The most recent fatwa or Islamic edict to grab international attention forbids Muslims from going away to Mars forever. The fatwa, issued on Wednesday by the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (GAIAE), refers to the significant chunk of Muslim applicants for Dutch company Mars One’s proposed Mars voyage in 2022. The fatwa, drawing from Quaranic verse 4/29, has labelled the Mars One mission “suicidal”.
A report in the Dubai-based Khaleej Times quoted GAIAE Chair Dr. Farooq Hamada, as saying all religions preached protection of life against all calamities and so did Islam. Since the Quran categorically outlaws suicide, the committee felt that those who participated in this one-way trip were creating a “real risk” for their lives, something that can never be justified in Islam. According to the committee, dying on the voyage would mean perishing of a life for no “righteous reason” and would be punished, in the same way as suicide would be, in the afterlife.
While the timing of the fatwa is a little puzzling, it does follow enthusiastic responses for the mission from the Islamic community. The April 2013 Mars One invitation for volunteers from around the world to move permanently to Mars saw over 200,000 people signing up, including an approximate 500 from Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations. The committee, based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), suspects that some of the Muslims shortlisted for the trip may be trying to escape punishment or facing Allah on judgement day. The GAIAE goes further to point out that their “hope” was baseless for even atoms came within Allah’s purview.
Yet to be added to the GAIAE’s official fatwa listings, this fatwa is not binding by civil law. But the committee felt that a devout Muslim would at least take into consideration the reasoning behind it before making his or her decision to leave earth. While it didn’t forbid space travel or other missions to Mars, the GAIAE seems to have taken exception to Mars One’s particular vision to create a colony of human beings on Mars, who it fears will die after living (if at all) in a new world that is mostly or entirely dead.
Mars One has responded to the fatwa, which claims its mission is akin to suicide, with its own interpretations of Quranic verses. Urging the Islamic clergy to revoke the fatwa, the Dutch company has said that the Quran inspires Muslims to explore and see signs of God’s creation in both heaven and earth. It cited Moroccan Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta, who between 1325 and 1355 covered 73,000 miles, exploring in today’s terms 44 countries. The one-way trip to Mars, it said, was an untraveled road and it hoped the GAIAE would allow Muslims to go on the most important rihla (journey) of their lives.
The statement on the official website of Mars One strives to explain safety measures undertaken by it to protect human life on Mars: At least eight cargo missions will precede human beings on Mars and the landing of each will be similar to that of the human landing capsule. Unmanned robotic vehicles will establish a setting on Mars that is habitable. Water and a breathable atmosphere inside the settlement will become operational two years prior to the arrival of the first human beings on Mars.
Agreeing that space travel did seem dangerous as of today, Mars One assured the GAIAE that only after it has an unfailing track record of safe landings will it risk the lives of its volunteers. Ending its statement with an appeal to cancel the fatwa, Mars One hopes the GAIAE would reassess the perceived threat to life in the context of Mars already having an unmanned, livable settlement that is waiting for its occupants from Earth.
The GAIAE fatwa that states Mars One’s one-way trip to the red planet is akin to suicide is the latest in a list of over two million edicts it has issued since its establishment in 2008. However, the entire debate may have been over nothing because Mars One, for all its relentless work towards its mission, is yet to accumulate the billions of dollars it needs to pull it off. The practical and financial viability of the mission has been questioned by experts all along.
By Aruna Iyer