A Muslim Astronaut’s Ramadan and Quran in Space

In today’s Faith Friday, I will be sharing an inspiring interview I did for Ramadan.sg in 2011 with Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a Muslim astronaut from Malaysia. He flew to Space on 10th October 2007 and returned to Earth on 21st October 2007 under an agreement with Russia through Malaysia’s Angkasawan Program. An orthopedic surgeon by nature, he shares his experience fasting in Space (Eidulfitri was on 13th October 2007 so he managed to experience Ramadan in Space for 2 days). 

sheikh muszaphar shukor_muslim astronaut

“And whomsoever Allah wills to guide, He opens his breast to Islam, and whomsoever He wills to send astray, He makes his breast closed and constricted, as if he is climbing up to the sky…” Al-An’am, 125

That was indeed how Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shah felt while he was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Soyuz TMA-11 almost four years ago. In Singapore for a 2-day talk at ITE Simei last week, Ramadan.sg interviews him about Islam, Ramadan and the Quran.

RAMADAN.SG (RDSG): This year’s Ramadan theme is Rejuvenate Ramadan with the Light of Al-Quran. So we would like to know, did you happen to bring a copy of the Quran when you were in Space?

SHEIKH MUSZAPHAR (SM): I did. I brought 2 copies of the Quran, when I came back I gave one to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, and the other one to my mum. I read the Quran everyday when I was in Space and it was the best feeling ever. And since I came back from Space, I’ve been studying the Quran a lot, because I realize that everything is in the Quran.

When I was giving a talk in Egypt, I was sharing about how I felt when I was launching up in the Soyuz and just couldn’t breathe as I went higher and higher into Space and a professor from Egypt came up to me and said, “Dr Sheikh, whatever that you have shared with us, it is in the Quran,” and he shared with me this verse;

“And whomsoever Allah wills to guide, He opens his breast to Islam, and whomsoever He wills to send astray, He makes his breast closed and constricted, as if he is climbing up to the sky. Thus Allah puts the wrath on those who believe not.”  (Al-An’am, 125)”

So it really intrigues me, and I have been studying the Quran especially on life in Space and life as a whole. Are there other life forms outside the Earth? The closest I have come to this was this verse, although it doesn’t say specifically if there are other life forms out there;

“There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, or a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you.  Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.” (Al-An’am, 38)

RDSG: What is your favorite verse in the Quran?

SM: My favorite verse is definitely Al-Fatihah as it is the mother of the Quran.

RDSG: What about any particular zikir or doa that was in your mind the whole time you were up there?

SM: Well when I was at a very young age, my grandmother taught me this doa that says,

“O Allah, increase me my knowledge, ease my task for me, and remove barriers in my speech, so they may understand what I say.” – Taha, 25-28

I have been reading the doa repeatedly ever since and it just calms me down. I’m blessed that she taught me this doa.

RDSG: Can you explain in detail on how you spent Ramadan in Space?

SM: Even though I am the 9th Muslim astronaut to go to Space, I was the first Muslim astronaut to go during the fasting month of Ramadan. Spending 2 days in Ramadan before ‘Eid Mubarak was the best exciting experience ever. I did not feel hungry and tired, on the other hand I felt so calm and relaxed that I wish this Ramadan it would be the same. It was a great feeling to be able to experience Ramadan in Space.

RDSG: So what do you miss the most about being there during Ramadhan?

SM: The thing I miss most is just experiencing how beautiful and magical the Earth is. Allah’s Greatness could really be felt when we were above the clouds. I was in awe and at the same time feeling touched at how big Allah’s Greatness is, which can be felt all the time. Every time I look at planet Earth from Space, I would get goose bumps and I could feel my heart beating faster and my eyes just affixed on the magic that is Allah’s World.

During my Hajj last year when I was looking at the Ka’abah from my hotel, I noticed some similarities between what was happening (on Earth) and what I saw in Space. It was that the Tawaf was being done in an anti-clockwise direction, similar to how all the planets also orbit in an anti-clockwise direction. So why is that so instead of them moving in a clockwise direction? Everything is done for a purpose and that is something I would like to study about.

RDSG: So was the Ka’abah visible from Space?

SM: No, I could not see any man-made buildings from Space, but Prince Sultan (referring to Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud , the first Muslim astronaut who have traveled to Space in 1985) did mention that he saw the Ka’abah light up from Space. Everyone gets a different miracle while in Space, for me I heard the Azan while I was there.

RDSG: Yes about this, where did you hear the Azan from?

SM: It was inside the ISS and I was very sure I heard the Azan. I look around whether anyone else heard it, and I didn’t know whether they did not understand what the Azan was or they did not hear what I heard. But it was such a magical experience for me at that time.

RDSG: Wow. So what did you eat when you were there?

SM: We had so many kinds of food. The French brought cheese, the Italians brought pizza, the Japanese brought ramen, the Koreans brought kimchi, so we brought Malaysian food to space, like satay, rendang, nasi beriyani and kuih bangkit during my fast in Space. We even had chicken, fish and vegetables. But your taste buds changes in Space. Some foods that you like on Earth, you may not like in Space.

RDSG: That’s very interesting! So did you bring dates, or kurma, to break your fast?

SM: We did not. We were not allowed to bring just any kind of food as the Russians were very strict on the guidelines. So there were certain selective foods that were allowed. We even wanted to bring durians, and Malaysia actually created a no-smell durian which we thought was good, but then we were not allowed to bring it.

RDSG: Did you bring any supplements or good vitamin food to Space? Like raisins?

SM: Prior to our trip in Russia (for 6-months training), we had selected the foods that we would be bringing. Hence we selected the kind of foods that we like and everything was based on the amount of calories that we would consume every day in Space, which is why it was a very selective process. But, kurma is definitely one of the best foods ever as it is high in energy. If I am given the opportunity to fly to Space again, I would definitely bring kurma.

RDSG: How did the other astronauts react to you having to stick to Halal food?

SM: The best thing about Space is that it doesn’t matter what country, race or religion you come from, everything is being treated professionally. So I did not have any problems praying in Space or eating Halal food. They knew my religion as a Muslim and they respected it.

RDSG: So did they ask any questions about Islam? And what was the most-asked question?

SM: They do. Majority of them are Christians and not many Muslims have gone up to Space. They always ask “What does Islam mean?”, “Why do you have to believe in Allah?,” “Why do you have to eat Halal food?” as these things fascinate them. Thus we try to explain to them the beauty of why we do all this, why we need to slaughter animals the Islam way – that it benefits the animals, and it is not healthy for us if done the improper way. They were amazed by the explanations and wanted to know more.

RDSG: Ok last question. What do you have to say to Muslims all over the world for this Ramadhan?

SM: When I went to Space, it was very important for me to show the world what Islam is all about. Islam is a way of life, no matter where you are – whether you are on Earth or in Space; you must do your ibadah as it is your responsibility as a Muslim. These are the things I did, and I am trying to bring back the glory of Islam especially in Science and Astronomy.

So I am trying to reach out to the Muslim community out there to be more “ber’ilmu”, or knowledgeable, especially in Science and Astronomy. This will bring back the glory of Islam so I do hope to inspire the Muslims out there, all over the world. InsyaAllah.


Watch the video interview here: http://youtu.be/mGv2NNcUQ70