Friday, 24 July 2015

Did a Muslim walk on the moon?

Someone once insisted to me that a Muslim space shuttle made it to the moon before the American one did. She was a teacher I had in college, and she thought that fact proved that Muslims were superior to Americans. I asked her when that was and what the mission was called and she just kept repeating the word for “space shuttle” in Arabic and eventually I gave up.

Some time later I got on the internet and did some Googling in both languages and found out that there was a rumour that Neil Armstrong heard the athan on the moon and converted to Islam there. (The rest of this story is under a cut).

 From Wikipedia:

Since the early 1980s, Armstrong has been the subject of a hoax saying that he converted to Islam after hearing the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, while walking on the Moon. The Indonesian singer Suhaemi wrote a song called "Gema Suara Adzan di Bulan" ("The Resonant Sound of the Call to Prayer on the Moon") which described Armstrong's conversion; the song was discussed widely in various Jakarta news outlets in 1983.[140] Other similar hoax stories were seen in Egypt and Malaysia. In March 1983, the U.S. State Department responded by issuing a global message to Muslims saying that Armstrong "has not converted to Islam".[141] However, the hoax was not completely quieted; it surfaced occasionally for the next three decades. A part of the confusion stems from the similarity between Armstrong's American residence in Lebanon, Ohio, and the country Lebanon which has a majority population of Muslims.[141][142]

In the course of researching this, I found out that Buzz Aldrin performed communion on the moon, although it was not publicised at the time:

Before Armstrong and Aldrin stepped out of the lunar module on July 20, 1969, Aldrin unstowed a small plastic container of wine and some bread. He had brought them to the moon from Webster Presbyterian church near Houston, where he was an elder. Aldrin had received permission from the Presbyterian church's general assembly to administer it to himself. In his book Magnificent Desolation he shares the message he then radioed to Nasa: "I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way."
He then ate and drank the elements. The surreal ceremony is described in an article by Aldrin in a 1970 copy of Guideposts magazine: "I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements."

He also read a section of the gospel of John. During it all, Armstrong, reportedly a deist, is said to have watched respectfully but without making any comment.  (The Guardian September 13 2012)
(That article has been written since I originally researched this.  There's a lot more information about this on the internet than there used to be).
The rumour that a Muslim walked on the moon is partially supported these days by Buzz Aldrin's one mention of Islam, when he talks about the communion he performed on the moon:

In [his book] Magnificent Desolation, Aldrin explains how astronaut Deke Slayton, who ran the Apollo 11 flight crew operations, told him to tone down his lunar communiqué. "Go ahead and have communion, but keep your comments more general," he advised. Looking back Aldrin writes that the communion was his way of thanking God for the success of the mission. Yet, later he hinted that he could have been more inclusive:
"Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion.
Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind – be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists."
O'Hair's case against Nasa eventually fizzled out, but it dramatically changed the tone of the Apollo 11 landing. Aldrin had originally intended a much more pioneering Christopher Columbus-style ceremony on the moon. That was never to be. (The Guardian September 13 2012)

Prominent atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair was suing NASA for a ban on astronauts practising religion anywhere, including in space, because she believed it violated the separation between church and state. (The Apollo 8 mission had previously read the creation account from Genesis in orbit). So the communion was never broadcast.

O'Hair's life did not end well:

She disappeared in 1995 along with her son Jon and granddaughter Robin Murray. After a long hunt, their dismembered and charred bodies were found in a field. Authorities believe that David Waters, a former employee of O'Hair, masterminded a plot to rob and murder O'Hair. Her born-again son, William Murray, who lost not only his mother but also his brother and daughter to Waters and his associates, has spoken very strongly about his upbringing under O'Hair. He mourns his family but believes his mother was pumped up by her own hype and was even evil. In a statement given in 1999 he said, "she honestly believed she had singlehandedly removed prayer from school. She honestly believed she had 'liberated' America sexually".    (The Guardian September 13 2012)

Aldrin's church, Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston, still celebrates Lunar Communion Sunday every July, and they still hold the chalice that Aldrin used on the moon and brought back with him.

Armstrong has publicly denied becoming a Muslim a few times, and the US State Department said it was untrue, and Islam Q&A even wrote an opinion saying that the story was untrue, but it still goes around.

I think the story that our teacher told us was probably a combination of the rumour that Neil Armstrong became Muslim, and Yuri Gargarin's 1961 orbit in Vostok 1. Someone heard that an astronaut was Muslim, and that the Americans were not the first ones in space, and the stories were combined and then a decades-long game of telephone was played by people who had no internet (until very recently), and very little access to books. These things happen. 

 I do kinda blame my teacher for teaching things she hadn't fact-checked, though. She also taught us that fat people were stupider than thin people. It wasn't a very good college.


  1. omigosh your college still sounds like fun. We should totally get allt he canadian girls we know to go there. I think it would be awesome;)

    1. omg some of the teachers at my college were so dumb. I learned to look for evidence before believing anything.