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The Sleepers of the Cave and the Science of Immobility: A Quranic Story and Modern Research on Blood Clotting

Surah Al-Kahf tells the story of the “sleepers of the cave” who were a group of young men that sought refuge in a cave to escape persecution for their faith. The story mentions that Allah caused the sleepers to turn over during their centuries-long slumber, and this seemingly insignificant detail has captured the attention of scholars and Muslims alike for centuries.

Surah Al-Kahf tells the story of the “sleepers of the cave” who were a group of young men that sought refuge in a cave to escape persecution for their faith. The story mentions that Allah caused the sleepers to turn over during their centuries-long slumber, and this seemingly insignificant detail has captured the attention of scholars and Muslims alike for centuries.

The Quran is a source of guidance for Muslims around the world, containing not only spiritual teachings but also a wealth of knowledge about the world we inhabit.

One aspect of the Quran that has fascinated scholars and believers alike for centuries is the many medical miracles contained within its verses. From descriptions of the developing fetus to guidance on healthy living, the Quran provides insights into the workings of the human body and the importance of taking care of it. The story of Ashab-al-Kahf detailed in Chapter 18 of the Quran provides insight into another possible medical miracle. 

Surah Al-Kahf tells the story of the “sleepers of the cave” who were a group of young men that sought refuge in a cave to escape persecution for their faith. The story mentions that Allah caused the sleepers to turn over during their centuries-long slumber, and this seemingly insignificant detail has captured the attention of scholars and Muslims alike for centuries.

In verse 18:18, Allah says, “And you would have thought they were awake, though they were asleep. We turned them over, to the right and left, while their dog stretched his forelegs at the entrance.” The turning of the sleepers has been interpreted in various ways, including as a sign of their protection by Allah, a means of preserving their physical bodies, and a symbol of the continuity of time even in a state of suspended animation.

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In recent years, modern research has shed light on another possible interpretation of the significance of the turning of the sleepers. A study published in April 2023 found that bears that hibernate for long periods of time have a decreased risk of developing deep venous thrombosis (DVT), a condition in which blood clots form in the deep veins of the body, usually in the legs. These clots may then travel to other organs such as the heart or lungs and block blood flow, which can lead to death. The researchers discovered that platelets from hibernating bears exhibit a reduced ability to activate and form clots compared to those of active brown bears. This mechanism involves the release of protein HSP47 which inhibits clotting. Physicians are optimistic that harnessing this mechanism could protect cancer, surgery, and trauma patients, who are at greater risk of developing life-threatening blood clots. 

So what does this have to do with the turning of the sleepers of the cave? The fact that Allah caused the sleepers to turn over during their long slumber may have had a similar effect as hibernation in bears, reducing their risk of developing DVT or other complications associated with prolonged immobility. The turning of the sleepers may thus be seen as a manifestation of Allah’s mercy and care for His servants, even in the most extraordinary circumstances. In another sura, Allah even mentions that He is closer to His servants than “their jugular vein” (Sura Qaf, verse 16), one of the critical blood vessels that supplies the head and neck. 

The story of the sleepers of the cave is a powerful reminder of the enduring nature of faith and the ability of Allah to protect His believers in miraculous ways. The connection between the turning of the sleepers and modern research on hibernation and clotting disorders adds a fascinating layer of depth to this timeless tale. As Muslims, we can reflect on this story and the scientific discoveries it inspires to deepen our understanding of the marvels of creation and the wisdom of Allah’s guidance.

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