You would have thought them awake though they were asleep. We caused them to turn over to the right and the left, and their dog lay outstretching its two forelegs on the threshold. Had you come upon them unprepared, you would certainly have turned away from them in flight, and would certainly have been filled with awe of them. (Kahf 18:18)
Religion involves abstract concepts, including the belief in a Supreme Being that can intervene in human affairs. Such intervention can take the form of divine communication, which in its written form becomes scripture, the holy word that exceeds in quality and wisdom the literary achievements of mortal writers. These writings outline basic beliefs, and provide counsel that give humans certain guidance as they pursue their mortal pilgrimage in an uncertain world. Besides their profound impact on individuals, these guidelines help to form, and even transform, cultural and behavioral patterns that unify group thinking and social structure, that influence legal codes, that shape educational programs, and that influence life in innumerable ways. Religion, with its reliance on faith in the unseen, seems to clash with the scientific method, with its insistence on empirical data, on proof. Yet no such clash exists in true religion, which embraces all truth, visible or invisible, from whatever source. Faith and science, then, are merely different ways of knowing, two useful means of discerning truth.
Science and religion are so intertwined that some church names announce the connection: Church of Scientology, and Church of Christ, Scientist. Some of the great scientists do not feel there is a science-only limit on their research, and perceive themselves as much more than narrowly-focused scholars. For example, Dr. Francis H. C. Crick (1916–2004), the co-discoverer of the current DNA double helix model, researched the human spirit;1 Dr. Henry D. Eyring (1901–1981), world famous for his work on reaction rates in chemistry, saw no conflict between authentic religion and accurate science.2 These and innumerable scientists have affirmed belief in the existence of the human spirit and life after death.
The claim that the Holy Qur’an is scripture sent by the Creator Himself should be easily verifiable in any stage of human civilization, according to the degree of knowledge a society has at a specific time. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the last and final revelation of God, the miracle of miracles. It is the ultimate book of guidance and warning for the whole of humanity, a merciful message for mankind sent by God through the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him). Therefore, Muslims critically investigate the veracity of its claims, and analyze them scientifically; they find every aspect of it to be true according to well established scientific facts. It is pertinent to mention that we are only talking about well-established scientific facts, not theories or hypotheses, which are numerous and prone to change.3 Modern humans, however, too often have sold themselves short by limiting the quest for truth to empirical logic and reason, by granting science supremacy over scripture. This is not to say that the scientific quest is fruitless, simply that it is unduly limited. Islam has made reason the ultimate judge in everything; in the Qur'an, God links disbelief to the refusal to use reason: “Those who disbelieve simply do not use their reason and neither do they understand” (Baqara 2:171). Reason and understanding, then, are meant to buttress belief, to fortify faith. Otherwise, one incurs the merited displeasure of God, who not only compares the disbeliever to one “who hears the sounds of a call but does not distinguish any word or idea,” but also teaches that to converse with such a person “is like talking to the deaf, dumb, and blind” (Baqara 2:171). In the Holy Qur'an, God calls upon humans to look into the universe and discover its construction and structure. He commands them to do so in the conviction that their investigation of the organization of the universe will lead them to the discovery of God and His Unity: “In the creation of the heavens and the earth, in the succession of day and night, in the phenomena of ships sailing across the seas with goods for the welfare of human beings, in the fall of rain water from sky to quicken a dead earth, in populating the earth with all species of animals, in ordering of winds and clouds between sky and earth - in all these there are signs and pieces of evidence for those who reason” (Baqara 2:164).
According to the Qur'an, any scripture claiming to be a divine revelation must also be acceptable on the strength of its own reason and logic. The Qur’an is not a book of science but one of signs (each verse in the Qur’an is called aayaat which also means “sign”). Nevertheless, it conveys scientific knowledge; of the 6,000 or more verses in the Qur’an, over 1,000 of them deal with core scientific facts. For example, Anbiya 21:30 suggests that the discovery of an expanding universe, commonly called the Big Bang theory, was revealed by illuminating inspiration long before it was discovered by such scientific luminaries as Edwin Hubble and Alan Guth: “Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of Creation), before We clove them asunder?” The Holy Qur’an is full of scientific explications, including tantalizing intellectual nuggets that describe the spherical nature of planets, the nature of their orbits, human embryology, and the fundamental role water plays in life on planet Earth.4
In this article, we would like to point out a yet another scientific secret that apparently has not been analyzed by Qur’anic scholars. The verse with which this article begins (Kahf 18:18) invites discussion of two important topics that are of interest to modern physicians and others: hibernation, and the prevention of bedsores that may afflict humans during times of extended immobility, as in hibernation or serious paralytic or other illness. In the Qur’anic story of the “people of the cave,” two signs appear: an instance of long-term sleep (hibernation) and a simple method to prevent bedsores.
The chapter state that a small group of youth, believers in One God who were fleeing their own family for fear of persecution, took refuge, and sought divine grace in a large remote cave, for which they are known as the “people of the cave.” They were overtaken by sleep in the cave, which was away from sunlight and is mentioned as one of the Signs of God.
These youth slept in the cave with their dog for an exceptionally long time (309 years according to the verse 18:25), during their slumber their physical position was periodically changed, and the cave was away from direct sunlight.
You would have seen the sun, when it rose, moving away from their Cave to the right, and when it set, turning away from them to the left, while they lay in a spacious hollow in the Cave. That was one of God’s signs. (Kahf 18:17)
Let us now discuss these topics: the hibernation or a state of sleep in which they thought they were awake-a hypnogogic state, the repeated turning over, and the avoidance of sunlight in the cave. First, let us examine hibernation, which is defined as a state in which mammals, and some non-mammals, experience depressed metabolic activity characterized by exceptionally slow breathing and lower body temperature during an extended period of inactivity. A means of rest and energy conservation, hibernation reduces the need for food by relying on fats already present in the body itself. Bears are perhaps best known for their hibernation during winter, when food is more difficult to acquire, but squirrels, bats and rodents also hibernate. The Common Poorwill, a bird found in North America, hibernates, as does the Western Diamondback rattlesnake, and the Dwarf Lemur, which hibernates more than half the year (sometimes in warm temperatures). It should be noted that in the Qur’an the hibernation is described as a hypnogogic state, a state when a person believes that he or she is kind of awake.
Scientists and others are currently intrigued by the potential that hibernation offers to humans. Could induced hibernation save a seriously injured person until appropriate medical help arrives? Could hibernation reduce the demands on the heart and other organs of seriously ill patients? Could life be extended through this means? Would persons suffering from clinical depression benefit from some “time off” with no stress? What about astronauts, who would benefit from hibernation during long flights to distant locations in space?5 The Qur’an seems to suggest the possibility of space travel, as allowed by God: “O company of jinn and men, if you have power to penetrate (all) regions of the heavens and the earth; then penetrate (them)! You will never penetrate them save with (Our) sanction. Then, which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?” (Rahman 55:33–34)
Of course, the story of the believers mentioned in the Qur’an relates to a miracle that occurred long ago and it is mentioned to show the power of belief, and as one of the small signs denoting God’s existence and His mercy. However, documented occurrences of human hibernation in recent years have been highly publicized.
For instance, in 1991, Brittany Eichelberger, a West Virginia three-year-old, was rescued from a late December snowdrift, on a night when temperatures fell to –3 C. She survived, lost only a portion of one toe, and suffered a little from a weak arm and some minor pneumonia. A decade later, thirteen-month-old toddler Erika Nordby seemed to have frozen to death after crawling into the cold one night in Edmonton, Canada in February 2001. Although clinically dead, she came back after serious treatment by doctors who dealt with frostbite issues and were astounded to find that she suffered no major brain or other physical injuries that would be expected for one who had been outside for perhaps three to four hours. Although the brain had been deprived of oxygen for an extended time period, apparently the decreased body temperature and the resultant metabolism slowdown reduced the need for normal brain activity and blood flow. These “miracles” have prompted increased interest in whether similar miracles could be intentionally performed to prolong life. Karlee Kosolofski, a two-year-old, survived a six-hour ordeal in Rouleau, Saskatchewan, Canada on a night so cold (–22 C) that her body temperature plummeted to a documented 14.16 C (which placed her in the Guinness Book of World Records). A physician who helped her survive likened her badly-frozen legs to ice blocks. She lost a leg, had another severely scarred, and required grafts and surgeries. Ironically, Krista Rempel, the paramedic who was first on the scene in Rouleau later arrived first in Edmonton, to rescue Erika Nordby.6
To religious observers aware of the dual-rescue “coincidence,” it seemed apparent that the same paramedic was assigned to serve by God again to witness another miracle.
Cryogenics, which deals with the changes in materials when frozen, has helped humans (including astronauts and heart patients) by improving materials that help propel spacecrafts or that make open heart surgery safer. But what about the branch of cryogenics called cryonics, which deals directly with people, specifically frozen people? Could people be intentionally frozen until specialized help arrives within a few hours? What about within a few decades? Could patients be placed in suspended animation until a surgical procedure is improved or until genetic engineering becomes more advanced? So far, cryonicists have not succeeded in freezing and then reviving humans.
Scientists have good reason to hope that induced hibernation can work on humans because it has worked on animals. For example, when HIT-hibernation induction (inducement) trigger-is extracted from the blood of a hibernating squirrel in winter and injected into an active squirrel in the spring, this second squirrel goes into hibernation. HIT can even be shown to induced short-term hibernation in a monkey, which normally does not hibernate.7 HIT, which a bear’s body releases when the temperature decreases, is thought be a type of opiate that is similar to morphine in its chemical makeup (http://www.sciencemadesimple.com/animals.html). Could HIT help terminally ill patients, such as cancer patients who take morphine? Could it lengthen the time that animal or human organs can remain independent in transplant operations? Studies have shown that a synthetic substitute called DADLE, can dramatically “increase the time animal organs can survive in the laboratory from 8 hours to 46 hours by using an opiate-like compound in combination with a preservation method that keeps a number of organs from the same donor animal linked with connecting veins.”8
In the Qur’an we do not find mention of the hibernation inducing agents that may be present in the cave, but it is intriguing to consider that various kinds of gases, including carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide, are found in dark caves. Called oxygen-mimetic gases, these have a molecular similarity to oxygen. Because they mimic oxygen in their binding capacity, these gases can inhibit the body’s capacity to utilize oxygen (known as oxidative phosphorylation). This inhibition is important because it can reduce metabolic activity to the point that a state like sleep or even hibernation can ensue. Later, revival occurs as organisms are again placed in regular air. The cave story in the Qur’an suggests that the cave was intentionally deprived of sunlight and kept cool.
With regard to the second sign, the Holy Qur’an mentions a state of “a very long sleep” in a group of believers and their dog. One of the most interesting aspects of this miraculous sleep is that God says, “We caused them to turn over to the right and the left.” As any health care professional is well aware, a human being cannot lie down on a bed or on the ground for a long time without developing bedsores unless they change positions periodically. It is continual, unrelenting pressure that damages skin and other tissue and causes bedsores (pressure sores), especially when this pressure is applied to areas of skin that cover areas in which bones or cartilage are prominent. The parallel between the modern remedy for bedsores and the universal wisdom of the Qur’an is impressive.
There are numerous secrets in the Qur’an that we see the world has ignored due to apathy, ignorance, or arrogance. Muslims, as well as others who seek for truth wherever it exists, would do well to pay closer attention to the Qur’an and to the aayaat or signs of God. As this article demonstrates, faith complements science at its best, and true science becomes a subset of true religion. Together, the two function more like an intertwined double-helix in DNA than like two geometric rays pointed in different directions.
1. See Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, 1994.
2. See The Faith of a Scientist, 1969.
3. See Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,1962.
4. These and many other subjects have been explored by many authors-notably Dr. Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, the Qu’ran and Science: The Holy Scriptures Examined in the Light of Modern Knowledge (1990), but also by such scholars as A. Abd-Allah, The Qur’an, Knowledge, and Science (USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts. University of Soutern California. Internet. <http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/scislam.html>. Accessed 30 May 2008.), and Dr. Zakir Adbul Karim Naik, Qur’an and Modern Science – Compatible or Incompatible? (2003; see also http://www.irf.net/irf/drzakirnaik/dznindex.htm (download of text), http://www.irf.net/irf/ drzakirnaik/index.htm, and http://www.islamicvoice.com/may.2000/religion.htm).
5. Tariq Malik, “A Sleepy Science: Will Humans Hibernate Their Way Through Space?”, Science 12 October 2004. Internet. http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/ scitues_hibernation_041012.html.
6. CBC News Online, “Hypothermia.” Indepth: Health. 16 July 2004. Internet. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/health/hypothermia.html. See also, Robert Roy Britt, “New Hibernation Technique Might Work on Humans.” 21 April 2005. Internet. http://www.livescience.com/health/050421_hibernation.html, John Harlow, “Race to be first to ‘hibernate’ human beings.” The Sunday Times. TimesOnline. 27 May 2007. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article1845294.ece
7. Great Moments in Science, ABC, http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/moments/s1038546.htm.
8. (Neil Swan, “Hibernation-Triggering Opioid Extends Life of Organs for Transplantation.” NIDA Notes, Research Advances. Vol. 11, no. 1 Jan–Feb. 1996, See also Chien, S.; Oeltgen, P.R.; Diana, J.N.; Salley, R.K.; and Su, T.-P. Extension of tissue survival time in multiorgan block preparation with a delta opioid DADLE. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery 107:965–67, 1994; Oeltgen, P.R.; Horton, N.D.; Bolling, S.F.; and Su, T.-P. Extended lung preservation with the use of hibernation trigger factors. Annals of Thoracic Surgery; Oeltgen, P.R.; Nuchols, P.A.; Nilekani, S.P.; Spurrier, W.A.; and Su, T.-P. Further studies on opioids and hibernation: Delta opioid receptor ligand selectively induced hibernation in summer-active ground squirrels. Life Sciences 43:1565–1574, 1988; Charles F. Schwartz, MD, Anthony J. Georges, MD, Marsha A. Gallagher, Le Yu, Kenneth S. Kilgore, PhD, Steven F. Bolling, MD, “Delta opioid receptors and low temperature myocardial protection.” Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 1999;68:2089–2092. Internet. http://ats.ctsnetjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/68/6/2089.