Hungry for Ramadan

Hungry for Ramadan

To Fast Where No One Has Fasted Before

muslim_astronaut.jpgBecause there are Muslims all over the world, fasting has occurred in many different places, climates, and circumstances. But what happens when the boundaries are pushed? For example, in October a Muslim astronaut will be grappling with the prospect of fasting while in orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Obviously, this brings up many questions: Does hurtling through space at thousands of miles an hour trigger the travel exemption? If not, at what time does the fast begin and end? If you went by sunrises and sunsets while on the ISS, you could have 16 mini-fasts in an Earth day, which wouldn’t be much of a spiritual exercise. (The Muslim astronaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, will fast according to his home time zone in Malaysia.)
Last year, there was another Ramadan connundrum: Iranian-American astronaut Anoushe Ansari found herself in the position (200 miles above the earth) where she would be the first Muslim to spot the crescent moon and thus start the month of Ramadan. A viewing from space, however, would probably not be accepted for earth-bound Muslims (although if enough of them could be space tourists, they might make an exception).
The prospect of Muslims in space gets more complicated when you consider settlement on the moon and other planets. A Martian day is only slightly longer than ours (37 minutes), but a day on Venus is 243 Earth days. And how do you spot the Ramadan moon when you’re standing on top of it? When you pray on another planet, which way do you face? (One suggested answer: create a “new Mecca” on that planet — similar to the one in the sci-fi movie Pitch Black — and pray towards that.)

We’ve faced theological questions regarding Ramadan down here on Earth as well. Think about what fasting means for Muslims living above the Arctic Circle. During summer, the sun never really sets, and during winter it never breaks the horizon. What’s a fasting Muslim to do? (In many cases, many Muslims use the sunrise/sunset times of the nearest major metropolitan area south of the circle.) Similar problems occur when people travel long distances across time zones. Assuming you do not take the traveling exemption, do you end your fast a few hours early/late at the destination, or go by the place where you started your fast? (Answer: it’s pretty much up to you.)
The important thing to note about all these cases is that when faced with unique situations not forseen 1,400 years ago, scholars have come up with reasonable accomodations. Many people have a conception of Islamic law as being strict and immutable. That may be the way certain Muslims look at it, but in most cases there can be considerable leeway to adjust laws based on the reality in which we live. This corresponds with the Qur’anic reassurance that no soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear.

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posted September 28, 2007 at 12:28 am

I have been following your blog with interest. This latest post made me curious- what about for people whose jobs require that they be at the top of their performance for public safety (such as doctors, firefighters, etc)?

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posted September 28, 2007 at 3:00 am

Can’t help but be reminded of the jewish joke:
There is an old joke about the first Jewish astronaut who returns to earth utterly exhausted. He is asked: “What happened?” He replies: “shacharit, minchah, ma’ariv, shacharit, minchah, ma’ariv!” In other words, a spaceship orbits the earth once every ninety minutes. If each orbit is considered a “day” of twenty four hours, an observant astronaut would spend most of his time praying, and after every six orbits (or nine hours) he would have to observe Shabbat for ninety minutes. As a result, he would not only be exhausted, but have no time to do whatever he was sent to do!
Imagine the muslim, 5 times in such a day!

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Shahed Amanullah

posted September 28, 2007 at 2:00 pm

I have been following your blog with interest. This latest post made me curious- what about for people whose jobs require that they be at the top of their performance for public safety (such as doctors, firefighters, etc)?
Actually, I think a good argument can be made for their exemption from fasting.

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posted September 29, 2007 at 12:28 am

“Actually, I think a good argument can be made for their exemption from fasting.”
True, But then they would have to make it up, wouldn’t they? And it sucks to fast by yourself. I have a labor intensive job, it’s not so hard fasting. Just make sure to drink plenty of water (before and after), and have some good food in you.

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posted September 29, 2007 at 10:32 am

It all depends on how you define “fasting”. If it was originally meant to make a kind of self denial – a going without something important – then you could give up something other then food for the same period, like TV or sex or wearing jewelery or your iPod or the internet.

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posted September 30, 2007 at 1:08 am

There is a remedy in Holy Quran for Sheikh Muzaffar Shukur’s predicament. Islam doesn’t put burden on its followers which they can not bear. It says that those who are sick and traveling are not required to fast, but should fast for equal number of days when the conditions are brought back to normal. Sheikh Muzaffar will be making an ultimate travel at a very high speed in zero gravity. He has to encounter many challenges and hardships and to carryout important works assigned to him during his short stay there. Naturally, he will not be required to fast during Ramadhan like other Muslims. Even the Ulema of Malaysia have decreed that he need not fast while in orbit.
There is a wrong notion amongst the present day Muslims that fasting in extreme conditions like sickness etc., will bring them more rewards from Allah. So they fast while in sickness. They also force their young children and old parents to fast although their physical conditions cannot withstand the rigours of fasting. This is not only wrong, but also against the Quranic injunctions. Islam is an easy religion. It doesn’t ask its followers to harm themselves by following its tenets, which at times may be difficult to follow for some people.

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posted September 30, 2007 at 6:05 pm

Kinda makes you wonder how Muslims would fast in Alaska or more Northern regions during the summertime, especially since sun doesn’t go down…..

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posted October 1, 2007 at 1:43 am

I am in Alaska. When Ramadan hits the summer, I plan on hitting the road.

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posted October 1, 2007 at 1:30 pm

I worked for a Muslim family in Maine one summer, when Ramadan coicided with the summer solstice. They were very pleaseant to work for, and I liked them quite a bit. But even they got a little testy by the time the sun set well after 9 p.m. (after rising around 5 a.m.) Obviously, 1300 years ago there was no notion of travel as we know now. For that reason, appeals for “That Old Time Religion”, for any people fo faith, makes less and less sense.
I am constantly intrigued by the adaptations religion must make to remain in accord with scientific advancement. The entire specualtive or science fiction genre has some interesting thoughts on the subject.

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