Wednesday, April 26

Muslims In Space Click for more info

There's an amusing article on The Register today regarding a Malaysian astronaut trying to solve the problem of how to pray in space. The two main issues were of direction and time (which, if I'm not mistaken, are both prerequisites in most fiqhs so are pretty important). With the help of some university students he's managed to create a computer program to calculate the respective values based on some method, but still might not have solved other problems like those of whudhu and actual practical performance.

It's always been a thought experiment for Muslims (or perhaps only Muslim Star Trek fans) to consider praying off the planet. Think about it further and you wonder how you would explain to Martians the concept of qiblah. But I grew up I realised that there are already places on Earth that present these problems already (like in Iceland where, at certain times during the year, they have 24 hours of daylight, so technically no sunset at which to pray Maghrib salah).

Despite Islam being relatively new and widespread, most of the literal rules are pertaining to the time and place in which The Prophet lived. It's not flawed in that respect, however, and despite the protests of some it's quite adaptable by design and so can be made practical for those on Mars and Iceland in 2006 as well as those in Arabia 1400 years ago. Workarounds are created, consensus is reached and fatawas are declared for new situations and there is no reason why this mechanism can't be exploited by our astronaut friend.

But what about the more subtle problems faced by Muslims today? I mean, living a single day in the UK for example brings out lots of issues that weren't present in the time of The Prophet - new political, social and personal problems that are just as troublesome and in need of a solution as that of praying salah on The Moon. Where are the fatawas and investigations here?

Well they are around if you look. The problem is that where some have reached consensus, others are still held by many as being wholly unislamic. The backers of these latter, more "radical", rulings argue that when you're faced with a big enough obstacle Islam allows you enough flexibility to complete your obligations even if it's in a form totally different to what is used to. Of course we have to be careful of what we deem as obstacles (and no, Fajr being too early or your bed being too comfortable is NOT a valid one), but some things are quite reasonably out of our hands.

While I was on Hajj someone in my group asked the resident imam-slash-tour-guide about praying at work, or more specifically how he couldn't get away from his desk and so missed quite a bit of his. The imam guy couldn't really understand his question, explaining how there were very few reasons for which you can miss a prayer (like being unconscious for example) and if you are unable to do whudhu then you don't actually need to do it or if you can't perform sajdah then it's ok to miss it out. There's no concept of qaza or "prayer debt" in some parts of the Arab world, and since a "best try" is good enough salah is rarely missed. In fact it's seen as a vastly better act than missing it altogether, since in the above praying at the correct time is as important as having whudhu or performing sajdah.

It's radical thinking for Muslims brought up under a different mindset, but might make one's practice of Islam easier, more implicit and therefore stronger - compare those that find it normal to pray on the street in public to those missing it completely, choosing to catch up with it later under more "appropriate" conditions.

Going back to space it seems that we really have two options: either to establish a way of implementing an Islamic lifestyle to the new situation or giving it a miss altogether. I don't think either choice is wrong per se, but I do think it would be a shame if Muslims allowed a rigid understanding of Islam to hold themselves back; be that in space exploration, politics, art or any other facet of modern life.

Indeed some believe that it was this flexibility that brought us Islam's growth and Golden Age, and that we've never been in such a position since disposing of it. If they're right then perhaps if we went back to that way of thinking they'll be a second Golden Age to come? Who knows; by then we may even have Martians to join in on the fun.

1 comment:

  1. Nice Post, I like your writing style.

    Reagrding Muslims in Space. Have you seen that movie Pitch Black starring Vin Diesel? In the movie a bunch of people are stuck on some faraway planet, surrounded by hostile aliens.

    Part of the group of people are 3 Muslim if I remember correctly and they show them praying Salaat.

    I was well surprised when I saw it.

    Overall it's a decent movie, quite underrated. check it out if you get the chance.