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Embryology in the Quran

Embryology in the Quran

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01/31/2013

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Embryology in the Qur'an
In the early 1980s,Prof. Keith Moore, formerly an anatomist at theUniversity of Toronto, Canada produced a special edition of hisembryology textbook, the standard version of which has been widelyused in medical schools around the world. Apparently when he first readwhat the Qur'an had to say about the development of the human embryohe was "astonished by the accuracy of the statements that were recordedin the 7th century AD, before the science of embryology wasestablished"[1]. Much has subsequently been written by Muslims in anattempt to demonstrate that the Qur'an, which is claimed to be God'sultimate revelation contains statements about how humans developinside the womb which could not possibly have been known at the timethat it was revealed to Muhammed. Indeed, a recent book confirms theextent to which this has been happening:Dubai's medical school recently introduced a compulsory coursefor all students: Islamic Medicine. The program seeks to link allmodern medicine, including genetics, to the Koran. Such courseshave their genesis in orthodox Saudi Arabia. The Saudis havespent considerable sums on medical conferences at which leadingWestern scientists are asked to confirm that Koranic verses,which seem vague to the layperson, are in fact specific predictorsof modern science. Videos and pamphlets from the conferenceshave been circulated throughout the Muslim world by the Saudis[2].If it is indeed true that certain verses accurately foretell modern scientificideas which could not be tested in the seventh century, then it impliesthat the Qur'an must have had a divine author. It is the intention of thispaper to examine what exactly was known about the human embryo atthe time of Muhammed in order to see whether any of the theoriesexpressed in the Qur'an were true or indeed well known before this time.2
The origins of life according to the Qur'an
There are at least 60 verses which deal explicitly with humanreproduction and development, but these are scattered throughout theQur'an and many of the themes are repeated over and over again, as iscommon to much of the book. A useful place to begin would be thematerial out of which we are created. One would expect the Qur'an to beunambiguous about such an elementary matter, but the verses listedshow just how much uncertainty there appears to be in our origins. Notethat except where indicated the translation used is the translation of Yusuf Ali (Saudi Revised Edition).Could it be from earth?11:61 It is He Who hath produced you from the
earth
Or dry clay (Arabic
Salsaal
)?15:26,28,33 We created man from
sounding clay
17:61 ... Thou didst create from
clay
32:7 He began the creation of man from
clay
Did we come from nothing?19:67 We created him before out of 
nothing
No, we did not!52:35 Were they created of 
nothing
?Did we come from mud?23:12 We created man from a
product of wet earth (loam)
(Pickthall)23:12 Man We did create from a
quintessence (of clay)
38:71 I am about to create a mortal out of 
mire
 
3Or water?25:54 It is He Who has created man from
water
(see also 21:30,24:45)Could it be dust?3:59 He created (Jesus) out of 
dust
30:20 He created you from
dust
35:11 Allah did create you from
dust
....Perhaps we arose from the dead or from one person?30:19 It is He who brings out the living
from the dead
39:6 He created you from
a single Person
(see also 4:1)To resolve the considerable ambiguity about what exactly we are madeof, it has been suggested that all of the above are complimentaryaccounts, in the same way that a loaf of bread could be said to be madeof dough, flour, carbohydrate or molecules. This evades the issuehowever. The metaphorical description of God making man out of thedust of the earth is ancient and predates the Qur'an by thousands of years; it is found in the Bible in Genesis 2:7. If this was literal it wouldbe in direct scientific conflict with evolutionists who maintain that lifewas created out of the oceans, but Muslims maintain that we werecreated both from the oceans and from earth.
The drop of fluid or semen
In a number of places we are informed that man is created from a drop of fluid (semen, seed or sperm):16:4 He created man from a
drop of fluid
(Pickthall)16:4 He has created man from a
sperm-drop
32:8 He made his seed from a
quintessence of despised fluid
35:11 ... then from a
little fluid
(Pickthall)453:46 (he created) from a
drop of seed when it is poured forth
(Pickthall)53:46 From a
sperm-drop when lodged (in its place)
56:58 Have ye seen
that which ye emit
(Pickthall)56:58 Do you then see? The
(human Seed) that ye emit
75:37 Was he not a
drop of fluid which gushed forth
(Pickthall)75:37 Was he not a
drop of sperm emitted (in lowly form)
?76:2 We create man from a
drop of thickened fluid
(Pickthall)76:2 We created Man from a
drop of mingled sperm
80:19 From a
sperm-drop He hath created him
86:6-7 He is created from a
drop emitted - proceeding frombetween the backbone and the ribs
.Could any of this have been known to sixth-century Muslims at the timeof Muhammed? Surely that procreation involves the emission of a dropof fluid has been well known from the earliest days of civilization. InGenesis 38:9 the Bible tells us that Onan "spilled his semen on theground to keep from producing offspring for his brother". The verseswhich describe the origin of life as a drop of emitted fluid are thereforeno more than a direct observation as to what is released during the act of sexual intercourse. We hardly need to rely upon divine inspiration toinform us of this fact.In the verses listed above
nutfah
is used when describing the fluid whichgushes out during sexual intercourse and clearly this can only refer tosemen. However, Prof. Moore is keen to translate
nutfah
in sura 76:2 as"mingled fluid" [3] and explains that this Arabic term refers to the maleand female fluids which contain the gametes (male sperm and femaleegg). While it is true that the ancient Greeks would not have been able tosee individual sperm or eggs, these only being visible through themicroscope, the Qur'an emphatically does
not 
mention sperm or eggs; itsimply says
nutfah.
This can reasonably be translated semen, or at apush, germinal fluid - which was a term used as early as Hippocrates [4]who spoke of male and female reproductive fluids (but obviously couldnot have been aware of the cells contained in the fluids). If Moore wishesto translate
nutfah
as germinal fluid, he inadvertently reinforces that theQur'an is borrowing this term from the Greeks.
 
5Sura 86:6 is interesting since it claims that during the act of sexualintercourse before which a man is created, the "gushing fluid" or semenissues from between the loins and ribs. Semen is apparently coming outof the area around the kidneys and back, which is a real problem for weknow that the testicles are the sites of sperm production (although theancient Greeks were not so convinced. Aristotle for example amusinglybelieved that they functioned as weights to keep the seminal passagesopen during sexual intercourse [5]).The explanation offered by Muslims [6] for the strange statement in thissura relates to the fact that the testicles originally develop from tissue inthe area of the kidneys, when the man from whom sperm is gushing forthwas himself an embryo. In other words, in a very convoluted fashion thesperm originates from the area between the loins and ribs because that iswhere the testicles which are producing the sperm originally form.There is a rather less complicated explanation for this verse however.The Greek physician Hippocrates and his followers taught in the fifthcentury BC that semen comes from all the fluid in the body, diffusingfrom the brain into the spinal marrow, before passing through thekidneys and via the testicles into the penis [7]. Clearly according to thisview sperm originates from the region of the kidneys, and although thereis obviously no substance to this teaching today, it was well-known inMuhammed's day, and shows how the Qur'an could contain such anerroneous statement.
A bust of Hippocrates
Of course it could be argued against all this that the reference to comingfrom the loins is merely a metaphorical figure of speech. We can find6examples of this in sura 7:172 "when thy Lord drew forth from theChildren of Adam - from their loins - their descendants" or 4:23"prohibited to you (for marriage) are ... wives of your sons proceedingfrom your loins". But if so then it has to be accepted that this is acommon usage for Middle Eastern cultures [8]; in the Torah Godpromises Jacob that "kings shall come out of your loins (
chalatzecha
)"(Gen 35:11). Later in the Bible a promise is made to David's "son thatshall come forth out of your loins" (I Kings 8:19) and in the NewTestament Peter refers to the same person as "one from the fruit of hisloins" (Greek 
osphus
). However, these are examples of a metaphoricaluse of the word "loins" (Arabic
sulb
). Sura 86:6 is clearly talking aboutthe physical act of intercourse; gushing fluid and ribs (
tar a'ib
) are bothvery physical and in the context of this verse they clearly refer to the siteof semen production as wrongly taught by Hippocrates. So we havefound the first example of an incorrect ancient Greek idea re-emerging inthe Qur'an.
Embryological development in the Qur'an
Sura 22:5 says "We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then outof a leech-like clot, then from a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partlyunformed ... and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for anappointed term, then do We bring you out as babes." Sura 23:13-14repeats this idea by saying God "placed him as (a drop of) sperm (
nutfah
)in a place of rest, firmly fixed; then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood (
alaqa
); then out of that clot We made a (foetus) lump(
mudghah
), then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the boneswith flesh; then We developed out of it another creature." 75:38 also saysman becomes an
alaqa
and 96:2 says we came from
alaq
.Moore however goes further and incredibly he claims in a later edition of his textbook that the Qur'an "states that the resulting organism settles inthe womb like a seed, 6 days after its beginning" [9]. This really wouldbe amazing if it was true. Actually the Qur'an says nothing of the sort.

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