Ramadan at ISS: How do Muslims observe holy month in space?

UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi earlier said that he comes under the category of 'traveller' and is not obliged to fast


Nandini Sircar

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Screenshot from video shared by Sultan AlNeyadi
Screenshot from video shared by Sultan AlNeyadi

Published: Mon 27 Mar 2023, 11:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 27 Mar 2023, 10:58 PM

UAE’s own astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi may have thought fondly of his family and his mother’s cooking during Iftar on Sunday, as he continues his sojourn on board the International Space Station (ISS).

If he chooses to fast, he would be following the Greenwich Mean Time (which is used as the official time zone on the space station) as he sees 16 sunsets daily at the orbiting laboratory.

For years now, astronauts have intended to follow religious pursuits while undertaking extraterrestrial missions.

In June 1985 at the age of 28, Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, who is a Saudi prince and former Royal Saudi Air Force pilot, was aboard Discovery when it launched into space on Nasa mission STS-51G.

Prince Sultan spent Eid Al Fitr on the space shuttle that year, and penned his thoughts extensively about fulfilling his religious duties.

In 2007, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a Malaysian astronaut, stayed on the ISS. At that time, the Islamic National Fatwa Council of Malaysia reportedly issued special guidelines for him and other future Muslim astronauts.

The council also said that though his flight coincided with Ramadan, he could postpone fasting until he returned to Earth, or he could fast in accordance with the time zone of the place from which he had launched. He was even relieved of the obligation to kneel while praying, which is a challenging task in microgravity.

During a January press conference, AlNeyadi said if he had the opportunity, he would love to treat his colleagues to the famous Emirati hospitality.

He said, “Six-months in space is a great privilege and a big responsibility. Throughout the six months we will experience special occasions like Ramadan and Eid. So, I will be in the category of a traveller (where) fasting is not mandatory if you are unwell.”

"In this context, anything that can jeopardize the mission or put any of the crew members in a difficult or risky position (can be excused)… in such a scenario… we are allowed to eat sufficient food to prevent a situation that can adversely affect our health due to lack of nutrition or hydration. Fasting during Ramadan is actually good for the body and if the occasion permits, I would love to share some UAE meals with my fellow crew members.”

Al Neyadi added at the news conference, “We’ll wait and see how it goes.”

Three days ago, the 41-year-old had shared a video from space showing the sunset and the Ramadan crescent in the dark skies, delighting residents back on Earth. AlNeyadi opened the video by greeting his followers and wishing them a blessed Ramadan.


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