We will likely see people living on Mars in the future. It’s a scenario that human beings for a long time have imagined and sometimes despotic scenarios are depicted in movies and literature about what life will look like.
That’s fiction. In the domain of non-fiction, several missions were launched to explore the possibility of actualizing our dream of one day inhabiting the red planet. This effort to a step forward when our Arab friends in the UAE launched the Hope Probe last June. An effort that was celebrated across the Arab world and symbolized a new renaissance that could shake off our dormant reliance on the west and allow us to join once again the path towards scientific excellence. So do I support Mars explorations? Of course, I do.
I believe that we must explore and marvel upon the intricate design that we were gifted with. I also believe that a crucial part of being grateful to the many gifts that we are blessed with is to try to understand them and this is partly accomplished through human space travel. From what we know now about Mars can we presume beyond the shadow of a doubt that we can have a human colony on the Red planet? I don’t know, but for argument’s sake let’s say that we can and imagine the type of life that we will be leading on our planetary adventure.
To begin with, I believe that the first colony on Mars will probably be cosmopolitan. The first Mars settlers will probably be more motivated with a common dream rather than by the customary social ties of family, clan or nationality. One tie might still be important for some of our explorers as they roam Mars: religion. Religion as a bond between an individual human being and a Divine being might still exist. I could further go ahead and claim might also be further strengthened.
Firstly, the human-God relation will endure, because unlike the social-biological ties that one has willingly chosen to substitute with social-ideological ties when one feels alone in a new setup we typically try to seek refuge with a higher power. When a situation becomes uncertain we rely on this Omnipotent guide to usher us to a safe future. You can witness this in the sheer amount of times Muslims answer “Inshallah” - if God wills it - whenever we don’t know the answer. The second reason is that religion provides historical grounding. It binds us to our past, even if we chose to sever our ties with it. Nevertheless, I believe religion on Mars isn't the same religion that we have on earth.
When I was researching what Muslim scholars thought about travelling to Mars I found two main concerns. The first was an answer by the Emirati religious authority to the question about if it is religiously permissible to travel to Mars and not return. The authority answered that human life is sacred and if any activity jeopardizes it, then it will be considered impermissible. The answer caused quite an uproar and the authority had to release a statement saying the words were taken out of context. One of the principles of Islam, and many other religions is the sanctity of human life and in this respect, the authority was not mistaken.
The second was an answer by the Egyptian Dar Al Efta, the highest religious legislative authority, to the question of the orientation of Qibla, the direction of prayer towards Mecca, on Mars. The authority answered that space exploration should be encouraged. It also added that on Mars, Muslims can pray in any direction because God belongs to East and West. This sentence struck a chord in my heart. Wherever we may turn we will find God, this is what the Quran tells us. Yet, we can forget that sometimes. We become so captivated with the right place to look for God, the right path to arrive to Him, and the exact words through which we can address him, forgetting that He is everywhere, that every path leads to Him and that He can hear our prayers and our thoughts.
Perhaps travelling to Mars can release religion from the shackles that we have bound it with. The geographic, temporal and cultural restraints that were supposed to guide believers but imprisoned them in dogmatic practices that reduced our relationship to the Divine to a show that is performed to be granted the title of good Muslims by fellow good Muslims. Perhaps, as the spacecraft takes its flight from Earth to Mars we can finally understand that wherever we may turn we will find God.