Muslims are not allowed to go to Mars, at least not according to guidance issued by religious authorities in the United Arab Emirates this week. The Dubai-based Khaleej Times reports that the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (GAIAE), a branch of the Emirati government that distributes weekly guidance to imams on sermons, has issued a fatwa against Muslims moving to the red planet.
The group reasoned: “There is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death." The planet is of course not known to support life as we know it, and planned commercial trips are strictly one-way. So yes, anyone who travels to Mars is almost certain to die there.
The decision fits logically within Islam’s general proscription on suicide. The Quran condemns it, reading: “Do not kill yourselves or one another,” and "...do not throw yourselves with your own hands into destruction” (verses 4:29; 2:195). Traditionally, Muslim-majority countries have had the lowest suicide rates in the world.
The GAIAE announcement comes as planned commercial ventures towards the red planet proliferate on Earth. The Mars One project, Inspiration Mars Foundation, and SpaceX, among other organizations, are planning one-way trips that could begin as early as 2018. Over 200,000 people initially applied for the Mars One project alone, among them at least 500 Arabs, according to Haaretz. As of now, around 1,000 people are short-listed for additional trials.
Of the approximately 2 million fatwas issued by the GAIAE since the inception of its Official Fatwa Center in 2008, this one seems easy enough to follow. The trip is not for the faint of heart and will involve enduring tiny spaces, breathing recycled air and drinking purified urine. However, many countries with sizeable Muslim populations have developed advanced space industries, and scholars have specifically addressed challenges related to Muslim astronauts’ observance of religious duties from space. Hopefully the new edict won’t reduce enthusiasm for those efforts.