Monday, November 19, 2007

How do Muslims pray in space?

A Malaysian Islamic scholar writes;

When I was teaching at the Ahmad Ibrahim Kulliyyah of Laws, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), most of my students – if not all – were amazed when I remarked that Muslims are not to pray when travelling long distances on airplanes; that Muslim surgeons may choose to combine (jama’) their prayers if they are working long hours in operation theatres; and that Muslims from all walks of life may also choose to combine their prayers for reasons other than those mentioned by the Prophet Mohamed.

Now we have successfully launched our first Malaysian – a Muslim – to outer space. Proud of the achievement, I was and still am amazed to learn that this Muslim traveller was made to assume that prayers throughout his 10-day stay hundreds of kilometres above the Earth was obligatory!

What was even more amazing was a special manual for his extra-terrestrial journey had been prepared. All this may have given the impression that the religion of Islam is rigid, uncompassionate and coercive in nature. The reality, however, is quite the opposite.

I still hold firm to what I taught my students a few years ago. If the requirement for prayer is relaxed for long distance journeys on airlines, what more a journey to space! Make no mistake; I am not to be classified as a liberal, conservative, extremist, secularist and such.

According to the Quran: “Verily prayers are enjoined on Believers at fixed times” (al-Nisa’, 4: 103). The key-term here is the phrase ‘fixed time’ (Arabic: kitaban mauquta). Indeed, Muslims are duty bound to pray five times a day at specific durations....

Many seem ignorant of the fact that the question of ‘fixed time’ is only relevant to our lives on Earth. If we are no longer on Earth, then the question of prayer times becomes no longer relevant.

The question of time in relation to prayer is only relative to man on Earth. In space however, since man is no longer on Earth, time in relation to prayer does not apply.

The revolution of the Earth upon its axis relative to the Sun excludes man, for which prayer is obligatory. Man in space is not travelling at the same speed as is the revolution of the Earth along its axis.

Religious duties are very much associated with one’s location. If one were to travel from one place to another, his/her religious obligations are performed relative to the peculiarities of his/her new destination the moment he/she reaches that place.

If a Malaysian Muslim usually performs his prayers relative to the time in Malaysia, he/she must abandon this practice once he crosses the border to Thailand as the times are no longer relative to Malaysia. It is absurd to insist on praying according to the time in Kuala Lumpur while being physically in Bangkok.

Therefore, it is absurd to argue that a spaceman may apply the time of his place of departure in order for him to carry out obligatory religious duties in a place not relative to Earth.

Well, I wouldn't know to comment on the topic- any expert comments welcome.

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