RIYADH, 12 October 2007 — Prince Sultan ibn Salman, the first Arab Muslim astronaut, remembers how he viewed the joyous sight of new moon of Eid Al-Ftir of 1405 (1985) while swimming in space aboard the US space shuttle Discovery.
Talking to Arab News, Prince Sultan, who is now the secretary-general of the Supreme Commission for Tourism, said he had completed a full recitation of the Holy Qur’an in six days of his unforgettable space journey. The prince had devoted part of his allocated sleeping time for the recitation.
The prince also remembered how the late King Fahd conveyed him the Eid greetings while he was on board the Discovery.
Prince Sultan points out that the experience of fasting in the fathomless space is an unforgettable experience. He had set out on the voyage on the last day of Ramadan in 1405.
“During the holy month of Ramadan which fell in summer that year, I underwent the special training for the voyage at the Space Center in Houston. I endured severe heat and thirst during the training days there when the night did not exceed six hours. The journey was originally scheduled to start on 24th of Ramadan but was postponed till 29th of Ramadan,” said Prince Sultan.
The prince continued that the doctors at NASA observed the effect of fasting on his health.
He also was seeking the advice of Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Baz on many matters pertaining to fasting during the training days. The doctors affirmed that his physical health during the fasting days was excellent and that he was fit to be sent to the Kennedy Space Center for the seven-day medical quarantine prior to the space journey.
Finally on the 29th of Ramadan the team set out to board the Discovery. The prince was praying for the success. He was fasting after taking the suhour and praying the dawn prayer.
Prince Sultan remembers how he asked Bin Baz about the regulations of fasting while on the space voyage.
“The religious scholar told me that I could break the fast on the basis of the timing of the place on earth from where I started the fasting,” he said. “We had set out from Florida.”
The prince ascertained the time of the sunset in order to break the fast of the day. He also heard on the radio that the next day was Eid in Saudi Arabia.
Prince Sultan also noted that that he could not see the new moon on that day. But on the second day he could see the new moon and informed the Saudi scientific team under Abdullah Al-Dabbagh, present president of the Maaden Company, that he could see the new moon on the second.
After careful investigation the authorities confirmed that one day of Ramadan was missed and was to be compensated.
The prince said that he observed the obligatory prayers in the space journey on basis of the views of Bin Baz and Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, the Kingdom’s grand mufti. He had performed the ablutions using moistened napkins because of the lack of gravity in space.
The prince hoped that the Malaysian space traveler would be careful to observe religious duties during his trip and strive to highlight the great Islamic values. The prince wished success to the new Muslim space traveler and that he would make a complete recital of the Holy Qur’an as he did in his journey.
The prince also invited the Malaysian doctor to perform Umrah and visit Saudi Arabia.
Prince Sultan also noted with pride that Saudi engineeers succeeded in arranging a telephone call between him and King Fahd while the French engineers failed to arrange a call for a French space traveler on the team with his president.