SCIENTIST'S INTERPRETATION OF REFERENCES TO EMBRYOLOGY IN THE QURAN
Keith L. Moore, PhD., F.I.A.C.
Department of Anatomy, University of Toronto, Canada
referring to human reproduction and development are scattered throughout the
Quran. It is only recently that the scientific meanings of some of these verses
have been appreciated fully. The long delay in interpreting these correctly
resulted mainly from inaccurate translations and commentaries and from a lack of
awareness of scientific knowledge.
in explanations of the verses of the Quran is not new. People used to ask the
prophet Muhammad all sort of questions about the meaning of verses referring to
human reproduction. The Apostle's
answers from the basis of the Hadith literature.
translations of the verses from the Quran which are interpreted in this paper
were provided by Sheik Abdul Majid Zendani, a professor of Islamic Studies in
King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
makes you in the wombs of your mothers in stages,
one after another, in three veils of darkness."
statement is from Sura 39:6
do not know when it was realized that human beings underwent development in the
uterus (womb), but the first known illustration of a fetus in the uterus was
drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century. In the 2nd century A.D., Galen
described the placenta and fetal membranes in his book "On the Formation of
doctors in the 7th century A.D. likely knew that the human embryo developed in
the uterus. It is unlikely that they knew that it developed in stages, even
though Aristotle had described the stages of development of the chick embryo in
the 4th century B.C. The realization that the human embryo develops in stages
was not discussed and illustrated until the 15th century.
the microscope was discovered in the 17th century by Leeuwenhoek descriptions
were made of the early stages if the chick embryos. The staging of human embryos
was not described until the 20th century: Streeter
(1941) developed the first system of staging which has now been replace by a
more accurate system proposed by O'Rahilly (1972)
three veils of darkness"
The anterior abdominal wall;
The uterine wall; and
The amniochorionic membrane.
there are other interpretations of this statement, the one presented here seems
the most logical from an embryological point of view.
We placed him as a drop in a place of rest"
statement is from Sura 23:13.
drop of nutfah has been interpreted as the sperm or spermatozoon, but a more
meaningful interpretation would be the zygote which divides to form a blastocyst
which is implanted in the uterus ("a place of rest"). This
interpretation is supported by another verse in the Quran which states that
human being is created from a mixed drop."
zygote forms by the union of a mixture of the sperm and the ovum ("The
We made the drop into a leech-like structure."
statement is from Sura 23:14.
word "alagah" refers to a leech or bloodsucker. This is an appropriate
description of the human embryo from days 7-24 when it clings to the endometrium
of the uterus, in the same way that a leech clings to the skin. Just as the
leech derives blood from the host, the human embryo derives blood from the
deciduas or pregnant endometrium.
is remarkable how much the embryo of 23-24 days resembles a leech. As there were
no microscopes or lenses available in the 7th century, doctors would not have
known that the human embryo had this leech-like appearance. In the early part of
the fourth week, the embryo is just visible to the unaided eye because it is
smaller than a kernel of wheat.
of that leech-like structure, We made a chewed lump."
statement is also from Sura 23:14.
Arabic work "mudghah" means "chewed substance or chewed
the end of the fourth week, the human embryo looks somewhat like a chewed lump
of flesh. The chewed appearance results from the somites which resemble teeth
marks. The somites represent the beginnings or primordial of the vertebrae.
we made out of the chewed lump, bones and clothed the bones in flesh."
continuation of Sura 23:14 indicate that out of the chewed lump stage, bones and
muscles form. This is in accordance with embryological development.
the bones form as cartilage models and then the muscles (flesh) develop around
them from the somatic mesoderm.
we developed out of it another creature."
next part of Sura 23:14 implies that the bones and muscles result in the
formation of another creature. This may refer to the Human-like embryo that
forms by the end of the eighth week. At this stage it has distinctive human
characteristics and possesses the primordial of all the internal and external
organs and parts. After the eighth week the human embryo is called a fetus. This
may be the new creature to which the verse refers.
he gave you hearing and sight and feeling and understanding."
part of Sura 32:9 indicates that the special senses of hearing, seeing, and
feeling develop in this order, which is true. The primordial of the internal
ears appear before the beginning of the eyes, and the brain (the site of
understanding) differentiates last.
out of a piece of chewed flesh, partly formed and partly unformed."
part of Sura 22:5 seems to indicate that the embryo is composed of both
differentiated and undifferentiated tissues. For example, when the cartilage
bones are differentiated, the embryonic connective tissue or mesenchyme around
them is undifferentiated. It later differentiates into the muscles and ligaments
attached to the bones.
we cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term."
next part of Sura 22:5 seems to imply that God determines which embryos will
remain in the uterus until full term. It is known that many embryos abort during
the first month of development and that only about 30% of zygotes that form,
develop into fetuses that survive until birth. This verse has also been
interpreted to mean that God determines whether the embryo will develop into a
boy or girl.
interpretation of the verses in the Quran referring to human development would
not have been possible in the 7th century AD, or even a hundred years ago. We
can interpret them now because the science of modern Embryology affords us new
understanding. Undoubtedly there are other verses in the Quran related to human
development that will be understood in the future as our knowledge increases.
From: The Journal of the Islamic Medical Association, Vol. 18, Jan-June 1986, pp. 15-16