Space Muslim

Malaysian Islamic body rules on how to pray, wash and die in space:

"Conditions at the International Space Station which are so different from those on earth are not a hindrance for the astronaut to fulfil his obligations as a Muslim," it said in a 20-page booklet.

"In difficult conditions, Islam has conveniences to ensure that religious worship can still be performed."

Because the space station circles the Earth 16 times a day, theoretically a Muslim would have to pray 80 times a day while staying there.

But the guidelines stipulate that the astronaut need only pray five times a day, just as on Earth, and that the times should follow the location where the spacecraft blasted off from -- in this case, Baikonur in Russia.

In the unlikely event the Muslim astronaut dies in space, the religious directives said his body should be brought back to Earth for the usual burial rituals. If that's not possible, he should be "interred" in Space after a brief ceremony, though the guidelines failed to explain how that should be done.

The booklet covers Islamic washing rituals required before prayer, saying that if water is not available the astronaut can symbolically "sweep holy dust" onto the face and hands "even if there is no dust" in the space station.

There are also suggestions on how to pray in a zero-gravity environment.

"During the prayer ritual, if you can't stand up straight, you can hunch. If you can't stand, you can sit. If you can't sit, you should lie down," according to the booklet.

Muslims are required to eat food that is halal, which rules out pork and its by-products, alcohol and animals not slaughtered according to Koranic procedures are forbidden -- but again in Space there is flexibility.

"If it is doubtful that the food has been prepared in the halal manner, you should eat just enough to ward off hunger," the booklet said.
I wonder how these rules will evolve if there is, say, settlement on another planet or a permanent moon base. I haven't seen this explored in science-fiction, even when there are Muslim characters. What if a planet has several moons -- how would Jews and Muslims decide on calendars?
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.