Pretty soon, Turkish Airlines’ crew will be rolling out prayer rugs on board their aircraft. Not only between arrival and departure of a jetliner, i.e. when parked on the apron of an airport, but also during flight. The airline's CEO, Ahmet Bolat, has now announced his prayer provisions via LinkedIn, valid for crew at passenger and cargo aircraft. Opposition parties claim that the 63-year-old owes his job to his loyalty to the Head of State, Erdogan, whose minion he is.
Although there are different interpretations, the rule for faithful Muslims is usually that they should pray five times a day: Namely, before sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset, and finally the night prayer before going to sleep. When these rules were issued, there were no airplanes linking continents, and people did not cross time zones within a few hours.
Many hurdles to obey to Islamic rules
Today's travel behavior is completely different. Flying long-distance and bridging continents is common practice. This could cause problems with prayer times. For instance, a flight taking from Istanbul (IST) to New York (JFK), crosses seven time zones. TK111, departs IST at 00:40 and arrives in JFK at 04:30 local time. On paper, the A330-300 only needs four hours for the trip, but in reality, overcoming the geographical distance of 8,000 kilometers between the two metropoles amounts to almost 11 hours.
This complicates the correct timing for faithful prayers among crew and passengers.
In addition to cabin personnel, airline CEO Bolat also asks cockpit crew to stick to prayer rules and times. However, this might pose safety risks. What if an emergency occurs whilst the Captain and First Officer are deeply absorbed in their prayers? One that requires immediate action, but where both cannot react to ground control warnings? This scenario may sound exaggerated, but it cannot be ruled out.
Non-Muslim passengers are also likely to react with bewilderment to flight attendants rolling out a prayer rug in the galley or cabin aisle of a jetliner, to fulfill their religious duties. That said, Etihad has already come up with a solution for guiding prayers towards Mecca. In every aircraft, there are electronic and GPS-supported displays that point in the direction of the holy city. This may be a model for Turkish Airlines’ fleet as well.
Solutions practiced in the sky might help
The flight of Malaysian Muszaphar Shukor to the International Space Station shows that practical solutions can be found. In 2007, he was the first Muslim ever to spend some time in orbit as member of an ISS team. To enable him to fulfill his Islamic duties some 400 km above Earth, the Malaysian Ministry of Islamic Development sent him guidelines adapted to the ISS flight route.
Back to Turkish Airlines; a review of social media channels shows that they are full of comments and statements about the prayer plans of the carrier’s management. Besides supporting contributions, a lot of ridicule and malice can be found. “The airline should deduct the prayer time from the salary, because if a crew member prays, he or she cannot take care of the travelers, which is the real job of flying personnel,” writes one user on X (formerly Twitter). “Who will pay for the damage if I accidentally trip over someone praying in the aisle, fall down and injure myself?” another asks.
Banning alcoholic beverages from the cabins of the fleet because the consumption of wine, beer, or liqueur does not comply with Islamic rules, is demanded in a further comment by an unnamed writer.
The new battle of cultures is also raging within the airline itself. According to the online portal, Gazete Duvar, the Turkish Airlines board has fired a flight captain for disrespecting Islamic rules. The captain had instructed a co-pilot to wait until after landing before praying. Now the fellow is looking for a new job.
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