A Muslim Astronaut’s Dilemma: How to Face the Qibla From Space

Posted on October 2, 2007


Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor of Malaysia, a crew member on the 16th mission for the International Space Station, gives thumbs-up near the Soyuz-TMA capsule before the final test outside Moscow on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007.

Muslim Astronaut Shukor

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor has a problem. Two problems. The first is that Mecca keeps moving.

Well, not really. It’s Shukor who’ll be moving. As Malaysia’s first astronaut, he’s scheduled to lift off October 10 in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for a nine-day visit during the holy month of Ramadan to the International Space Station.

He’s a devout Muslim and when he says his daily prayers he wants to face Mecca, specifically the Ka’aba, the holiest place in Islam (“Turn then thy face towards the Sacred Mosque: wherever ye are, turn your faces towards it …. ” The Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:149).

That’s where the trouble comes in. From ISS, orbiting 220 miles above the surface of the Earth, the qibla (an Arabic word meaning the direction a Muslim should pray toward Mecca) changes from second to second. During some parts of the space station’s orbit, the qibla can move nearly 180 degrees during the course of a single prayer. What’s a devout Muslim to do?

“As a Muslim, I do hope to do my responsibilities,” Shukor says. “I do hope to fast in space.”

Malaysia’s space agency, Angkasa, convened a conference of 150 Islamic scientists and scholars last year to wrestle with these and other questions. The resulting document (which you can download below), “A Guideline of Performing Ibadah (worship) at the International Space Station (ISS)”, was approved by Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council earlier this year. [more]

News coverage of this issue by Russian Today

Please click here to download “A Guideline of Performing Ibadah at the International Space Station”.

Please click here to read the whole article.


Source: wikipedia

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sheikh Muszaphar obtained his high school education at Maktab Rendah Sains MARA in Muar. He then pursued his MBBS medical degree at Kasturba Medical College, Manipal.

Sheikh Muszaphar is an orthopedic doctor, and a trainee lecturer in medicine with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Previously, he has worked at Hospital Seremban (1998), Kuala Lumpur General Hospital (1999) and Hospital Selayang (2000-2001).

He is also a model, and has modeled for many commercials and advertisements.

He and three other finalists were selected at the beginning of 2006 for the Malaysian Angkasawan spaceflight program. After completing initial training at Star City in Russia, Sheikh Muszaphar and Faiz Khaleed were selected to undergo an 18-month training stint in Russia, at the end of which he was chosen as the prime crew member, while Faiz Khaleed will serve as back-up.

Malaysian Astronauts Say No Marriage Till After Mission

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Sep 22, 2006

Malaysia’s first astronaut and his back-up have said neither will marry a partner until after the country’s first space mission has been completed in 2008, state media said Friday. Astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a 34-year-old doctor and his back-up, army dentist Faiz Khaleed, 26, said that shunning nuptials would help keep their minds on the mission.

“At least we can focus on our mission because what we are doing now is for the country,” Sheikh Muszaphar was quoted as saying by the state Bernama news agency