Mars One, the Dutch nonprofit that plans to send colonists on a one-way trip to Mars in 2024, narrowed down a field of over 200,000 applicants to just over 1,000 at the end of last year. Those 1,000 applicants run the demographic gamut, from home country (applicants hail from 107 countries, including the US, India, China, Brazil, UK, Canada, Russia, Mexico, Turkey, and more) to education to age. And, one could assume, in terms of religion. Recently, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments (GAIAE), an organization within the United Arab Emirates whose mission is to enhance religious and social awareness, has urged Muslims not to participate in the Mars One mission.
GAIAE issued a fatwa, an official judgment on an issue concerning Islamic law, against Muslims traveling to Mars. GAIAE employs scholars whose job it is to tackle such issues and deliver a ruling, and they said, “It is not permissible to travel to Mars and never to return if there is no life on Mars. The chances of dying are higher than living.” That being their stance, a manned mission to Mars is akin to a suicide mission, and suicide violates Islamic principles.
This is the first fatwa or similar statement made by GAIAE or the UAE, which generally supports space travel. Aabar Investments, a private joint stock company based in Abu Dhabi, has invested in all kinds of activities and industries, including Virgin Galactic. Iran has sent a couple monkeys into space and plans to expand its space program. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud became the first Muslim in space in 1985 when he hopped on board Discovery. Abdul Ahad Mohmand, an Afghan Muslim, spent eight days on space station Mir back in 1988 and is regarded a hero for his quick thinking when the Soyuz capsule he and the rest of the crew were in for the return trip to Earth malfunctioned. Mohmand noticed that the malfunctioning program was still running, and that the capsule was about to eject the propulsion system, which would have been game over for those astronauts. Less than a minute before that would have happened, Mohmand and the pilot stopped the process, preventing their untimely deaths.
Angkasa, Malaysia’s national space agency, held a conference of Islamic scholars and scientists back in 2006 to talk about the compatibility of Muslim law and obligations and space travel. They issued “A Guideline of Performing Ibadah (worship) at the International Space Station (ISS)” to help figure out questions such as when and how many times Muslims should pray while in space, given that days last about an hour and a half when orbiting Earth.
Mars One asked GAIAE to cancel the fatwa, assuring that it would do everything in its power to make the mission safe. It also urges GAIAE to remember that the mission wouldn’t happen today — it’s still a ways off, and there’s time to reduce the risks to human life and employ safeguards. It asks GAIAE to wait to assess the risks until the outpost is established on Mars. I suppose that’s a fair ask, although I don’t know what they could do in the next decade or so to convince anyone that a one-way mission to Mars is safe. Mars One also quoted the Quran, which “encourages Muslims to go out and see the signs of God’s creation in the ‘heavens and the earth.'”