The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday, Feb. 26:
The distance between Mecca and Mars just got a bit longer. Muslim religious authorities in the United Arab Emirates have issued a fatwa - a ruling that is binding on Muslims - forbidding them from participating in the Mars One manned journey planned for 2022.
Since the one-way mission was announced, 200,000 would-be astronauts from around the world have applied to be trained for the initial four-person Mars One crew. The mission will be financed and supervised by a nonprofit organization, not NASA. An estimated 500 Muslims applied for inclusion on the mission, even though there will be no means of return.
Because a crew must agree to be marooned on the planet for the rest of their lives, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment considers it a suicide mission, despite its noble goal of making Mars more habitable for future generations of explorers. Suicide is expressly forbidden in Islam.
The fatwa creates a quandary for potential Muslim astronauts. For centuries, Muslim scientists and explorers have broadened humanity's understanding of the world.
Retreating from a risky space mission because death in an alien world is a consequence would be a repudiation of the tradition exemplified by the 14th-century Muslim explorer Ibn Battuta, one of the great travelers of all time.
Although there are many questions about the scientific practicality and technological feasibility of the Mars One mission, there should be no religious objection to it. If, as many religious traditions insist, "God created the heavens and the Earth," then Mars is a legitimate part of that creation worth exploring.