Mecca: Which Way?
By Dr Rizwana Rahim
TCCI, Chicago, IL
not widely known, several Muslims have already been
into the space so far.
Except perhaps for Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz
al-Saud, a grandson of King Ibn Saud, who was a
payload specialist and one of the seven international
crew on the American STS-51-Discovery (June 17-24,
1985), other Muslims from different countries went
into space through arrangements with Russia. This
collaboration included an Afghan [Abdul Ahad Mohmand
(on Mir in 1988), an Azerbaijani (Musa Monorov),
a Syrian (Muhammed Ahmed Faris), several Kazhaks
(with Aidyn Aimbetov and Mukhtar Aymakhanov to go
in October this year)].
As part of a billion dollar sale of 18 Russian Sukhoi
30-MKM fighter jets to Malaysia, Russia has agreed
to train two Malaysians for space travel aboard
International Space Station (ISS) next year. According
to Malaysian National Space Agency (Angkasa) Director-General,
Prof. Datuk Dr. Mazlan Othman, four candidates have
been selected for technical and physical training:
three Muslims (Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, medical
doctor; Dr Faiz Khaleed, dentist; and Mohammed Faiz
Kamaluddin, pilot), and the fourth, S. Vanajah,
engineer, a non-Muslim.
Considering Malaysia’s 26 million, of which
about 60% are Muslims and 35% ethnic Chinese and
Hindus (the rest being indigenous people and Eurasians),
the candidates seem to fairly reflect the national
proportion. The names of the two finalists will
be announced by the Prime Minister, Datuk seri Abdullah
Ahmad Badawi. Malaysia is planning to send its first
astronaut to the Moon by 2020.
Since ISS will orbit the earth at 28,000 km/hour,
or once every 90 minutes -- that is, 16 times in
24 hours or, 16 days/16 nights in 24 hours -- Dr.
Mazlan said it may pose various problems for the
selected astronaut/s in preparing for and performing
the daily prayers.
For instance, how to do Wazu (obligatory ablution)
in the ISS micro-gravity environment with the amount
of water already in short supply and severely rationed?
Given the high speed of the spacecraft and its fast-changing
position: How to find and face Mecca from space?
When to perform the five prayers, individually (and
for how long), in a 90-minute day? How does one
kneel in zero gravity, when one is weightless? And
then, the astronauts diet prepared by the Russians:
Will it be Zabiha/Halal ?
Malaysian authorities have not yet discussed these
matters with the Russians, but to seek advice on
how best to deal with these matters in Islamic way,
Malaysia invited 150 scientists, astronauts, Islamic
scholars, academicians and others for a two-day
seminar (25-26 April), on “Islam and Life
in Space.” Syed Kamarulzaman Syed Kabeer of
Malaysian Astronomy and Vice President of Islamic
Law Association, chairman of the seminar's coordinating
committee, said that though other Muslim astronauts
have already been in space, this would be the first
discussion of its kind from a purely Islamic perspective.
One of the more interesting developments in this
regard is a computer program written by Professor
Zainol Abidin Abdul Rashid of the Space Science
Institute, National UJniversity of Malaysia. Using
various orbital parameters, he and his students
have calculated the prayer times and positional
directions for astronauts in the space. "It
can be set up on a computer or even a personal digital
assistant (PDA),” he told Reuters, “and
figuring out your location is as simple as connecting
to the Internet.” He would release the program
in 2007 for free download, after discussions with
In situations which are not normal (such as in the
battle ground or when traveling, or one is sick
and disabled or has physical health difficulties),
considerable relaxation is already allowed in Islam
with regard to the manner and performance of daily
rituals. IslamOnline.net also re-iterated the same
recently on its website: “According to an
established principle of Islamic jurisprudence,
if for any reason we are unable to fulfill [sic]
a certain condition or a prerequisite on which the
validity of a certain act of worship is dependent,
then we must still perform the act without the condition.”
But the Malayasian authorities want to formalize
all that for space conditions, I suppose.