Ramadan in space: How will AlNeyadi pray and fast on ISS? Islamic scholars shed light

The ISS orbits Earth 16 times in 24 hours and astronauts aboard witness 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets in a single earth day


SM Ayaz Zakir

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Sultan AlNeyadi aboard the ISS. Twitter photo
Sultan AlNeyadi aboard the ISS. Twitter photo

Published: Fri 3 Mar 2023, 4:17 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Mar 2023, 9:32 PM

With Sultan Al Neyadi taking up home at the International Space Station for the next six months, it means he will be spending Ramadan and Eid in space.

Ramadan is expected to start on March 22. In an interview, the astronaut said that if the occasion permits, he would love to share some UAE meals with his fellow crew members.

So how can one fast in space when the ISS orbits Earth 16 times in 24 hours and the the astronauts aboard witness 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets in the span of a single earth day?

Dr Ismail Mufti Menk, a Zimbabwean preacher and a renowned Islamic scholar, said fasting is not mandatory as the astronaut is travelling. He further explained the basics and duration of fasting on ISS if the astronaut wishes to observe Ramadan fast.

“Usually, fasting is from dawn to dusk for a person on earth in a zone with sunset or sunrise in 24 hours. However, if a person is in a zone with no sunset or sunrise in 24 hours, we do something known as ‘Hisaab’- which means to calculate,” said Dr Menk

“The calculated fast is done by considering 24 hours and dividing it equally. So it amounts to 12 hours of the day and 12 hours of the night. The fasting would last 12 hours, with the first hour being taken as the beginning, and the end of 12 hours being taken as iftar and maghrib prayer time,” added Dr Menk.

He further highlighted that the astronaut could eat food after the end of the twelfth hour, and the time must be calculated for 12 hours. The cycle is repeated if one would like to fast.

“It is not mandatory to fast while travelling, and the astronaut can catch up on his fasting after reaching earth,” said Dr Menk.

Sheikh Ayaz Housee, Imam of NGS & Khateeb at Al Manar Islamic Centre, referred to a verse from the Holy Quran about fasting during travel. “During a travel (journey), a person is not obliged to fast the obligatory Ramadan Fast, and he is excused to combine and shorten his prayers as mentioned in the Holy Quran '....but the one who is sick, or is on a journey (should fast) as much from other days (as he missed). Allah intends (to provide) ease for you and does not intend (to create) hardship for you....' (2:185),”

Sheikh Housee mentioned that an astronaut should combine and shorten his prayers. “It the astronaut is travelling, they are allowed to pray ‘Qasr,’ with the rulings of prayers in place as much as he can,” said Sheikh Housee.

So how can an astronaut figure out the Qibla (direction towards the Holy Kaaba - Makkah) and the prayer timings?

As mentioned by Dr Menk, as per the calculated day and night of 12 hours, at the beginning of the 12-day hour, the astronaut can offer his Fajr prayer, while Zuhr prayers - can be prayed after six hours, Asr can be prayed after the 9-hour mark, and Maghrib after the 12-hour mark, followed by Isha prayer after two hours.

“If you are in space and unable to prostrate, or the way we do on the ground or stand or be in any position of the prayer, we are allowed to substitute with the next possible position. If you can’t stand, you can sit and if you can’t sit, you can lie down and pray,”

Mentioning where the astronaut should face while praying, Dr Menk said that if one cannot do it one way, one can do it another way, as Islam is simple.

“The Qibla or the direction to pray - is to face towards the earth, and if one cannot, due to lack of gravity, that will be excused from facing the earth’s direction, and the astronaut’s prayers will be valid,” added Dr Menk.

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