Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Saudi astronauts Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi

Muslim media is discussing how Saudi astronaut Ali Al-Qarni is doing his prayers on the space station. 

He made a video saying that he puts his feet in some sort of attachment so he can stand still and try to prostrate himself, although that is very difficult.

But he doesn't say whether he tries to face Mecca - which would be difficult, because the space station travels around the Earth every 90 minutes, and if prayers take ten minutes, Mecca will not be close to where it was when he began. Nor does he discuss how he calculates prayer times and whether he prays five times every circuit around Earth!

These are similar questions to what Jews have been asking about space flight since Apollo days.

I found a summary from Harvard's Divinity School of the general consensus on these topics, based on a fatwa by Malaysian scholars in 2007:
The scholars produced a fatwa, or non-binding Islamic legal opinion, intended to help future Muslim astronauts, which they translated into both Arabic and English. They wrote that in order to pray, Muslims in space should face Mecca if possible; but if not, they could face the Earth generally, or just face “wherever.” To decide when to pray and fast during Ramadan, the scholars wrote, Muslims should follow the time zone of the place they left on Earth, which in Dr. Shukor’s case was Kazakhstan. To prostrate during prayer in zero gravity, the scholars stated that the astronaut could make appropriate motions with their head, or simply imagine the common earthly motions. 
The bolded part is the same ruling that Jewish scholars have given for Jewish astronauts, specifically for the late Ilan Ramon's disastrous 2003 trip. It is based on a 19th century rabbinic ruling that a traveler who enters the Arctic Circle where there is no sunrise or sunset should use the same times as his point of departure.

Other opinions have been given, but this one seems to be the Jewish consensus, if there ever could be such a thing.

There are other questions for which Jews and Muslims diverge. For Jews, the question is when to observe Shabbat. The answer seems to be the same, to use the times for the place of liftoff. But i saw one opinion that as long as it is Shabbat anywhere, then the astronaut should observe it - which would lead to a 48 hour Shabbat, which does not seem practical. (Obviously any tasks she or he have that are critical for the mission would override Sabbath restrictions.)

For Muslims, the other major issue is Ramadan - whether to fast at all and if so, for which times during the "day"? The Malaysian scholars gave the same answer - the times of the place the astronaut left the Earth - but it seems to me that there might be exemptions for fasting altogether. For one thing, Muslims can make up missed fast days; for another, at least some have an exemption for travelers - and one cannot be much more of a traveler than someone going around the Earth 18 times a day.

A Jew in space for a major 25-hour fast day? I imagine they would have to fast using the same clock as the point of departure. 

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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