First and foremost, we’d like to make it clear that the religion of Islam seeks not to cause any hardship to its adherents or burden them beyond their capabilities. Easiness and facilitation are of the main characteristics of Islam. Almighty Allah says: (Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that ye may give thanks.) (Al-Ma’idah: 6) We also find the Prophet of Islam commanding Muslims saying, “If I order you to do something, do it as best as you can.”
This concept of facilitation and easiness in Islam are clearly manifest in its simple and flexible legislations. In taking into consideration different conditions facing people, Islam facilitates its rulings in a way that such diversity comes to term with the application of Shari`ah rulings, without being divorced from the reality whatsoever. The question in point, serves as an example of how Islam seeks facilitation in its legislations.
Elaborating on the issue of how to offer Prayer in space, Dr. Rif`at Fawzi, professor of Shari`ah at Cairo University, states: “While in the space (i.e. outside the atmosphere of the earth, as is the case with astronauts) a person can perform prayers according to the available means. He should strive hard to perform prayer while directing his face to the Qiblah, if he can do so.
However, if he finds it difficult to perform prayer while facing the Qiblah, he is permitted not to face it as long as he is driven by necessity.”
Shedding more light on this issue, we find it relevant to cite the following fatwa given by Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada:
“Facing the direction of Qiblah (Ka`bah in Makkah) is a condition for the validity of prayer. It has been clearly established by the clear imperative of Allah in the Qur’an, “So from wherever you depart, turn your face towards the Sacred Mosque.” (Al-Baqarah: 148). “And wherever you are (O Muslims) face towards it (when you pray) …” (Al-Baqarah: 149)
It is, therefore, unanimously agreed upon by scholars that one must face towards the Ka`bah while performing prayer, and as such, we are required to ascertain the direction to the best of our ability. But, if for some reason, we are unable to determine the precise direction, then we must act upon our best educated guess and pray accordingly.
If, however, we are unable to face the direction of Ka`bah because of circumstances beyond our control—as is the case while traveling by air sometimes— then we must still perform our prayer by facing whichever direction we possibly can. In this case also, if possible, first make your opening Takbeer (i.e. saying ‘Allah is the greatest’ in the beginning of the prayer) facing the Qiblah—if it can be ascertained—and then sit down and pray facing whichever direction the plane travels. We are not allowed to skip our prayer on the excuse we cannot face the Qiblah.
According to an established principle of Islamic jurisprudence, if for any reason we are unable to fulfill a certain condition or pre-requisite on which the validity of a certain act of worship is dependent, then we must still perform the act without the condition.
Allah tells us in the Qur’an, “So fear Allah as best as you can, and listen and obey…” (At-Taghabun: 16); the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “If I order you to do something, do it as best as you can.”
Having stated the above, it becomes clear that the issue depends on one’s circumstances in space and the available means he has, whether there is plenty of water or not and whether he can determine the Qiblah and face it or not and whether the day is too long or normal like that of the earth. In case there is water, he must do purification and ablution in the same way he does on earth. Also, if the length of the day is like or similar to that of the earth, one has to follow the timing as on earth.
So, people in space must perform Prayer as best as they can and according to the available means and circumstances they face because the ruling differs according to the difference of circumstances and the available means. So, if you have a specific case you want to ask about, please write us back clarifying the surrounding circumstances and as we elaborated above in order to enable us to give you a specific reply.