Mars One and Islam Incompatible?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

As if Bas Lansdorp didn’t have enough problems, a group of Muslim imams have issued a fatwa declaring that Muslims cannot volunteer for the one-way trip to Mars. The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment in the UAE issued the statement, one of many they issue. According to the site, www.awqaf.ae, over 337,000 fatwas were issued last year alone.

With over 1,000 candidates remaining after the initial cut, you can be rather certain that some are Muslim. Will they withdraw in the face of the fatwa? The Kaleej Times tells us that the rationale for the fatwa has to do with risk. After all, the Holy Quran tells us, “Do not kill yourselves or one another.”

It’s extremely unlikely that more than one of the initial crew of four will be Muslim. We cannot read the minds of those issuing the fatwa. Their reasons could be preservation of life or preservation of faith or something else entirely.

Let’s face it, however. Any ancient ritual or observance can run into problems in an expanding universe. These concepts were established when people were ignorant of the full extent of the world and even that there were other worlds out there in space. They had not flown high or delved deep. They were unaware of some continents on Earth and of microscopic life and much more. 

Will this fatwa affect Mars One? They have issued a press release (http://www.mars-one.com/news/press-releases/mars-ones-response-to-the-fatwa-issued-by-the-general-authority-of-islamic) asking that the imams rescind the fatwa. However, this fatwa is the least of the problems Mars One faces. Their largest problem is financing. With their initial crowdfunding effort reaching only about 50% of its goal, it’s unclear how they will reach the levels of money required for such an ambitious program. If they do and actually send people to Mars, then they have the problem of continuing financing in order to keep the first crew alive with future missions to Mars carrying materials necessary for long-term survival as well as additional settlers.

Successful colonization of Mars would be a great event and worthy of great efforts to make it happen. Getting there requires only money. Surviving there involves many difficulties, some known and some unknown. Right now, the greatest unknowns are finding a landing site with an adequate supply of water and determining the long-term effects of 38% gravity on human health. The former may require automated expeditions for precisely this purpose. The latter suggests that a return flight at least be an option at some point in any colonization program. Mars One does not include that return flight in its plans.

Many of the risks are known, and the imams may not have evaluated them fully. Some risks have yet to be assessed. They could be life-threatening. Why not follow the lead of Ibn Battuta and continue the great Muslim history of exploration? Surely, he was at risk of his life.

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