UAE: Muslim astronauts need clarity on praying, fasting in space, expert says

Earlier this year, astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi observed Ramadan and Eid on the International Space Station (ISS) during his six month-long space mission


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Wed 8 Nov 2023, 6:18 PM

Last updated: Thu 9 Nov 2023, 4:05 PM

Those who travel to space for long-term missions should be allowed some concession in the way they pray and fast while there, said an expert.

Dr. Maryam Al Hattali, a professor at the Mohamed bin Zayed University for Humanities in Abu Dhabi, was addressing Islamic experts at the Second International Conference organized by the UAE Council for Fatwa.

“The biggest challenge for astronauts is to perform ablution,” she said. “Space explorers perform valuable scientific work for the benefit of humanity. So, it is necessary for scholars and experts to consider the religious rulings they need.”

She also urged attendees of the conference to consider putting in place fatwas, or Islamic rulings, related to space for acts of worship such as prayers and fasting to remove hardships and alleviate harm for the astronauts.

Water is a prized possession in the ISS with astronauts recycling their urine and sweat to make sure they have enough water for drinking, food preparation and hygiene uses.

Earlier this year, Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi observed Ramadan and Eid on the International Space Station (ISS) during his six month-long space mission. Prior to his mission, he had said that it would be difficult for him to observe the dawn-to-dusk fasts.

“I will be in the category of a traveller (where) fasting is not mandatory if you are unwell,” he had said. "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,” he added.

Earlier, in 2007, when Malaysian astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor spent Ramadan in ISS, the Islamic National Fatwa Council of Malaysia reportedly issued special guidelines for him. They specified that he could postpone fasting until he returned back to Earth, or he could fast in accordance with the time zone of the place from where he had launched.

Need for clear rules

Now, with the Arab region’s space exploration programs in full drive and with more Muslim astronauts scheduled to go into outer space, experts are saying it is time for scholars to issue fatwas that will give clear guidelines on what astronauts are exempted from.

Dr Maryam pointed out that the Islamic way is to ease things for the believers and that scholars should take this into consideration.

The act of sujood or prostrating and kneeling down during the Islamic way of praying is also a challenging task in space where there is microgravity.


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