18 December 2007
- Tourism (Good)
Islamic Rites in Space
New York Times' 'best ideas of 2007'
by Carol Pinchefsky
by Carol Pinchefsky

When I was last in London, a Muslim cab driver and I talked about space tourist Anousheh Ansari. I said that Ansari, a woman and a liberal Muslim, made the perfect ambassador to space. I told the driver she was breaking new ground and becoming a role model to people all over the world.

The cab driver, to my surprise, was reluctant.

He said, “I'm not sure if what she is doing is right.” He explained that the Koran is a guide to life, and the Koran never once mentioned visiting or living in outer space. If Allah had wanted us to go to space, the driver said, he would have had Mohammed, put it in the Koran.

I told the driver, “Hasn't Allah given us the intellect to have created these wonderful inventions, such as a Soyuz rocket? Why would Allah do this if he didn't want us to use our minds?”

He said, “Yes, I'm trying to understand that myself.”

That driver now has the help of Islamic scholars. According to the New York Times, 150 clerics helped write a booklet, “Guidelines for Performing Islamic Rites at the International Space Station” to answer these thorny theological conundrums. Perhaps because it presupposes that Allah wants his followers in space, the New York Times called the booklet one of the best ideas of 2007.

These guidelines contain recommendations for observant Muslim astronauts and space tourists on how to cleanse themselves and how to fast. For example, it suggests that these theosmonauts bow to the Earth rather than bow towards Mecca.

Space isn't just a physical or technological frontier, it's also a social and theological one that opens up new possibilities and challenges us to look at where we've been as well as where we're going. Now puzzled cabbies don't have to wrestle with divine problems on their own. They can look it up...right before they go to space themselves.
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Carol Pinchefsky 18 December 2007
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