[Al-Quran 50:6-8] Have they not looked at the heaven above them - how We structured it and adorned it and how it has no rifts? And the earth - We spread it out and cast therein firmly set mountains and made grow therein [something] of every beautiful kind, Giving insight and a reminder for every servant who turns [to Allah].

Monday, May 26, 2014

People of the Cave

Related posts:

Al-Qur’an Chapter 18 starts with the statement that Allah has sent this Book and allowed therein no crookedness. It then goes on to relate three very strange stories, the first of which is about the People who slept in a Cave, in verses 9-26. The following is an attempt to understand these verses in the light of what scientists have discovered so far.  As verse 22 warns us that there are debates & guesswork regarding the number of Sleepers, and expressly forbids us from entering into controversies regarding them, comparisons with similar stories in other religions have been deliberately avoided.

Interpretation 
Why is it not something strange or surprising for people to have slept for an extended period of time in a cave?
The story of the People of the Cave in Chapter 18 Verse 9 starts with the question:
 أَمْ حَسِبْتَ أَنَّ أَصْحَابَ الْكَهْفِ وَالرَّقِيمِ كَانُوا مِنْ آيَاتِنَا عَجَبًا
[Shakir]‘ Or, do you think that the Fellows of the Cave and the Inscription were of Our wonderful signs?’
[Pickthal] ‘Or deemest thou that the People of the Cave and the Inscription are a wonder among Our portents?’
[Yusuf Ali] ‘Or dost thou reflect that the Companions of the Cave and of the Inscription were wonders among Our Sign?’

What do we know about cave-life?
‘Cave creatures live buried alive. Troglobites—the technical name for these millipedes, spiders, worms, blind salamanders, and eyeless fish—are made to navigate, mate, and kill amid perpetual darkness, desperate starvation, poison gases, and endless labyrinths of stone. Evolved in isolation and unable to disperse, species often consist of just a handful of individuals in one cave, or one room of one cave. Their existence raises many questions. How did they get there, and when?
...
Worldwide, perhaps 90 percent of caves lack visible entrances and remain undiscovered. Even in well-explored caves, troglobites are expert at hiding. The roughly 7,700 species known are probably only a small taste of what lives below.
 To survive stagnant, low-oxygen air in dead-end recesses and months without food, many troglobites have super-slow metabolisms. And because they live slow, they live long. The Orconectes australis crayfish of Shelta Cave in Alabama may reproduce at 100 years, and live to 175. ... Instead of vision, many have elaborate appendages and beefed-up nerve centers to interpret slight air-pressure or temperature changes, sounds, and smells. This sensory equipment lets them travel, sense objects moving or still, ambush prey, ...’ [1]  

Besides the daily form of sleep that we are familiar with, what are the other known types of sleep?
There are three words which are generally used to define special types of sleep in animals: torpor[2], hibernation[3] and aestivation[4]. Torpor is short, sleep-like state lasting from a few hours to a few days; Hibernation, in frigid climates, and Aestivation, in warmer climates, are longer periods of physical inactivity; however the brain is not in a sleeping state, rather it is active.
Moreover, Hypnosis, Yogi State and Spiritual Trance, etc are special types of sleep or lack of consciousness that have been demonstrated in human beings in various degrees, ranging from a few minutes to several days. [5]  [6]

Do tropical mammals, particularly primates hibernate?
‘The fat-tailed dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus medius), also known as the lesser dwarf lemurwestern fat-tailed dwarf lemur, or spiny forest dwarf lemur, is one of the smallest primates. It is endemic to Madagascar. Recent research has shown that C. medius hibernates (or estivates), even though in the tropical winter of Madagascar, temperatures remain high. It is the first tropical mammal and only primate in which hibernation has been demonstrated. However, the Malagasy winter is dry, and it appears that the lemur is avoiding the drought. It can hibernate for seven months. Unlike animals that hibernate in temperate regions, the lemur does not control its body temperature while hibernating, and if the tree hole in which it is sleeping is not well insulated, its body temperature fluctuates in accordance with the outside temperature.[3] During torpor, this lemur has been found to periodically enter REM sleepnon-REM sleep has not been observed, a pattern opposite that found in hibernating ground squirrels.[4] The REM sleep episodes occurred during periods of higher ambient temperature (averaging 27 C, versus an average of 20 C during nonsleeping intervals while in torpor).[4]’  [7]

What does the Qur’an state about the People of the Cave?
Chapter 18, verses 9 - 26 relate the story of the People of the Cave.
The people of the cave were in a prolonged state of inactivity. Verse 11 & 12 inform us that ‘So We prevented them from hearing in the cave for a number of years. Then We raised them up that We might know which of the two parties was best able to compute the time for which they remained.’ [8] Further on, verse 17 speaks of their position relative to the movement of the Sun: ‘And you might see the sun when it rose, decline from their cave towards the right hand, and when it set, leave them behind on the left while they were in a wide space thereof. This is of the signs of Allah; whomsoever Allah guides, he is the rightly guided one, and whomsoever He causes to err, you shall not find for him any friend to lead (him) aright.’ Verse 18 informs us that ‘And you might think them awake while they were asleep and We turned them about to the right and to the left, while their dog (lay) outstretching its paws at the entrance; if you looked at them you would certainly turn back from them in flight, and you would certainly be filled with awe because of them.’

Why was it significant to prevent hearing? Can we hear while sleeping?
The brain processes sounds while we sleep. [9] For the People of the Cave to have slept unawares and unresponsive, it was significant that their hearing be prevented.

What does it say about the motion of the Sun?
۞ وَتَرَى الشَّمْسَ إِذَا طَلَعَت تَّزَاوَرُ عَن كَهْفِهِمْ ذَاتَ الْيَمِينِ وَإِذَا غَرَبَت تَّقْرِضُهُمْ ذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ وَهُمْ فِي فَجْوَةٍ مِّنْهُ ۚ ذَ‌ٰلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ ۗ مَن يَهْدِ اللَّهُ فَهُوَ الْمُهْتَدِ ۖ وَمَن يُضْلِلْ فَلَن تَجِدَ لَهُ وَلِيًّا مُّرْشِدًا
[Al-Qura’an, 18:17, translator: Shakir] And you might see the sun when it rose, decline from their cave towards the right hand, and when it set, leave them behind on the left while they were in a wide space thereof. This is of the signs of Allah; whomsoever Allah guides, he is the rightly guided one, and whomsoever He causes to err, you shall not find for him any friend to lead (him) aright.

Verse 17 above speaks of the motion of the Sun: when rising, inclining (moving away) towards the right of the cave, and when setting, inclining (moving) towards the left of the cave, while they lay in the wide space in/of it. In the Northern hemisphere, if we face towards the East, looking at the rising Sun, its path is actually slightly inclined towards our right. Similarly, if we face towards the West and watch the Sun’s decline, its path is actually inclined towards the left.  Mapping the Sun’s motion across the sky through the year, the paths plotted show the tilt of the incline towards South when the Sun rises from the East, and inclining northwards when moving towards the Western horizon, as explained in the excerpt and plots below:   

The position of the Sun in the sky can be used for orientation if the general time of day is known. In the morning, the Sun rises in the east and tracks upwards. In the evening it sets in the west. In the middle of the day it is to the south for viewers in the Northern Hemisphere and the north for those in the Southern Hemisphere. This method works less well closer to the equator (ie between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn) since, in the northern hemisphere, the sun may be directly overhead or even to the north in summer. Conversely, at low latitudes in the southern hemisphere the sun may be to the south of the observer in summer.’ [10] 



Verse 18
 وَتَحْسَبُهُمْ أَيْقَاظًا وَهُمْ رُقُودٌ ۚ وَنُقَلِّبُهُمْ ذَاتَ الْيَمِينِ وَذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ ۖ وَكَلْبُهُم بَاسِطٌ ذِرَاعَيْهِ بِالْوَصِيدِ ۚ لَوِ اطَّلَعْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ لَوَلَّيْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِرَارًا وَلَمُلِئْتَ مِنْهُمْ رُعْبًا

Awake or Asleep? Were their eyes open? Why would one be scared?
Verse 18 informs us that ‘And you might think them awake while they were asleep...’
According to an article: ‘Hibernating black bears, particularly mothers with cubs, sleep lightly, and bear expert Roger Powell says he has never approached a den in which a resident bear was not watching him come.’ [13]

Why turn them on their sides?
Verse 18 further states: ‘... and We turned them about to the right and to the left’
‘The human body is designed to be in constant movement, even while we sleep. We constantly shift positions, always unconsciously readjusting ourselves in bed, at the computer station, watching TV, or whatever active or inactive pursuit engages us.’ [14]
‘Pressure sores, also called bed sores, occur when the skin breaks down from constant pressure, especially from sitting or lying in one position for any extended period of time... If you are not mobile, your position must be changed at least every two hours.’ [15]

Need for security?  
Verses 14, 15 & 16 inform us that: ‘[14]And We strengthened their hearts with patience, when they stood up and said: Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth; we will by no means call upon any god besides Him, for then indeed we should have said an extravagant thing. [15]These our people have taken gods besides Him; why do they not produce any clear authority in their support? Who is then more unjust than he who forges a lie against Allah?  [16] And when you forsake them and what they worship save Allah, betake yourselves for refuge to the cave; your Lord will extend to you largely of His mercy and provide for you a profitable course in your affair.’
Verse 18 continues to state: ‘while their dog (lay) outstretching its paws at the entrance; if you looked at them you would certainly turn back from them in flight, and you would certainly be filled with awe because of them.’

How long did they sleep in the cave?
 [Al-Qur’an 18:25] ‘And they tarried in their Cave three hundred years and add nine’
Three hundred solar years is approximately equal to three hundred and nine lunar years. As per historical records, it is believed that the Jews of Medina had posed the question of the Sleepers of the Cave to test the authenticity of the claim of prophet hood by Muhammad, in response to which these verses were revealed. The Jews of Medina were using a lunisolar calendar[16] and the Christians probably a solar one. There are many forms of calendars still in use all over the world [17] [18] 
Verse 26 goes on to say: ‘Say: Allah knows best how long they remained; to Him are (known) the unseen things of the heavens and the earth; how clear His sight and how clear His hearing! There is none to be a guardian for them besides Him, and He does not make any one His associate in His Judgment.’  

Implications of hibernation for humans: medical; space travel
Human hibernation may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. In December 2000, Gerhard Heldmaier, a professor at the University of Marburg in Germany and chairman of the International Hibernation Society, announced the discovery of two genes that are thought to trigger hibernation. These genes direct enzymes to burn fat rather than carbohydrates, thereby equipping the body for hibernation. "There is no real reason," Heldmaier told London's Independent, "to say that humans are so different from other mammals that they are unable to enter hibernation." [19]
A blog post with the self-explanatory title: The Curious Case of Human Hibernation[20] also makes an interesting read.
Another interesting article is Total Shutdown: Hibernation for Humans [21]
For prospects of space travel, read: Project Hyperion: To the stars in a sleeping car? [22]

 





[8] Translator: Shakir

Thursday, May 15, 2014

All Creatures Form Communities

The Holy Quran, Chapter: 6 Verse: 38
وَمَا مِن دَابَّةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا طَائِرٍ يَطِيرُ بِجَنَاحَيْهِ إِلَّا أُمَمٌ أَمْثَالُكُم ۚ مَّا فَرَّطْنَا فِي الْكِتَابِ مِن شَيْءٍ ۚ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِمْ يُحْشَرُونَ
Sahih International: And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered.
Pickthall: There is not an animal in the earth, nor a flying creature flying on two wings, but they are peoples like unto you. We have neglected nothing in the Book (of Our decrees). Then unto their Lord they will be gathered.

Interpretation

The Qur’an states that all animals, including birds, are ‘ummamun’ [i.e. are communities / people / nations], like humans. As science continues to investigate, we continue to discover that a number of animals exhibit various aspects of social living: communication, cognition, memory,  organization and division of labour, family units, love and affection, mating and divorce,  friendship, cheating, deception and altruism, and so on. Not only have these traits been observed in larger animals, but also at the microscopic level, where unicelluar amoebas have also been found to communicate, unite and organize into a multicellular cooperative!   Following are but some links to the wondrous discoveries about our world:

Social Animals:
                Vertebrates: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_animals#Vertebrates
                Invertebrates: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_animals#Invertebrates
                Amoebas:  http://www.damninteresting.com/amoebic-morality/ 

Communication:
Cognition:
Courtship, Mating and Divorce:

Affection, Friendship and Altruism:

Miscellaneous:
Gene-centred view of Evolution: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Selfish_Gene
Classification: http://learn.fi.edu/tfi/units/life/classify/classify.html 
Defending free will: A fruit fly makes choices: http://brembs.net/spontaneous/press/sciam/ 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lying Sinful Forelock

The Holy Quran, 96:15-16
كَلَّا لَئِن لَّمْ يَنتَهِ لَنَسْفَعًا بِالنَّاصِيَةِ
نَاصِيَةٍ كَاذِبَةٍ خَاطِئَةٍ
Sahih International: No! If he does not desist, We will surely drag him by the forelock - A lying, sinning forelock.
Pickthall: Nay, but if he cease not We will seize him by the forelock - The lying, sinful forelock –

Interpretation

Q96:15-16 refer to a lying, sinful forelock. Q11:56 informs us that ‘...there is no living creature but He (Allah) holds it by its forelock...’ Q55:41 further states: ‘The criminals will be known by their marks, and they will be seized by the forelocks and the feet.’

Forelock or Forebrain?
The Qur'an 11:56, 55:41, 96:15 and 96:16 are the only four ayaat using the noun form of root letters ‘nun-sad-ya’, translated in all instances as forelock by most translators. Could the word be referring to the brain or the forebrain?  

Note: Q21:18 uses the root letters dal-mim-qayn which most translators translate as head, while some translate it as brain. 

Facts about the human brain[1]
·         The human brain is the largest brain of all vertebrates relative to body size
·         The cerebrum makes up 85 percent of the brain's weight
·         It contains about 100 billion nerve cells (neurons), the "gray matter"
·         It contains millions of nerve fibers (axons and dendrites), the "white matter"
Like all vertebrate brains, the human brain develops from three sections known as the forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain. Each of these contains fluid-filled cavities called ventricles. The forebrain develops into the cerebrum and underlying structures;

What is the function of the Cerebrum in the forebrain? [2] [3]
The Cerebrum: The cerebrum or cortex is the largest part of the human brain, associated with higher brain function such as thought and action. The cerebral cortex is divided into four sections, called "lobes": the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, occipital lobe, and temporal lobe. …What do each of these lobes do?
·         Frontal Lobe- associated with reasoning, planning, parts of speech, movement, emotions, and problem solving
·         Parietal Lobe- associated with movement, orientation, recognition, perception of stimuli
·         Occipital Lobe- associated with visual processing
·         Temporal Lobe- associated with perception and recognition of auditory stimuli, memory, and speech

What is the link between lying and the forebrain?
In a study in 2005: ‘Liars showed a 22-26% increase in prefrontal white matter and a 36-42% reduction in prefrontal grey/white ratios compared with both antisocial controls and normal controls.’ [4] [5]
‘Pathological liars have a surplus of white matter, the study found, and a deficit of gray matter. That means they have more tools to lie coupled with fewer moral restraints than normal people, ...  studies of autistic children – who typically have trouble lying – have showed the converse pattern of gray matter/white matter ratios.’  [6]
According to an article published in Brainfacts.org in 2013: ‘Although several brain areas appear to play a role in deception, the most consistent finding across multiple fMRI studies is that activity in the prefrontal cortex increases when people lie. The prefrontal cortex, situated just behind the forehead, is a collection of regions responsible for executive control (the ability to regulate thoughts or actions to achieve goals). Executive control includes cognitive processes such as planning, problem solving, and attention — all important components of deception — so it’s no surprise the prefrontal cortex is active when we lie. Dishonesty requires the brain to work harder than honesty, and this effort is reflected by increased brain activity. Studies even show people take longer to respond when lying.’ [7]

Lying: a voluntary decision or a hard-wired involuntary trait?
It remains to be investigated that: ‘whether the brain differences lead to lying or whether repeated lying somehow "exercises" connections in the brain.’[8]


Monday, May 12, 2014

Rust Upon Their Hearts

Related post:

The Holy Quran, Chapter:83 Verse:14
كَلَّا ۖ بَلْ ۜ رَانَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِم مَّا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ
Pickthal 14:  Nay, but that which they have earned is rust upon their hearts

Interpretation

Generally, verses which speak of the heart are taken to be symbolic. This verse speaks of rust of a person’s deeds upon that person’s heart.  The outcome is denial of the Day of Judgement.

In 38:26, Prophet David is warned against following desires as they mislead from God’s path, due to the fact that one forgets the Day of Judgement.

In 2:7, it says that there is a covering over the hearts of those who reject, and in 2:10, it says that there is a disease in the hearts of the hypocrites. 

Is there a physical ‘rust upon the heart’?
Iron deposits in the body are well-documented, especially in cases of patients requiring frequent blood transfusions. Iron has an affinity for cardiac tissue and in excess, causes damage to the heart muscle. Iron toxicity also leads to a variety of symptoms including hostility and anger[1]
The cardiovascular system[2] is the longest system in the body, and the heart is the organ which does the largest amount of work.
Fat-like deposits called plaque made of cholesterol and other substances can build up in the walls of these vessels.[3] Scientists term plaque formation as ‘biological rust’. "Coronary fatty streaks are rare before 10 years of age," noted Dr. Valentin Fuster, of the cardiovascular research center at Harvard University. "However, they become more frequent in the second decade of life and are nearly always present after 20 years of age." [4] 

Can the process of rusting be reversed?
In studies on plaque regression, there is evidence to support that it is a reversible process. Cholesterol and fat particles are deposited inside the blood vessel walls by means of biological adhesives. "Teflon"-like agents can prevent this stickiness. The amino acids lysine and proline are nature’s "Teflon" agents. Together with vitamin C, they help reverse existing deposits naturally.[5]

How can the rust of ‘which they have earned’ be reversed?
For spiritual plaque regression, we are repeatedly advised to continuously seek help through prayer and patience, as those things which are good annul those that are bad[6].    




[2] http://www.familyhealthnews.com/articles-heart-artery.html
Be aware of the size and function of your cardiovascular system. Your blood vessel pipeline system measures 60,000 miles and is the largest organ in your body. Your heart pumps 100,000 times every day, performing the greatest amount of work of all organs.

Until The Camel Passes Through The Eye Of The Needle

The Holy Quran, Chapter:7 Verse:40

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِنَا وَاسْتَكْبَرُوا عَنْهَا لَا تُفَتَّحُ لَهُمْ أَبْوَابُ السَّمَاءِ وَلَا يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ حَتَّىٰ يَلِجَ الْجَمَلُ فِي سَمِّ الْخِيَاطِ ۚ وَكَذَ‌ٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُجْرِمِينَ

Shakir: Surely (as for) those who reject Our communications and turn away from them haughtily, the doors of heaven shall not be opened for them, nor shall they enter the garden until the camel pass through the eye of the needle; and thus do We reward the guilty. 


The Holy Quran, Chapter:78 Verses:22-23

  لِّلطَّاغِينَ مَآبًا
لَّابِثِينَ فِيهَا أَحْقَابً

Shakir: A place of resort for the inordinate, Living therein for ages

Interpretation

A future event, generally understood by translators as an impossibility, something that will never happen, is the mention of The Camel passing through the eye of the needle. Why would an impossible event be mentioned in the Quran, when it could simply have been stated that it will never happen? Perhaps, in some very distant future, the camel may reduce in size and become tiny enough to pass through the eye of the needle! 

Evolution and Devolution
Similar to the Big Bang and Big Crunch theory in Cosmology, biologists study the theories of Evolution and Devolution. Big Bang tries to theorize the beginning of the Universe, and Evolution theorizes about the beginning of living things. Similarly, Big Crunch is a theory about how the expansion of the Universe will halt, and then contraction will begin, leading to a return to the singularity from which the Big Bang started. Similarly, Devolution is about species reverting to their earlier forms.
Considering the reversibility of the Arrow of Time according to the fundamental Laws of Physics, it is postulated that[1] ‘if someone knew the paths of all the particles in the universe and flipped them around, energy would accumulate rather than disperse: Tepid coffee would spontaneously heat up, buildings would rise from their rubble and sunlight would slink back into the sun.’
According to Wikipedia[2], the earliest known camel was about the size of a rabbit. Over time, it has evolved in height. Non-conclusive evidence for devolution has been observed in Seattle fish and reported in National Geographic[3].
Reversibility of creation, both living and non-living is not an impossibility rather plausible. In Quran(36:68), we read that: And he to whom We grant long life We reverse in creation; so will they not understand?[4]

Time-Bound?
Perhaps the Hereafter is also not eternal, and will eventually come to an end or change. An interesting point to note is that the word ‘khaliduna’, generally translated as eternal or forever, has been used for the length of time that humans will abide in the Garden or the Fire. The same word has not been used anywhere in relation to God, who we believe is eternal, i.e. without beginning and without end.  For God, the only word implying eternal that has been used is ‘as-Samad’ which has been used only once and exclusively for God in the Qur’an 112:2






[1] Time’s Arrow Traced to Quantum Source By : Natalie Wolchover April 1 6, 2014, Quanta Magazine, Simonsfoundation.org
[4] Translation by Sahih International 



Last updated on October 16, 2015