Some 500 “Saudis and other Arabs,” most of whom are probably Muslim, have signed up with the company Mars One, which promises to take them to the Red Planet to establish a permanent human colony. But a new fatwa may force these would-be astronauts to put their plans on hold.
Last week a United Arab Emirates-based group called the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment issued a fatwa against living on Mars, reasoning that it would be akin to suicide, which is prohibited in Islam. “Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam,” the committee said. (In case you’re wondering: There remains a fierce debate among Islamic scholars as to whether suicide bombings are forbidden or permitted. Some clerics have even issued fatwas in support of suicide attacks despite the seemingly rock-solid prohibitions against it under Islamic law.)
The company behind the Mars project fought back on Thursday, bravely making Islamic references of its own to justify its work to potential Muslim customers. “Mars One respectfully requests GAIAE to cancel the fatwa and make the greatest rihla, or journey, of all times open for Muslims too,” Bas Lansdorp, co-founder and CEO of Mars One, told FoxNews.com. “They can be the first Muslims to witness the signs of God’s creation in heaven, drawing upon the rich culture of travel and exploration of early Islam.”
According to the company, “the Mars One mission plan consists of cargo missions and unmanned preparation of a habitable settlement, followed by human landings. In the coming years, a demonstration mission, communication satellites, two rovers and several cargo missions will be sent to Mars. These missions will set up the outpost where the human crew will live and work.” There now is no technology that would enable a return trip, which would mean that all the volunteers were there to stay.
Despite the Mars fatwa, the U.A.E. has been interested in space travel. Abu Dhabi plans to transform itself into a “space travel hub” in an attempt to broaden its economy beyond the oil sector. In 2009, Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments bought a 32 percent stake in Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s space tourism company. The cash infusion is expected to accelerate the company’s plans to launch both tourists and commercial satellites into space. Earlier this month, Mr. Branson said Abu Dhabi may open its first spaceport by 2016.
Amid such excitement, the GAIAE’s fatwa must come as a real disappointment to space-minded Muslims. That said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise: This particular group of clerics has reportedly issued a staggering 2 million fatwas since its inception in 2008, including one banning urban pigeon hunting. Would-be Muslim astronauts, in other words, will have plenty of company.
Katelyn Fossett is an editorial researcher for Foreign Policy.