03 May 2007

On some open issues of Islamic cosmology

This JP report on an exercise in freedom of speech by Sheik Ahmad Bahr, acting Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council left me with an interesting question, after this passage:

Ahmad Bahr began: "'You will be victorious' on the face of this planet. You are the masters of the world on the face of this planet. Yes, [the Koran says that] 'you will be victorious,' but only 'if you are believers.' Allah willing, 'you will be victorious,' while America and Israel will be annihilated. I guarantee you that the power of belief and faith is greater than the power of America and Israel. They are cowards who are eager for life, while we are eager for death for the sake of Allah.
OK, fine, there was more stuff on killing them all down to the last one etc. But this is really all minor and not very original material, unless you are a total novice in the local political sciences.

The mention of the planet (twice) was of real interest to me, since I do not know anything about the views on the Universe held by Islamic scientists like our Sheik here. And Wiki is very vague on the subject, saying that "The Qur'an itself like the Bible lacks in detail on cosmology however there are many suras that mention much about cosmology prior to the earth's creation. The Qur'an itself mentions seven heavens and a vast universe sustained by Allah." Not very helpful, I must admit. And what could you do with the following sentence:
In some ways Qur'anic suras can be reconciled with modern science with the fact that the Qur'an mentions an expanding universe as well as the big bang theory known in the Qur'an as the "big clap."
Truly a work of an avowed Islamophobe who insinuated himself in the ranks of the Wiki editors. Big clap, I say!

And all of the above is nothing when compared to the problems faced by Islamic astronauts.
Kuala Lumpur - Muslim-majority Malaysia's first astronaut will get guidelines allowing flexibility in praying in zero gravity and eating space meals under Islamic rules, the country space chief said on Monday.
Quite. A discipline which time is overdue, I must say. But the article shows a disappointing lightness of approach. On one hand:
Maintaining Islamic beliefs "is mandatory for Muslims in every situation, time and place," Mustafa Abdul Rahman, who heads Malaysia's state-run department of Islamic development, said in the guidelines.
But on the other hand:
Those in space during the holy fasting month of Ramadan - when Muslims are required to go without food or water from sunrise to sunset - can choose to fast then or to make up for it when they return, the booklet says.

If Muslim astronauts doubt whether a meal is halal, or prepared according to Islamic rules, they "should consume it only to the extent of restraining hunger," the guidelines say.
Sounds a bit too lenient, don't you feel so? And even this pales into insignificance compared with the issue of the direction to Mecca:
Malaysia held a forum for Islamic scholars in April 2006 to discuss problems Muslim space travelers might face, such as pinpointing the Saudi holy city of Mecca, which Muslims are expected face when they pray five times a day.
So what was the conclusion?
The guideline booklet, published this month, says the direction should be determined "according to the capability" of the astronaut.
How does one rely on his "capability" in a box that revolves around the Earth? Beats me, and there is another issue, fraught with even more danger: the problem of the toilet seats or, to put it simply - which way to crap? We have already reported on the Earthside problem as it was solved in Great Britain and even offered an advanced solution that will satisfy people of all religious denominations, namely revolving toilet seats™. But even a revolving toilet seat will hardly resolve the issue of facing Mecca while going to potty in a spaceship in orbit (exacerbated by possibly revolving vessel as well). A more sophisticated three-dimensional gyroscopic guidance system is required to keep the seat correctly oriented and, of course, it should be able to be configured for every existing religion in order to be of any use. Besides, the seat should distinguish between... er... number one and number two, so to say, since the males of the species have a habit... oh, well, you got it by now.

To insure that the client is facing the right point, I suggest to keep the client bound to this new 3D revolving toilet seat™ at all times, thus excluding any possibility of an error that may attract the wrath of Allah and endanger the whole mission. It is all well and dandy if the deity decides to send a bolt of fire to smite a wrongly oriented sinner defecating on Earth, in the middle of a desert. But what will happen if the sinner is in the middle of a crap on board the space station?

Still, there is a much, much more difficult (and you thought it is impossible by now, you mental midgets you?) issue than just a single point of reference like Mecca. How about this?
Unto Allah belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Allah ever surroundeth all things.
How do you accomplish these necessary, albeit unappetizing, activities without insulting Allah? Which way do you turn if he (she) is everywhere and surroundeth you?

Go figure...

to Will and to stinky.