Guidance from up above

Like most people, I harbour a fervent hope that space tourism will advance to the point where I can take a trip into orbit during my lifetime. The moon would be cool too, but that’s probably pushing it. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to happen. You see, my religious beliefs require that I make demands of the space programme. You see, I simply must perform my personal religion’s boogie-woogie dance, naked and with flaming torches, for eight hours at precisely midday. Before now, I thought this proviso would result in my application being rejected. Happily, this isn’t the case!

Malaysia’s National Space Agency is trying to determine how its astronaut candidates will practice Islam in space. Three of its four astronaut candidates are Muslim, and two will be selected for a future Russian space flight.

What are their demands?

Once in their orbiting spacecraft, they will circle the Earth once every 90 minutes. Traditionally, Muslims pray five times per day, at times connected to the position of the Sun in the sky. This will make prayer observance a challenge if they accept a “day” as being just 90 minutes long. … “Any legal scholar advising these astronauts would have to simply pick various times that would roughly correspond to their morning, noon, afternoon, sunset and night prayers,” says Alan Godlas[!], a professor of religion at the University of Georgia, US.

Clearly, we must try our hardest to accommodate pointless ritual. It’s a belief, you see.

Additionally, Muslims turn toward Mecca when they pray. Zooming around the Earth at 28,000 kilometres per hour might make pinpointing the exact location of Mecca pretty tricky. Godlas says that orienting oneself toward Earth might be good enough. “There are instances where the prophet indicated a wide swathe; kind of a general direction,” Godlas says.

You’d better hope it is good enough, or you’ll get to heaven (or whatever, I forget which fairyland is which) and get your ass kicked back down to hell for messing up. However, Butterflies and Wheels reveals that, should this orientation toward Earth be deemed satisfactory, Muslims are still going to burn in agony for eternity as it turns out:

Islam prohibits facing the Qiblah [essentially a mosque in Mecca – Andrew] while defecating.

They’re so screwed. Furthermore:

The Prophet said “if you go to defecate, do not face the Qiblah nor turn your back toward it. Instead, you should turn to your left side or your right side”…[I]t is something forbidden in both open and enclosed areas and it is best to refrain from doing so as much as possible out of respect for the Qiblah.

Aside from the fact that this is clearly a deity with some major cleanliness issues, how would that even work?

Muslims have a cleansing ritual, known as ablutions, before prayer. But water is used sparingly in space. Godlas says astronauts could force water between their two hands and then moisten the body during a minor ablution.

On Earth, it is ideal to have water running along the arms from the faucet, but water does not flow downward in microgravity. Godlas says that when water is not available, scholars have determined a pure rock could be used to wipe the hands. The hands could then clean the forearms, face and feet.

*puts hand up* I have a suggestion. Could there not be some kind of criteria by which, if you demand to waste time, energy and resources on something with no point, you don’t get to go into space?

Much of the article isn’t actually too surprising. Given the institutional bending-over-backwards for religion, this kind of thing is to be expected. I did have one moment of complete incredulity, though.

People have found ways to celebrate other religions above Earth. Israel’s first astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the shuttle Columbia accident, was not a religious Jew, but he ate some Kosher food aboard the shuttle and…

…wait for it…

observed the Jewish Sabbath.

Are you telling me that NASA sent somebody into space who refused to do any work for arbitrary amounts of time? There is in fact a list of forbidden activities on the sabbath day. These include ‘selecting’, ‘writing more than two letters’ and ‘extinguishing a fire'(!) – Wikipedia says:

many religious scholars have pointed out that these labors have something in common — they prohibit any activity that is “creative,” or that exercises control or dominion over one’s environment.

Because in space, the last thing you want to do is exercise control over your environment (incidentally, Wikipedia’s section on workarounds is good for a laugh).

If I gave any other reason than ‘it’s my belief’ I’d be kicked out of the space programme without a moment’s hesitation. Shouldn’t the space programme, of all people, be able to take a stand against this kind of nonsense?

Rant inspired by this.