Friday, 28 September 2007

Facing Mecca From Space.

Now that we're sending Muslims up into space, the West seems to be amused with the fact that our very own Muslim scientists have drafted up guides on worshipping procedures in space. Wired's got an article worth reading about the problems in facing the kiblat and how to find Mecca from space:
Dr. Kamal Abdali, a cartographer who is also Muslim and who has written (.pdf) extensively on determining the qibla, favors the great circle route, but adds, "Prayer is not supposed to be a gymnastic exercise. One is supposed to concentrate on the prayer rather the exact orientation." He points out that in a train or plane, it's customary to start in the qibla direction but then continue the prayer without worrying about possible changes in position.

But how does that work in space? Mathematically, Shukor would need to place both ISS and Mecca on the same imaginary sphere -- by either comparing the place on Earth directly beneath ISS with the real Ka'aba, or by projecting the Ka'aba into space (the option recommended by the Fatwa Council).

Yet the option to pray while facing a point in space brings up another problem. Muslims face the ground to pray, in part to avoid any hint of pagan sun or moon worship ("Prostrate yourselves not to the sun nor to the moon, but prostrate yourselves to Allah Who created them, if you (really) worship Him" (The Quran, Fussilat 41:37). If the Ka'aba projection happens to line up with the sun or moon, purists might believe the prayer invalid.
Huh. So, our bold Angkasawan has to take care that while praying he doesn't end up worshipping a stray heavenly body instead and finding himself being accused of idolatry, one of the worst sins a Muslim could ever commit.

Related: Malaysians in Space.

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