Malaysia's Muslim Astronaut Needn't Fast in Space During Ramadan, Says Minister
Malaysia's first astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor (left) and his backup Faiz Khaleed.
Credit: Malaysian National Space Agency.

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) – Malaysia's first astronaut will not be required to fast while in space even though he is a Muslim and the flight will be during Ramadan, a government minister said Monday.

"When you travel there is no compulsion to fast," Science Minister Jamaluddin Jarjis told reporters.

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, 35, is one of three people who will lift off in a Russian space craft on Oct. 10 for a 10-day mission in the International Space Station. He has said that as a good Muslim he hopes to fast in space even though his main priority is to conduct scientific experiments.

But Jamaluddin said Sheikh Muszaphar, who has been fasting during training along with his backup Faiz Khaleed, can postpone the fasting until after he returns.

The fasting month of Ramadan started on Sept. 13 and is expected to end on Oct. 12, which means Sheikh Muszaphar will have to fast for only two or three days if he insists on not eating from dawn to dusk, an Islamic religious requirement.

Jamaluddin also said he expects Sheikh Muszaphar to pray only three times a day instead of the obligatory five to reduce the inconvenience of going through prayer rituals in the gravity-free atmosphere.

Observant Muslims are required to turn toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and pray five times a day while kneeling. However that becomes difficult in zero gravity while the space station is circling the Earth 16 times a day.

Malaysia's National Fatwa Council has ruled that the astronaut will not be required to kneel to pray if the absence of gravity makes it too hard, nor will he have to wash hands and face with water as required – a simple wet towel will do.

Jamaluddin said Malaysia is hoping to send a second astronaut into space, depending on public support for the first mission. He said the second mission would cost US$30 million (euro21.5 million), but the long term benefits would be worth it.

"If there is good strong public support we should continue the mission to sustain the awareness. We should look not only on short term return but also medium to long term."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi wished Sheikh Muszaphar success.

"I pray that this mission will proceed according to plan, safely and successfully," he said.

Sheikh Muszaphar will return to earth Oct. 20 along with two members of the station's current crew, cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov.