I keep getting asked all the time why it is that I wouldn’t criticise Islam for all the evil its adherents have brought to this earth, and instead concentrate on “hurting the sentiments” of the “extremely tolerant” Hindus. The simple answer: I live in India, for now, and it’s Hindu lunacy which personally affects me more than any other religion. This is definitely not to suggest I don’t find Islam a reprehensible cult. I could write endlessly about the horrors brought forth by Islam’s true followers (the Islamic State) or assert my opinions on its significantly less truer followers (other comparable terrorist organisations) or the inactions of its supposedly devout followers (moderate Muslims) or the extremely distasteful goalpost shifting tactics of those championing Muslim theology, but to be honest, there is nothing I can think of that can viably add to what has already been said.
Disclaimer: I’m sensing I’ve already pushed past the acceptable limit of smack I can talk about Islam. Before you get butthurt and come at me with death threats (I think I’m overestimating my popularity) or cause me physical harm, I recommend you channel some of that anger toward reading what I’m about to say, no matter how out of character that is for you. The title is the way it is because my teachers (curses be upon them) taught me that a brief and sensational title is much more important than a descriptive one. I’m sure you’ll understand. I think you know what it must feel like to be fed with wrong ideas in your childhood.
The discussion we’re about to have is not necessarily about the annihilation of the Islamic faith, although if that does happen I don’t believe it would be missed. I’m simply suggesting that Islam can only ever be practised on earth. The faith cannot leave the planet and most certainly cannot be established elsewhere. Why? Well, the answer can be found by examining the implications of the five pillars of Islam – you don’t have to look any further than that.
The five pillars of Islam are a collection of basic acts that every Muslim has to mandatorily practice. It’s literally the foundation of a Muslim lifestyle. Let’s list them, shall we?
- Shahadah: The profession of faith. Essentially, the declaration that there is no god but the one true god – Allah, the god of Islam (and Christianity and Judaism as many would readily affirm) – and that Muhammed was his messenger.
- Salat: The collection of ritual prayers, to be offered five times a day. It is obligatory for sound minded Muslims (yes, I know) who have reached the age of puberty and only women who are menstruating or who experience bleeding in the 40 days after childbirth are exempt.
- Zakat: An almsgiving practice. They must give away a certain percentage of their savings to the poor and needy, but depending on regulations, you can compensate for being miserly through good behaviour and deeds. (If you ask me, most nominal Muslims fulfil this requirement by unwittingly abstaining from following their scriptures too well.)
- Sawm: The act of fasting and practicing some forms of “self control” during the lunar month of Ramadan. Let’s just say this is essentially why you’ll find a consistent yearly trough in birth statistics of people born to Muslim families†.† Unverified, but it seems like it should be true, doesn’t it? Don’t quote me on this one.
- Hajj: A pilgrimage to Mecca which has to be done at least once in one’s lifetime.
It is these pillars that not only uphold the figurative Islam structure if you will, but also function as bars behind which you will be when you try protecting it from its inevitable demise. I’m only concerned with two of them – Salat and Sawm. Let’s discuss them in detail.
Salat is the technical term for the five prayers that Muslims have to mandatorily offer to their almighty creator. In fact, the constituent prayers of Salat have to be observed at specific times. Those times are determined by the position of the sun with respect to their location on earth. Salat times are therefore different to different people. You can consult one of the many websites dedicated to providing the Salat times to know that of your location. There are mathematical formulas that use trigonometric functions if you need to be extremely precise Salat times for your geographical coordinates.
It is weird that they even have to bring the position of the sun into the discussion, since according to the Quran, the earth is flat and it is heresy to claim otherwise. It is as if most Muslims pick and choose what they believe per their convenience.
Your prayers have to be offered directly facing Mecca. This means all Muslims in a certain location, except for Mecca itself (who point to the Kaaba), face more or less in the general vicinity of Mecca. Of course, they’ve not explained what the appropriate pose would be for people beyond Mecca’s horizon. As you get farther and farther, you will have to arrange for ways to keep yourself at an angle to the ground with people on the diametrically opposite end of the world pointing straight down. I imagine that would involve foot clamps and strong leg muscles, but it seems the clerics are rather interested in a growing membership than a more devout and faithful crowd. They’ve given them workarounds to this issue. So disappointing! I wager the clerics do this by designing their community’s prayer habits assuming the world is a flat plane with Mecca at its centre. Keep in mind, your prayer times are not fixed with the current time at Mecca but the time at your own location which in turn has got to do with the relative position of the sun.
In a spaceship, you have no geographical coordinates to speak of. There is no concept of night and day, hence you have no days in which you can imagine praying five times. All of your environmental conditions are more or less amendable. Here’s the problem though. Without the consistency of life on earth, sunrise and sunset would be vague notions. Clerics can remove any ambiguities about prayer times on earth by prescribing you yours instead of letting you worry about the position of the sun, but there is none of that in space. There is no up and down, thus deciding which part of the ship you’d be anchored to while offering your prayers would be arbitrary. Yes, you’d find it much easier to point exactly at Mecca. You’ll simply have to face the earth which when at a significant distance is basically the same thing.
The problem arises when your ship is made to point a certain direction. If during that shift, the sun happens to “rise” you’ll have to offer your dawn prayers. However, without a sky there is no dawn. There is no dusk. There is no colouration of the environment. Even if you could have used the appearance of the sky to know when to pray, you couldn’t do that in space.
Your two best courses of action as a Muslim, now that you’ve been made aware of the facts of space travel are as follows:
- Stay on earth. Let the others explore space. Let them leave the planet. You can continue to appease your non-existent god and maybe some day you’ll fulfil your misguided collective dream of converting all those on earth to Islam.
- Think differently. Acknowledge the fact that since there is no concept of passage of days, you’re not obligated to pray. You’re risking going to hell though. We don’t really have a clue what Allah asks of us when in space. Perhaps he didn’t imagine humanity would ever witness space travel and chose to avoid telling you whatever was the right thing to do in that hypothetical situation.
If you chose the first option, good for you. I think I’ve satisfactorily explained why Islam will die on earth. Instead if you chose to think differently, well, I’ve got bad news.
Sawm is the practice of fasting during the day in the month of Ramadan and probably making some other sacrifices. Muslims, once they’ve attained a certain age, are supposed to fast from sunrise to sunset. If you think you’ve already overcome that problem when you were giving some much needed hard thought to Salat, think again. Let’s reformulate the problem for you in the context of space travel.
Forget sunrise and sunset for a few seconds. You are not to eat during the day in the month of Ramadan. What is day exactly? How do we define it? Well, it’s easier for us to actually define night and call the supplementary time as day, so let’s do that.
Night is what you have when the sun and all it’s light is hidden from view by the earth. So, night is the time when you’re in a position where the earth physically eclipses the sun from you. Literally all other time is daytime. On earth, assuming you’re at the equator, you will have about 12 hours of day and 12 of night. As you go away, the proportion of day and night will fluctuate with latitude and seasons, but at any point on earth in a year, half of it is day and the other half night.
The situation is radically different when you’re in space.
The earth casts quite a long shadow with a length of about 1.383 million kilometres. The shadow spans a cone shaped volume of about 5.88 times 10 to the 22nd cubic metres or 5.88 times 10 to the 13th cubic kilometres. That means while in space, you have about 55 earths worth of space within which you can be to be under the earth’s shadow. Night as defined on earth only applies to that space. Outside of that conical volume, you’re in perpetual daylight. As an axiom, once you’re more than 1.4 million kilometres from earth, you have no night to speak of, regardless of direction. How is that a problem you ask?
The month of Ramadan is at the same time for every Muslim. It is that one lunar cycle that is somehow more special than the next twelve. In that month they can only consume food during the night. That on average gives you a solid twelve hours to stuff yourself. If you get into a near earth orbit, you’re extending the day by being outside the earth’s shadow for longer. As you get farther, the night is an ever receding pocket of darkness until you’re too far for the earth’s umbral shadow to fall over you.
This means, as a Muslim, you can only ever spend a little over 11 months away from earth at a stretch. Any more than that and you will have broken a pillar of Islam. What could a possible workaround be? You could try and artificially shade yourself, but that is not a luxury we afford even to the people on earth. Muslims cannot excuse themselves by staying within a light tight room.
You could invent warp drives and have a vacation in a different part of the galaxy or even the universe, but you will have to come back to earth for Ramadan and there is no fix for that. That’s, of course assuming, you’re even allowed to interpret your sacred texts. You can avoid all risks of pissing of the omnipotent omnipresent omniscient almighty Allah by just staying on earth and perishing with it, if by some miracle Islam lasts long enough to see that day.
Islam does not just put a lot of restrictions on you while you are on earth. It physically prevents you from leaving earth. If you ever had even an inkling of desire to explore space, which is become increasingly possible each day now, you will have to give that up if you choose to continue to remain a Muslim.
The earth will go away one day for good and Islam will go with it.
P.S. When you draw the Islamic logo – the star and the crescent – please draw the star outside the projected lune. That really bugs me. Thanks!
P.P.S. Stars are spherical. But no rush!