The ministry had hoped to rake in Rp 49.6 trillion ($5.41 billion) in excise duties this year, with Rp 48.24 trillion of that coming from cigarette sales. There is, however, little evidence that the fatwa would have any effect on cigarette sales or levels of smoking. But Tulus Abadi, chairman of the Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation (YLKI) and a leading antismoking campaigner, said Muhammadiyah’s call for a ban could have a major impact, particularly with the organization’s close connections to a number of schools and universities. “I believe students at campuses, for instance, will listen to the fatwa,” he said. “But we need to see real action from Muhammadiyah in sanctioning those who disobey the ruling.” Yunahar, however, said sanctions were not a priority at the moment. He said Muhammadiyah would first raise awareness about the ban before imposing penalties. “We will spread the message at our universities, schools, hospitals — all must not smoke,” he said. As a first step, Muhammadiyah has committed to ban smoking at their national congress in Yogyakarta in July.

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