By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
With only a few more days left in Ramadan, Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor hopes to be able to observe the fast from outer space. Shukor, 35, is the first astronaut to represent Malaysia in the International Space Station (ISS). Blasting off from Kazakhstan on Wednesday, October 10, 2007, he travelled to space in a Russian built Soyuz spacecraft adorned with the Malaysian flag. The deal for a Malaysian to travel to space was reached back in 2003. The price tag for the ticket to space cost $25 million with the Malaysian government also expected to shell out another $300 million to purchase one and a half dozen Russianâ€“made fighter jets.
Shukor will also be traveling to space with American Peggy Whitson and Russian Cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko. His trip to space will last for approximately 12 days during which he will study micro gravity and how space radiation affects living cells and microbes. As a doctor, he also hopes to perform experiments with proteins that could one day lead to a vaccine for the HIV virus, which causes AIDS.
As a Muslim, Shukor must also grapple with aspects of Islam and how to apply them to living in space. Like, how to perform wudu and which way to face Mecca so that he can pray. Malaysian clerics have already agreed that Shukor must only know the location of Mecca at the beginning of the prayer because the space station is in a constant state of motion and it would be impossible for him to face Mecca during the entire prayer even though he will be belted into one position. As a result of Shukorâ€™s trip to space the Islamic National Fatwa Council (INFC) published a 12-page rulebook entitled â€˜Muslim Obligations in the International Space Stationâ€™. One of the rules stipulates that it is not necessary to perform the entire wudu when traveling in space. A wet towel is sufficient . Another rule states that the actions of the prayer, like bowing and prostrating, are not necessary if they are too cumbersome for the Muslim astronaut to perform. A simple silent prayer is sufficient according to Islamic scholars from the INFC.
Shukor will also bring a taste of Malaysia with him to the ISS, in the form of a consignment of Malaysian food. One item he will bring will be Malaysian biscuits, which are traditional fare to mark the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan. In addition to the food, Shukor had also reportedly promised to make Malaysiaâ€™s national drink for his colleagues at the ISS. The drink, called â€˜Teh Tarikâ€™, is basically hot milky tea. But the way it is made is quite dangerous especially if it is done in space. The boiling tea is poured quickly between two vessels, one high and one low, in the hands of whoever is making it. The quick action creates a unique foam that floats on the top of the tea. According to the Malaysian government, the purpose of making the tea in space is to see what happens to â€˜Teh Tarikâ€™ in space. So, it is more of an exercise in physics than Malaysian hospitality!
Local Malaysian bloggers and citizens seem to be split over the decision to send a Malaysian to the ISS. One blogger writes, â€œIt actually sounds stupid. When I read that PM Abdullah Badawi said â€œit would be the first step by Malaysia to prove its capability in the field of aerospace.â€ I mean sending an astronaut to space without our own technology, whatâ€™s there to achieve?â€ Another blogger laments, â€œWhat new experiments that we Malaysians could possibly do in space? Something that brilliant scientists in NASA, Europe, Russia and all over the world themselves have not done? The answer is nothing. So, forget about doing some mind boggling, scientifically challenged experiments that even scientist at NASA would sit up and take note.â€ Other bloggers have simply labelled it a publicity stunt to get more people across the World to take notice of Malaysia.
Regardless of the purpose of sending a Malaysian to space, it is pretty exciting for the rest of us Muslims sitting safely on the ground to see one of our own blast off to space. May Allah bless Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukorâ€™s journey to space and make it fruitful.