JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's highest Islamic council has issued a fatwa on burning land and forests, a government official said on Wednesday, in an effort to halt the toxic smog that blankets the region each year.

The fatwa is not legally binding but is aimed at discouraging plantation companies and farmers from clearing land using slash-and-burn methods in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

"There was a meeting between the environment minister and the Indonesian Clerics' Council, which issued fatwa no 30/2016 about forest and land burning law," said ministry spokesman Novrizal Tahar.

"The point is that an act (of burning) that causes environmental damage, according to (the council) decision, is illegitimate."

The council was not immediately available for comment and it was unclear why it had waited so long to make the ruling.

Every year, Indonesia faces criticism from its neighbors Singapore and Malaysia over the smog, euphemistically known as "haze", and its failure to stop the fires from being lit.

Last year's fires were among the worst in the region's history, with billions of dollars worth of environmental damage, weeks of flight and school disruptions and thousands suffering from respiratory disease.

(Reporting by Berndatte Christina Munthe; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Nick Macfie)