Friday, October 19, 2007

Kneeling in zero gravity; facing Mecca from space

Another little bit of science fiction has come to fruition. Religious folks with a science fiction bent have long discussed the challenges of fulfilling one's religious duties in space. Now, Malaysian cosmonaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor , a practicing Muslim, will be part of a Russian crew heading to the International Space Station next month. has a post on how Dr. Muszaphar will be able to fulfill the duties of an observant Muslim to kneel in prayer, facing Mecca, five times during the day.

“I do agree that I am a Muslim, I am Islamic, but my main priority is more of conducting experiments,” the 35-year-old astronaut said. “As a Muslim, I do hope to do my responsibilities, I do hope to fast in space.”

After months of discussion and two international conferences, the Islamic National Fatwa Council came up with guidelines as to how Muslim astronauts should observe daily rituals. The rules were published in 12-page booklet titled “Muslim Obligations in the International Space Station.”

Observant Muslims are required to turn toward Mecca — located in Saudi Arabia — and kneel and pray five times a day. However, with the space station circling the Earth 16 times a day, kneeling in zero gravity to pray — or facing toward Mecca for that matter — makes fulfilling those religious obligations difficult.

Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council ruled that Muslim astronauts will not be required to kneel to pray if the absence of gravity makes it too hard. Facing Mecca while praying will be left to the “best abilities” of the astronaut, the council said.

Tip of the hat to SF author Donna Farley from the christian-fandom list for this one.

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