THINKING ALOUD: Into space in a time warp

 Razi Azmi

 There can be no competition between a Muslim culture which is frozen in time and the West which has moved light-years ahead thanks to its uninhibited pursuit of scientific knowledge. The clash of civilisations often cited in editorial comments since the appearance of Samuel Huntington’s famous book by that name is just that — a clash, not a competition

When the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite into space in 1957, the United States scrambled to catch up and created the National Aeronautical and Space Agency (NASA). Four years later, Yuri Gagarin of Russia became the first man to go into space.

American Alan Shepard followed him after 23 days, on May 5, 1961. The huge American investment in space research paid off and, eight years later, the US became the first country to land man on the moon.

The stiff competition between the two superpowers had crossed the frontiers of this earth as we knew it and entered space, the forbidden zone traditionally known as high heaven. The world viewed it as the contest between two systems vying for global superiority, the capitalist and communist systems.

For their part, many Muslim countries of the world continued to be client states of either the United States or the Soviet Union, seeking the economic and military support of one or the other superpower, sometimes switching sides from political, military or economic expediency, or threatening to do so to increase their bargaining power.


s to scientific and technological achievements, large numbers of Muslims even refused to believe that Neil Armstrong had, indeed, stepped on the moon and rejected the American claim as false. A man walking on the moon contradicted their traditional religious beliefs and was, therefore, regarded as impossible.

But as more and more American and Russian space probes landed on the moon sending photos and bringing back specimen rocks and the force of evidence appeared overwhelming, most traditionalist Muslims silently, if reluctantly, reconciled themselves to the reality of man’s physical intrusion of the forbidding sky, hitherto regarded as the realm of the spirits, satans and angels. A few even began to stretch some obscure references in the sacred texts to contend that space travel was not just possible but had been foretold.

Then, the Ummah rejoiced in the happy “news” that Armstrong had converted to Islam, apparently as a result of hearing the azaan (the Muslim call to prayer) on the moon. Of course, there was no such incident and no conversion, but so strong was the rumour that Armstrong was constrained officially to deny it.

Now, a Muslim is ready to enter space, but as a passenger on a Russian spaceship. The agreement to send a Malaysian aboard a Russian spacecraft was part of a billion-dollar deal in which Russia will sell Malaysia 18 Sukhoi 30-MKM fighter jets. For the time being, that is the pinnacle of achievement by any Muslim country in the arena of space science.