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Two Malaysian candidates are now undergoing training in Russia with the winner to be selected before the 11-day space mission starts on October 10.

CAIRO — Malaysia is hopeful that the country’s first astronaut will also become the first Muslim to fast in space when he blasts off during Ramadan, theSunday Starnewspaper reported Sunday, September 16.

“It will be great if our astronaut chooses to fast. We are looking forward to having him relate his experience of fasting in space. I’m sure he is equally excited and will find it a thrilling experience,” Anan C. Mohd, from Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM), said.

Anan said the astronaut could choose to fast in space or replace his fasting days when he returns to Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food and sex from sunrise to sunset.

Anan said that the times for beginning and ending the fast should follow the local time in the city of Baikonur, where the launch will take place in Russia.

Other Muslims have ventured into space, but none during the fasting month of Ramadan which began last week.

Malaysia’s would-be astronauts were chosen from thousands of hopefuls in a nationwide contest.

The project was conceived in 2003 when Russia agreed to send a Malaysian to the space station as part of a billion-dollar purchase of 18 Sukhoi 30-MKM fighter jets.

Two Malaysian candidates, a doctor and an army dentist who are both Muslims, are now undergoing training in Russia with the winner to be selected before the 11-day space mission starts on October 10.

Malaysia is also planning to send its first astronaut to the Moon by 2020.

Leeway

Anan said that the National Fatwa Committee had given some leeway to the astronaut to perform his religious obligations in space.

“As certain rituals might be difficult due to microgravity, the astronaut can perform them in other ways like reciting them in his heart, as long as the intention is pure,” he told theStar.

The heavyweight Muslim country has issued a guideline on essential issues about living in space.

The five-page guidebook, drafted by JAKIM and published in April, addresses several aspects related to the five daily prayers.

On the question of the qiblah (direction Muslims take during prayers), it says that should be determined “according to the capability” of the astronaut.

The issue took centre stage of a conference in Kuala Lumpur last year where muftis and scientists pondered how to pray in space in the face of difficulties locating Makkah and holding the prayer position in a zero-gravity environment.

The Malaysian astronaut will be the ninth Muslim to cross the 100-km boundary above Earth considered to be the defining line for outer space.

Others who have undergone that feet include Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman, who went aboard the US shuttle Discovery in 1985.

Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American telecommunications entrepreneur, was the latest Muslim space tourist when she went to the International Space Station in September 2006.