A religious row has broken out over Mars One's plans to send volunteers to the Red Planet on a one-way mission that will be televised for the world's entertainment.
In April the Dutch group Mars One announced plans to send four people to a Martian habitat by 2023, with more settlers arriving every two years. The estimated $6bn cost of the trip will be covered by the sale of TV rights. But now the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (GAIAE) has issued a fatwa forbidding devout Muslims from taking part.
"Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam," the committee said, The Khaleej Times reports. "There is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death."
Up to 500 Muslims are reported to have applied for the Mars One mission, and the GAIAE indicated that some of these people may be trying to escape punishment for crimes here on Earth, or avoid confronting God when they die. It said such efforts were futile since God was everywhere, both on Mars and Earth.
The fatwa, or legal ruling, is the historical form of guidance handed down to those following the Islamic faith, based on a writings in the Quran, or on the accounts of the teachings and practices of the Prophet Mohammed (the Sunnah), or from religious doctrine decided by Muslim clerics.
"Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Quran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful," said the GAIAE's President Professor Dr Farooq Hamada.
The Dutch team behind Mars One begs to differ. In a statement the group said that exploration was a long-standing Muslim tradition and the Quran encouraged adherents to explore the wonders of God's creation.
The group says the mission is not suicidal, since advance missions will deliver to Mars all the necessary ingredients for life before the first humans arrive. This will also give Mars One time to practice their landings using unmanned vessels to reduce the risk of crashing the astronauts onto the Red Planet's surface.
"Mars One respectfully requests GAIAE to cancel the fatwa and make the greatest Rihla, or journey, of all times open for Muslims too," said Mars One.
"They can be the first Muslims to witness the signs of God's creation in heaven, drawing upon the rich culture of travel and exploration of early Islam. The lives and journey of the first Mars settlers will tell us more about our place in the universe than any other humans before us."
In the meantime the team notes that the fatwa only prohibits Muslims from going on the actual mission, not from applying to take part and undergo the eight years of training required for the trip. The team vowed to work with the GAIAE to assuage its concerns in the meantime. ®