What it was like practicing Islam for the first Malaysian in space

This article, describing the 2007 flight of the first Malaysian in space, launched as a passenger in a Russian Soyuz capsule, is mostly worth reading because it goes into details on the Islamic religious rules the astronaut had to follow to practice the religion in space.

Muszaphar had to spend time going through an instruction manual on daily religious rituals provided by Malaysian mullahs. Vyacheslav Urlyapov of the Moscow-based Centre for Southeast Asia, Australia, and Oceania Studies, RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, sums up the cosmonaut’s experience: “The 11-day flight overlapped in part the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims had been in orbit before him, but it fell to Muszaphar to comply with the detailed instructions written for him by Islamic theologians (ulema) to remain a true believer in space, too.”

Muslims are required to face in the general direction of the city of Mecca while saying the mandatory – five times a day – prayers. But locating the tiny city from space is not an easy task, especially when you are hurtling around Earth at more than 17,000 km per hour. Also, in space there is no sense of direction – as we know it on land. The Malaysian cosmonaut was therefore all at sea during his first space flight.

Mercifully, Muszaphar was released from fasting, and was allowed to say shorter prayers and perform daily rituals according to Kazakhstan time. Plus, he didn’t have to face the constant ordeal of locating Mecca.

Kind of describes the problems when a medieval religion is thrust into the 21st century. The medieval religion has to change.