During 2006, I was struck by an article on www.islamonline.net with the fascinating title: "Malaysian Conference Probes How Muslim Astronauts Pray". I was intrigued. I read the article, as well as the background to the article, to discover another amazing aspect of Islam, and the sometimes very practical solutions offered to some of the very thorny problems raised by the Quran. So I decided to look further into the subject of Islam and space travel.
Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, are old and primitive religions that are strangely silent about the vast universe outside the atmosphere of our insignificant planet located on the outer rim of our galaxy, the Milky Way. This is in contrast to Islam, a religion that acknowledges the reality of life forms on other planets in this universe. In the Quran we read the following passages clearly stating this fact:
And of His portents is the creation of the heaven and the earth, and of whatever beasts He hath dispersed therein. And He is Able to gather them when He will. (Quran 42:29)
And unto Allah maketh prostration whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth of living creatures, and the angels (also) and they are not proud. (Quran16:49)
The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him, and there is not a thing but hymneth His praise; but ye understand not their praise. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving. (Quran 17:44)
All these things were revealed to the prophet Mohammed during his lifetime from 570 to 632 CE (Common Era). This is astounding! At a time when Europe had sunk into the chaos of the dark-ages, a time when the great civilizations of Asia were reaching their peaks, at a time that the great South American Mayan civilization was disintegrating: Allah had informed humankind of the reality of life on other planets! Only now, almost 1400 years after the death of Mohammed, has the truth of these passages been confirmed by modern astronomical observations. About 330 planets have been detected orbiting stars other than our sun (click here to read one article, and here for another article). Smaller planets potentially capable of supporting life similar to that on our world have also been discovered (click here to read article). Scientists calculate that there are many planets with advanced civilizations on other worlds in our galaxy alone (click here for an article on how this is calculated). There are countless other galaxies in the universe, which means there are many, many thousands, if not billions of other worlds on which intelligent beings with advanced civilizations live (click here for a good article on this subject).
According to the Quran, Allah created the universe and all within it. Indeed, the Quran also tells us that "And unto Allah maketh prostration whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth of living creatures, and the angels (also) and they are not proud." (Quran16:49). Allah is the supreme being, and all in the universe owe servitude and obeisance to Allah. Moreover, all devout followers of Islam must pray five times a day facing the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia - the Quibla.
We have seen the turning of thy face to heaven (for guidance, O Muhammad). And now verily We shall make thee turn (in prayer) toward a qiblah which is dear to thee. So turn thy face toward the Inviolable Place of Worship, and ye (O Muslims), wheresoever ye may be, turn your faces (when ye pray) toward it. Lo! Those who have received the Scripture know that (this revelation) is the Truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do. (Quran 2:144)
From whencesoever thou startest forth turn thy face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque; that is indeed the truth from thy Lord. And Allah is not unmindful of what ye do. (Quran 2:149)
This requirement to pray five times a day facing Mecca is one of the most basic tenets of Islam. And here is where we immediately begin to realize the many problems associated with Islamic philosophy relating to space travel and extraterrestrial life forms.
The Moon was long considered a god, and in the past ages there were many temples to the Moon god, or Moon goddess. The same was also true of the Sun, also once considered a god. So to avoid any hint of Sun or Moon worship, the correct follower of Islam prays facing the ground to avoid looking at either the Moon or the Sun. Indeed this idea is even embodied in the Quran:
Among His Signs are the Night and the Day, and the Sun and the Moon. Do not prostrate to the sun and the moon, but prostrate to Allah, Who created them, if it is Him ye wish to serve. (Quran 41:37)
So the question arises: how must a follower of Islam pray when stationed on a colony on the Moon? If the person prostrates themself, this may be interpreted as honouring the Moon god. All that can be done is to pray standing while looking at the Earth. But this would be impossible when stationed upon the dark side of the Moon, because the dark side of the Moon always faces away from the the Earth. In this situation the follower of Islam can only be practical, and realize that Allah will understand what is intended while praying. And indeed, the advice of the Malaysian religious authorities also confirms this. (click here for a copy of this advice)
How can a human astronaut determine the direction of Mecca when far from Earth, or in a rapid low Earth orbit when the position of Mecca is rapidly changing relative to the spacecraft? There is no practical way of doing this. All the Islamic astronaut can do is face the direction of the Earth and pray, and if this is impossible, pray in any position at any time that prayer is possible. After all, as verse 2:149 states: "Allah is not unmindful of what ye do." In other words, Allah will understand the intent of the pious astronaut, and ignore the lack of any formal ceremony. This is an elegant and very practical solution to this problem which has been issued by Islamic religious authorities as advice to pious Islamic space travellers (click here for a summary of this very practical solution, and click here for the booklet issued by the Islamic religious authorities in Malaysia).
The advice of the Islamic religious authorities of Malaysia is simple and practical in other situations too. Islamic space travellers should pray when possible according to the time schedule used on the spacecraft, and may even eat non-halal food if necessary to sustain life, while maintaining purity of heart and behavior. This eminently practical advice actually barely conceals a theological bomb! After all, if Allah knows what is in your heart, why must you perform external rituals such as: prayer in a mosque, prayer five times a day, maintain Ramadan, give Zakat, or go on Hadj? Allah knows the believer from the unbeliever, and knows the pious from the unpious. This is clearly stated in many passages in the Quran (2:33, 11:8, 9:3, 3:29, 3:168, 35:38, etc, etc), among which the ones below.
And He is Allah in the heavens and in the earth; He knows your secret (thoughts) and your open (words), and He knows what you earn. (Quran 6:3)
If thou pronounce the word aloud, (it is no matter): for verily He knoweth what is secret and what is yet more hidden. (Quran 20:7)
And keep your opinion secret or proclaim it, lo! He is Knower of all that is in the breasts (of men). (Quran 67:13)
And this brings us to a fascinating related statement in the Quran, also relevant to space travel...
Allah will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts; and He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Forbearing. (Quran 2:225)
In other words, Allah does not place much value on external speech and deeds. Instead, Allah looks at the intent in the hearts and minds of the person. A person may be outwardly pious and preserve all the external forms such as: prayer five times a day, observe Ramadan, give Zakat, go on Hadj, and outwardly claim the ascendency of Allah and his Prophet Mohammed. Yet that same person, may be inwardly an opportunistic unbelieving hypocritical atheistic dog. But consider the devout prayers performed at irregular times by a truly pious Islamic astronaut, an exlemplary moral man who fervently believes in Islam with all his heart, yet is trapped inside a cramped space capsule together with unbelievers, and only pork sandwiches for food. Allah knows the true intentions of all these men. Allah knows what is in their hearts and minds. Allah knows who believes and truly means what he says in his prayers. And on the day of judgement, Allah will punish the unbelieving hypocritial dog and bless the believer. We know these things from passages in the Holy Quran.
Forsake the outwardness of sin and the inwardness thereof. Lo! those who garner sin will be awarded that which they have earned. (Quran 6:120)
Say: "The Death from which ye flee will truly overtake you: then will ye be sent back to the Knower of things secret and open: and He will tell you (the truth of) the things that ye did!"(Quran 62:8)
So the Quran teaches us that outward form is irrelevant. The fact that the Islamic religious authorities also concur with this opinion in the matter of space travel, clearly indicates they implicitly consider four of the five pillars of Islam irrelevant. All a person need do is believe in Allah, the truth of the revelation of Mohammed, and behave as a good and moral person. Does this mean believers can abandon the practice of the other four pillars of Islam: prayer five times a day, Ramadan, Hadj, and Zakat? After all, Allah knows what is in people's hearts... The statements of the Malaysian religious authorities about Islam and space travel certainly raise many questions.
This brings us to another question. Allah created the universe and all life forms within it. And as the Quran states, all sentient creatures must worship Allah.
And to Allah doth obeisance all that is in the heavens and on earth, whether moving (living) creatures or the angels: for none are arrogant (before their Lord). They all revere their Lord, high above them, and they do all that they are commanded. (Quran16:49)
But not a single one of any of the billions of intelligent entities now existing in this vast universe has heard the message of Mohammed! We know this for a certain truth, because we know they do not observe all of the five pillars of Islam! How do we know this? After all, we have never seen any extraterrestrial life forms, and we cannot travel to other planets to observe their religious practices. Proof of the the unbelieving nature of intelligent extraterrestrial beings actually lies in a simple examination of which of the five pillars of Islam they obey.
The fact that we humans have no interstellar travel at this time in our history, does not mean that other intelligent beings are unable to travel easily from one star system to another. I must admit the mind boggles at the thought of hordes of extraterrestrial pilgrims visiting Mecca. Imagine the innumerable spaceships parked around Mecca, flooding Mecca with exotic and fantastical extraterrestrial pilgrims during the annual pilgrimage. But we see no spaceships or extraterrestrial pilgrims in Mecca. So we can only assume there are no followers of Islam in other star systems. The inevitable conclusion is that all intelligent beings in other star systems are unbelievers. Even so, Allah created them, wilfully creating them as unbelievers made of inferior matter.
By no means! For We have created them out of the (base matter) they know! (Quran 70:39)
Moreover, all these extraterrestrial unbelievers are automatically destined for eternal torment in hell, just as are all unbelievers on this planet.
Those who reject (Truth), among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, will be in Hell-fire, to dwell therein (for aye). They are the worst of creatures. (Quran 98:6)
Yet these inconceivable billions of purposely created, but inferior intelligent extraterrestrial entities, have never had the opportunity to hear of Islam, nor to practice Islam. Allah knew all this when he created them. After all, Allah knew all these things at the beginning of time, at the very moment Allah created the universe (Quran 57:22). All this means that Allah wilfully created intelligent entities who would never be in a position to hear the word of Allah as revealed by the prophet Mohammed, who accordingly would never be in a position to obey the fundamental pillars of Islam, and therefore would automatically be condemned to eternal hellfire. So did Allah create all such intelligent extraterrestrial entities just so they could serve as fodder for ghastly tortures in the pit of hell? If so, this would mean that Allah is indeed an unbelievably malignant god of inconceivable mendacity! And indeed there is good evidence within the Quran supporting just such a viewpoint (see pages 248-257 in The Unholy Legacy of Abraham).
If the Allah of Islam exists and functions in the way revealed in the Quran, then we can only conclude that the questions raised by Islam and space travel, and the certainty of future encounters with extraterrestrial life will provide Islamic lawgivers with much food for thought.
This page last modified 27 February 2009