This imam of the Eloran branch of Interstellar Islam wears a
traditional garb influenced by their Terran origin, with an ornate
abaya and a veil. Note the earrings made of geometry crystals.
Interstellar Islam, sometimes referred to as The Third Branch of Islam, is a current of Islam that developed among non-Terran Muslim communities during the interstellar age, first in the Traverse. With 400 million practitioners, Interstellar Islam is one the major religions of the modern era, albeit it is not as coherent and theologically isolated as the Outer Church. Indeed, and despite a few major disagreements, Terran Muslims consider Interstellar Muslims as siblings in faith, and vice versa.
A Side Road
The decentralized nature of Islam and the relative isolation of the first extrasolar settlements led to significant doctrinal and political drift compared to Terran Islam. The gradual widening of the gap led to the emergence of a set of doctrines, interpretations and rituals that, by convention, are lumped under the denomination of Interstellar Islam. It is, however, not a united sect, and most scholars consider Interstellar Islam as a constellation of planetary Islamic branches with their own interpretations of the Quran and Hadiths, a tree rather than a singular path. That being said, Interstellar Islam can still be defined by what it isn't, that is to say, Shia or Sunni. Extrasolar Muslims do not recognize the legitimacy of Earth-based religious authorities and untransformed words, that is to say Hadiths, statements of religious law or interpretations of the Quran that haven't been revised and updated by extrasolar scholars. Transformation, the displacement of belief into the physical and mental environment of extrasolar worlds, is at the heart of Interstellar Islam. Out of all the divergent religions, Interstellar Islam puts the greatest emphasis on the existence of a mental and spiritual barrier between the Earth and the rest of human worlds.
The Six Pillars of Islam
Despite its theological diversity, Interstellar Islam maintain a coherent doctrine through its Six Pillars, which take elements from Shia, Sufi and Sunni Islam. The Six Pillars are only observed in their entirety on Elora, while other communities only practice some of them, or merge them with local interpretations.
- The first pillar is the Shahada, or proclamation of faith. It is unchanged from the Terran proclamation: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." It is said during the prayer, and it is considered acceptable to display it on the hull of Muslim-crewed spaceships. Reciting the Shahada in Arabic is the only required gesture to convert to Interstellar Islam and as such any creature capable of intelligent communication can convert.
- The second pillar is the Salah, or prayer. Much like the Terran prayer, it begins with ablutions and is called by a muezzin, who either chants or displays messages. The faithful is not required to be facing Mecca, albeit some imams advise to do it whenever possible. Elorans typically face the southern pole of the planet. The prayer is often done only twice a day, with the pace being dictated by the local conditions of the planet.
- The third pillar is Zakat, or almsgiving. Within the economy of extrasolar worlds, charity is rare and instead Zakat is expected to be conducted through community work. On majority Muslim worlds and stations, the Zakat is organised through communal organisations and syndicates, which are highly regarded in the humanitarian and scholarly spheres.
- The fourth pillar is Sawm, fasting, which is practiced during the month of Ramadan. In the early days of Interstellar Islam, the sacred month was aligned on the Terran calendar, but is soon proved impractical, and now each planet or station has its own month of Ramadan. It is considered that one shouldn't fast more than once per Earth year, and as such a traveller who would be arriving on a planet during the month of Ramadan isn't expected to fast it they already did so within the past year.
- The fifth pillar is the Hajj, or pilgrimage, which is a great point of contention among Interstellar Muslims, as many spacers do not wish to or can't perform the pilgrimage to Mecca. Traditions differ regarding the Hajj, with some planetary currents relinquishing it entirely and others professing that the pilgrimage to Darb ut-Tabānah station, in the Elora system, is sufficient. Smyrnian Muslims, in line with Ismaili traditions, consider that the only valuable Hajj is the visit to the imam.
- The sixth pillar is Space travel : Interstellar Islam considers the geometry drive as a gift from God, and faster-than-light travel as both a way to witness the might of God (through the marvels of creations) and to perform self-betterment. It is common for a geometry drive to be displayed in the mihrab of a mosque, and many imams work as navigators.
Illustration for Starmoth by Tiucoo.
This pastor of the Outer Church wears the color purple, considered as a symbol of love and majesty, and the clerical collar borrowed from catholic traditions. The white dot on their forehead signals that they are married according to the Eloran rite.
The Outer Church, sometimes known as the Church of the Outer Stars, is a branch of Christianity that developed in the Low Age and found prominence among interstellar Christian communities during the past century. Though it originated as a simple offshoot of the Catholic Church, the Outer Church has significantly diverged in doctrinal and practical aspects, to the point many theologians do not consider it as Christian anymore, albeit Outerian believers generally see themselves as such. With 200 million believers, the Outer Church is among the three largest divergent interstellar faiths and is very well-represented in the solar system.
A Tritheist Church
The most striking theological divergence of the Outer Church is its refusal of the Trinity. The Outer Church negates the consensus of the Council of Nicaea and does not accept the idea of one God existing in three equal, eternal and consubstantial divine persons. This refusal is more radical than the usual forms of nontrinitarianism in Christian theology, which generally hinge on denying the full divine nature of Jesus Christ (such as Arianism) or stating that the distinctiveness of the Father, the Son and the resurrected Spirit are merely perceptions of the believer (such as Modalism). Instead, the Outer Church considers that the Trinity is in fact three separate, equal and almighty deities which act in unison but possess their distinctiveness: the Parent, the Child and the Word (Holy Spirit), all referred to with a singular They. Thus the fundamental creed of the Outer Church is tritheism, which denies Christian monotheism.
The origins of this tritheist belief are unclear even to historians. While the Low Age saw many a spiritual resurgence, from paganism to simpler, older forms of monotheist spirituality, there are no records of prominent Christian sects defending an actual tritheist doctrine in history -- the notion was generally used as an accusation, not as a self-proclaimed creed. Critics of the Outer Church in the Christian community consider the emergence of Outerian tritheism as the consequence of a loss of theological knowledge during the Low Age and multiple misreadings of the Bible. The Outer Church itself defends tritheism on the basis of nominalist thought: if the Parent and the Word were truly one substance, then it would mean both of them what have to be incarnate as well. In that regard, Outerian theologians align on medieval thinker Roscelin of Compiègne, though the reference is likely unintentional.
Many Christians, and Catholics in particular argue that tritheism makes the Outer Church non-Christian and de facto heretical, to which the Outer Church -- which itself considers trinitarian Christians as merely misguided, but believing in the same creed -- responds with utmost contempt.
Stellar Saints, Elected Pastors, the One Sacrament and Inherent Salvation
The Outer Church refuses the cult of human saints, which it considers as a disguised form of idolatry -- however, it encourages and enshrines a form of "stellar sanctity", where astronomical objects are imbued with the values of the Church. Star saints are meant to direct prayers and provide a concrete, physical anchor to the worship of the faithful, not to be an object of worship themselves -- despite what misguided Papist might say, Outerians do not "pray the stars", they merely consider them to be the direct evidence of the existence of God, through natural wonder. As the Outer Church, like all Abrahamic faiths, is concerned with eschatology, out-of-sequence stellar remnants are of particular interest to its pastors -- the holiest site of the Outer Church is Saint Magdalene's Abbey, a sanctified station orbiting Sagittarius A*, at the core of the Milky Way.
The Outer Church prides itself on not having any hierarchy, as its pastors are elected by the communities of the faithful (generally at the scale of a parish) and do not obey bishops or a Pope; instead, the canon of the Outer Church is established through Councils, which in the absence of the Papacy are organised through referendums among pastors. Due to this, the Outer Church is a very dynamic sect, at the forefront of modern theology. It is fairly common to see sub-sects orbiting in and out of the Outer Church as the accepted canon is changed with every new Council.
The pastors of the Outer Church lead the prayer in the parish's local language and only carry out a single sacrament -- the holy communion, which is done with unleavened sacramental bread and heavy water; following the tradition of the Plymouth Brethren, the Outerians believe the communion to be a symbolic re-enactment of the Last Supper, with no real presence of the Child. As the doctrine of the Outer Church considers any and all sophonts -- and not only humans -- to be already saved and within God's realm, the pastors do not carry out baptism. They thus hold the view that even non-human intelligences can receive the Gospel, including Sequence, Forgotten Traveller or Vriij aliens.
Illustration for Starmoth by Tiucoo.
The Omphal is the single most powerful religious organisation in human space and by all accounts a quasi-state in terms of power, capability and reach. This is not the first time in post-industrial history that religious societies have reached such a stage; among other examples, there is the notable precedent of the Outer Church, which pioneered early space flight in the Low Age. The Omphal, however, doesn't have a religion, or if it does it's in the loosest sense of the word.
The ideology of the Omphal is absolute inclusivism. In the eyes of the Omphal, there is no absolute religious truth. All religions and beliefs are correct, all at once, even in their contradictions. Divine revelation is a continuous and progressive process, with the teachings of every single religion in the world just being an aspect of this truth. Crucially, the Omphal also believes that divine truth is incomplete and as such, there is no way to determine which religion is more correct than others. This incompleteness is radical. It is radically impossible to access the divine truth. The only elements humans can deduce are the shattered aspects of unfathomable concepts which the various beliefs of humankind translate in their own way. The diversity of religion actually reinforces the understanding of this divine truth, as each of them casts a different light on it. Each religion has to be nurtured, understood and protected. In fact, even atheism is integrated in this ideology, as the undying faith in a world without the divine. Faith is the most fundamental aspect of human experience and the Omphal will protect and sublime it.
The Omphal was founded out of the ruins of the Outer Church and currently takes the shape of a religious cooperative not unlike the Marxist Outer Conclave but with radically different means and ends. The Omphal exists alongside human religions as an umbrella organisation that tasks itself with furthering the understanding, establishment and coherence of human faiths. The Omphal is always remarkably open about its goals and, probably inspired by the ultimate fate of the Outer Church at the hands of the USRE, always tries to work with or alongside planetary communes.
The Omphal itself is divided into orders, or Lodges, which are first and foremost styles. The organisation has a very peculiar relationship to rituals, symbols, chants and writings. Religion is illusion and the Omphal will never argue against this. It simply considers that, with the absence of absolute divine truth, this illusion is what constitutes the heart of religion. Omphal buildings are vast cathedral-like structures that display a staggering syncretism of almost every faith in human history, filled with incense, colourful symbols and golden jewels...or sometimes simple, austere chambers reminiscent of the simplicity of ancient cults. Members of the Omphal, when in service of the organisation, often refer to their Omphal persona using xe/xem pronouns, regardless of their usual pronouns.
Based on Cathedral Station and Mundis, the Omphal currently has five main orders.
- Order of the Moon: a surviving order from the Outer Church which acts as the Omphal's diplomatic and cooperative branch. Its members wear simple black and white apparel and often use feminine pronouns regardless of their gender. The order of the Moon entertains its own sub-religion dedicated to its mythical founder, Saint Jyothi. Many of its members are former or active Solar Envoys.
- Order of the Path: this order wears red and white/gold. It is often considered as the most flamboyant order, maintaining a small fleet of ships that take design clues from Hindu temples and gothic cathedrals alike. Behind their cowls and veils, the members of the Path are skilled spacers and navigators, offering their services to pilgrims and priestesses alike.
- Order of the Pillar: wearing simple white tunics, the members of the Pillar are engineers, architects and land planners who are dedicated to cataloguing, maintaining and in some cases building places of worship, regardless of religion or belief. The Pillar is mostly active on Earth due to the sheer density of historical buildings on the planet.
- Order of the Lodge: the Lodge is an order of librarians, theologists and historians that keep and maintain records of the complex history of human religions with the end goal of creating a universal encyclopedia of spirituality, a massive undertaking which they refer to as their "paper cathedral". The members of the Lodge are almost as flamboyant as the followers of the Path, adorned in gold and white, followed by the scent of incense and the sight of candles floating in zero-g.
- Order of the Shattered Star: members of the Shattered Star never show their faces, hidden behind veils, ritual masks and shifting q-augs. They are the most secretive Omphal order, invested in the strange art of xenotheology, the study and occasional worship of non-human deities. In public, they wear long black robes covered in silver ornaments. During digs and expeditions, they like to use voidsuits equipped with biomechanical tendrils, anti-radiation robes, additional artificial eyes and drones shaped like human skulls. It is uncertain if the Shattered Star is putting an act for unknowable alien deities or if its members genuinely enjoy their well-defined aesthetic.
"We have never ceased to believe."
Religion in the interstellar age is a vast and complex topic that requires to consider the matter of religion during the Low Age.
In the post-industrial context of the Low Age, religious or para-religious orders played a very important role in conserving knowledge and cultural achievements from times past, though this does not mean the Low Age was necessarily more religious than the industrial age. In fact, many of the religious or spiritual orders born in the Low Age evolved into powerful communes and cooperatives which slowly lost their religious nature to turn into more secular organisations. The best example of this phenomenon is the various Muslim and Christian orders that coalesced into the Moon Communes. Aside from this prevalence of religious orders, the Low Age saw sweeping changes in the worldwide religious landscape, both through the evolution of historical religions and the creations of new ones, often forged in the intellectual renaissance of the solarpunk movement. Most of these changes have carried over to the interstellar era, where spirituality plays an important role, especially in isolated settlements that try to develop their own identity.
Yoruba Syncretism is the only major modern religion that was truly born in the Low Age, albeit it predated it (and most monotheist religions) by several thousand years. Though it originated in the homeland of the Yoruba people in Nigeria, this Polytheist-Animist religion also birthed numerous lineages in the Caribbean and Latin America during the pre-industrial and industrial era. Intense syncretism with various African traditions, Islam and Christianity during the Low Age gave birth to what is commonly described as Yoruba Syncretism -- a complex, multipolar religion with a multitude of Orishas, or deities, and a supreme God that is sometimes merged with Allah or the Christian God. As Nigeria and Kenya became superpowers during the late Low Age, Yoruba Syncretism became the face of the Africa-led "second space age" and thus spread to many extrasolar worlds, becoming one of the largest human religions. In present day, 650 million people follow Yoruba syncretism. The African city of Ile-Ife and the African Space Elevator are the main sacred Yoruba sites.
Christianity is still present under various shapes, albeit it remains mostly confined to the Earth, with the planet acting as a religious beacon, especially for Catholics. The various schisms of Christianity, by far the most chaotic modern religion, are described in greater detail here. The Outer Church is often lumped under Christianity due to its Marxist-evangelist origin in the Low Age. However, whether or not a religion that describes God as a woman, celebrates the stars as saints and FTL translations as sacraments has anything to do with Christianity anymore is an exercise best left to theologians. Christianity is what Christians want it to be, and while it is mostly established outside of the Earth, the Outer Church remains a fascinating example of how the FTL era shaped the old religions. In total, a little more than 600 million people identify as Christians, mostly on Earth in the Socialist Republics of Europe and Latin America.
Islam was significantly reshaped by the Low Age. Though the Sunni/Shia divide is still alive and well, the real line of fracture within Islam is now between Terran, or Traditional Islam, and Interstellar Islam. Though Interstellar Islam shares a very similar theology, it has a completely different reading of FTL travel. Traditional Islam sees the geometry drive as a tool. Interstellar Islam sees it as an instrument of Allah, a paracausal device intended to reveal the beauty of creation. Interstellar Islam mosques will often have a geometry drive in their mirhab, and its imams generally double as pilots or navigators. While both Muslim movements go on pilgrimage to Mecca, Interstellar Islam allows its followers to replace the Hajj by a pilgrimage to Darb ut-Tabānah Station. There are 900 million Muslims in human space, making Islam one of the driving cultural and religious forces of present-day humankind.
Hinduism is often considered as the de facto religion of the USRE due to its Indian origins, albeit Islam could readily dispute that claim. Modern Hinduism didn't significantly change during the Low Age, save for the loss of several holy sites due to climate change and their replacement by new ones. Its sister variant, often called Eloran Hinduism due to its birthplace on the solarpunk world, is very similar on a surface level. Yet, Eloran Hinduism is better understood as a form of polytheist syncretism, where Hindu deities coexist alongside Shinto and animist influences, and where Saraswati is considered as the main deity -- which is reflected in the fact that the Saraswati Arcology, towering at 5,000 metres above the Eloran sea, is the holiest site of extrasolar Hinduism. Both Hindu currents total more than a billion followers, making Hinduism the most prominent human religion.
Buddhism remains relatively confined to the Earth, albeit many Buddhist enclaves can be found in extrasolar space. As a religion, it went through the Low Age remarkably unchanged, albeit its expansion to outer space led to a flourish of new aesthetics, where historical Buddhist temples are the exception rather than the rule. In total, Buddhism claims 400 million followers across human space. Aside from its historical sacred sites, modern Buddhism also considers the South Asian Space Elevator as a pilgrimage site, taking the elevation of the soul to the letter.
Animism is probably the most "artificial" category in religious census, as it covers not a single one but a myriad of religions revived by the Low Age, from the various currents of African animism to modern ancestor worship as practised in the Irenian Enclaves for instance. 400 million sophonts self-identify as animists, among which a surprising number of artificial intelligences. Animism also covers spacer shamanism and the various "star cults."
About 200 million sophonts identify as religious, but without belonging to one of the major religions; the main minor organized religions in human space would be Judaism, Sikhism modern Neo-Paganism and the Yazidi faith.
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