Praying aboard a Space Shuttle

There is no excuse for missing the 5 daily prayers…not even in Space… read this wonderful article about a Muslim Astronaut and how he will be offering his prayers and celebrating Eid in Space.

an MacKinnon, south-east Asia correspondent
Wednesday October 10, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor during the pre-launch dressing at Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor during the pre-launch dressing at Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

The average astronaut has plenty to keep him busy. But when the first Malaysian man in space blasts off today from Kazakhstan, the Muslim doctor will have whole new layer of concerns dictated by the Koran.For instance, how will Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, 35, pray towards Mecca when orbiting the earth at 17,000mph? In the closing days of the Muslim month of Ramadan, how will he observe the fast between sunrise and sunset?

Luckily, Malaysia’s Islamic scholars spent a whole year finding solutions to these and other ticklish problems as Mr Muszaphar prepared for his nine-day trip to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.He is not the first Muslim in space. That distinction went to Prince Sultan bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who in 1985 flew on the US shuttle Discovery. Then last year, Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian American, became a space tourist. However, they were both left to decide for themselves how to meet their religious obligations.

Although Muslim Malaysians believe that Islamic rites should be rigorously observed at all times, the doctor and part-time model, chosen from 10,000 applicants, has been given a certain latitude during the flight.

The Islamic scholars’ rulings so fascinated Malaysians – bursting with pride over the mission in the country’s fiftieth year of independence – that newspapers published supplements detailing their edicts.

The astronaut will take the Baikonur launch point as his reference for his five-times daily prayers, ordinarily dictated by sunset and sunrise. Otherwise, with 16 orbits each day, a devout Muslim would be obliged to pray 80 times every 24 hours.

Holding the appropriate prayer position could prove difficult in zero gravity. But the scholars said that this – and praying towards Mecca – need only be performed “according to the capability of the astronaut”.

Ritual ablutions were also an issue due to the shortage of water, but Mr Muszaphar will use a wet towel to achieve the desired effect.

He was given permission to save his Ramadan fasting for his return home, though he said he wished to try. With Eid and the end of the holy month falling in Malaysia on Saturday, a few days into the mission, he has taken special celebratory food to share with his crewmates, Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenk and American Peggy Whitson.

“Being a Muslim going to space is a big responsibility for me, not only before the Malaysian people but all Muslims,” he said. “To be close to God’s creation, I will feel more spiritual and I do hope to come back and share all my feelings with other Muslims all over the world.”

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4 thoughts on “Praying aboard a Space Shuttle

  1. This is amazing. I hope that non Muslims who question whether or not a Muslim can and will perform the 5 daily prayers and observe the 5 pillars of Islam, will take note. They still cannot comprehend that Muslims do so willingly and tirelessly.

    I am surprised though that the Malaysian scholars did not apply the ruling of travel to this astronaut’s trip. Ablution may be replaced by tayamum and just like traveling on a plane, one faces the direction s/he is able without complicating things.


  2. Space, I love space, I have to go there. This is really interesting.

    I heard this story last month that Sunita Williams converted to Islam, and two week ago or so she was India lecturing students. Anybody knows the truth?

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