How do you pray in outer space?

How do you pray in outer space?

March 31, 2017

Amal Al-Sibai

By Amal Al-Sibai
Saudi Gazette

This question was posed by Malaysian, Muslim astronaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, who is also an orthopedic surgeon and became the first Malaysian to travel to outer space in the year 2007.

Shukor was selected from among 11,000 applicants to enter the Malaysian spaceflight program, Angkasawan. He became a national celebrity. His preparations for his ten day journey in outer space were followed closely.

Shukor raised many questions. At what times should he perform the five daily prayers when his ship orbited the Earth 16 times every 24 hours? The direction in which Muslims pray is called the Qiblah and it is towards the Ka’bah in Makkah. Which direction should Shukor face when praying, because the Qiblah could change from second to second when on board the space craft? During some parts of the space station’s orbit, the Qiblah can move nearly 180 degrees during a single prayer.

Shukor faced another challenge; he was to travel during the month of fasting, the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset, which creates a dilemma for a Muslim in outer space. When should he break his fast when on the spaceship orbiting the Earth because he may experience a dozen sunrises and sunsets in a 24 hour period?

To answer these and other questions, the Malaysian government assigned 150 Islamic scholars and scientists to convene and study these questions, and they produced a booklet called Guidelines for Performing Islamic Rites at the International Space Station.

According to the document, determining which way to pray should be based on what is feasible and possible for the astronaut. The astronaut should try to face the Ka’bah and if it is not possible to do so, he should face the projection of the Ka’bah. Again if it is not possible to do so, he should face the Earth and if this was also not possible, he could face anywhere and pray.

One Muslim scholar, Dr. Kamal Abdali, was of the opinion that the Muslim astronaut can start his prayer trying to face in the right direction, just as someone getting on a train or plane. Start in the Qiblah’s direction but then continue the prayer without worrying about changes in your position.
After his return to Earth, Shukor relates to the Islamic View Blog his amazing journey and how he prayed and fasted on board the space ship.

“My trip to space took place during the holy month of Ramadan. Time for fasting and prayer depends where you are situated in space. As the space shuttle was launched from Kazakhstan, we took into consideration the local time in Kazakhstan. I had prayed five times a day by taking into consideration the time in Kazakhstan. You had to turn your face towards the Earth in order to pray in the direction of Makkah. The Space Station was in a position from where you could see the Earth directly. One needed to tie his feet during prayers as there was no gravity. One needed to act very slowly during the whole prayer,” Dr. Shukor noted.

“You feel the presence and strength of Allah in every second you are in space. I felt very close to Allah while in space. We did fast in space. While performing my religious duties, I did not feel hungry, thirsty or tired,” Dr. Shukor said.

“The first time I went to space, I looked at the Earth and was shocked to see how small it is. Your heart stops and you appreciate how beautiful Earth is. You feel the power of the Creator. When you look at Earth from space, you realize how small the world is. We see millions of galaxies in space. As such, it is crucial to protect our world,” Dr. Shukor said.
When looking at the Earth from outer space, Shukor observed the impact of air pollution and how the world is changing due to the deterioration of the ozone layer.

“When you return back to earth, you want to deal with global problems rather than local ones. You deal with issues such as the hunger of children and wars. As an astronaut who returns to earth, your mission is to visit youth in different countries and change their perspective and let them have a vision. I have dedicated myself to this mission,” said Shukor.

While aboard the International Space Station, he performed industrial and medical scientific experiments and recorded video addresses to school children.

March 31, 2017