Categories: Passport

What a Bummer for Muslim Astronauts: A New Fatwa Bans Travel to Mars

Some 500 "Saudis and other Arabs," most of whom are probably Muslim, have signed up with a private company, Mars One, which promises to bring them to the Red Planet to establish a permanent human colony. But a new fatwa may force those would-be astronauts to put those plans on hold.

This week, a United Arab Emirates-based group called the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (GAIAE) has issued a fatwa against living on Mars, reasoning that such an attempt would be akin to suicide, which is prohibited in Islam. "Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam," the committee said.  "There is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death." (In case you’re wondering: There is a fierce debate among Islamic scholars as to whether suicide bombings are forbidden or permitted because they are a "supreme form of jihad," in the words of influential cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Some Muslim clerics have even issued fatwas in support of suicide attacks despite the seemingly rock solid prohibitions against it under Islamic law.)

The company behind the Mars project fought back on Thursday, bravely making Islamic references of their own to justify their work to potential Muslim customers. "Mars One respectfully requests GAIAE to cancel the Fatwa and make the greatest Rihla, or journey, of all times open for Muslims too," Bas Lansdorp, the co-founder and CEO of Mars One, told Thursday. "They can be the first Muslims to witness the signs of God’s creation in heaven, drawing upon the rich culture of travel and exploration of early Islam."

According to the company, "the Mars One mission plan consists of cargo missions and unmanned preparation of a habitable settlement, followed by human landings. In the coming years, a demonstration mission, communication satellites, two rovers and several cargo missions will be sent to Mars. These missions will set up the outpost where the human crew will live and work." There is currently no technology that would enable a return trip, which would de facto mean that all the volunteers were there to stay.

Prior to the Mars fatwa, the U.A.E. has seemed particularly interested in space travel. Abu Dhabi has laid plans to transform itself into a "space travel hub" in an attempt to broaden its economy beyond the oil sector. In 2009, Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments bought a 32 percent stake in Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s space tourism company. The company said the cash infusion would accelerate their plans to launch both tourists and commercial satellites into space.

Earlier this month, Branson said Abu Dhabi may open its first spaceport by 2016. "I hope we’ll have a space hub in Abu Dhabi in a couple of years," he told the National, a UAE-based daily newspaper.

Amid such excitement, the GAIAE’s fatwa must come as a real disappointment to space-minded Muslims. That said, it shouldn’t come as a particular surprise: the group of clerics has reportedly issued a staggering two million fatwas since its inception in 2008, including one banning urban pigeon hunting. Would-be Muslim astronauts, in other words, will have plenty of company.

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