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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 April 2006, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Malaysia considers Islam in space
By Jonathan Kent
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

The Soyuz TM32 spacecraft blasts off from the launch pad at the cosmodrome Baikonur in Kazakhstan, Saturday, Apr. 28, 2001
Malaysia's choice of astronaut will blast off with a Russian team in 2007
A two-day conference on Islam and life in space is under way in Malaysia, in a bid to answer questions faced by would-be Muslim astronauts.

Malaysia is due to send an astronaut into space with the Russians next year.

The country's first spaceman is almost certain to be a Muslim, which raises a number of practical issues.

For instance, Muslims wash before they pray but not only is water a precious commodity in space, but it is also impractical in weightlessness.

Likewise, the faithful face Mecca. However, that will mean pin-pointing a moving location while in zero gravity.

And Muslim prayer times are linked to those of the sunrise and sunset, but in orbit the sun appears to rise and set more than a dozen times a day.

Serious discussion

Malaysia's science ministry has called together a group of experts to thrash out these and other questions.

It is being billed as the first-ever serious discussion of the issues.

It is in keeping with the Malaysian government's mission to promote what it calls Islam Hadhari, or civilisational Islam, which encourages Muslims to embrace education, science and technology.

It will doubtless be hoping that a conference of Muslim scientists and scholars debating such cutting edge issues will not go unnoticed in the rest of the Islamic world.

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