Embryology in Quran Debate


 For Reference: Please see: http://www.sabr.com/science/embryo.html 

ROBERT WILSON:  Professor Keith Moore’s contribution to “Embryology in the Qur’an” is very well dealt with at:  http://debate.org.uk/topics/science/embryo.htm  This is quite extensive, 10 pages on my printer, so I’ll only cover a few highlights. (Mostly from the modified translation of Yusuf Ali.) 

Different origins of life and humanity according to the Qur’an: 

11:61 produced from the earth 

15:26ff, 17:61, 32:7 from clay 

19:67 out of nothing 

23:12 from a product of wet earth 

25:54 from water 

3:59, 30:20, 35:11 from dust 

30:19 from the dead 

39:6 from a single personResponse 

RESPONSE: I think the problem is that you are confusing the different aspects of these verses, perhaps on purpose. First of all, clay is formed when the wind blows and deposits dust which turns into clay in riverbeds. Clay is a mixture of dust and water, its two basic components. What this “clay” was that God used, we do not know. Perhaps it was a mixture of some chemicals that looked like clay. To explain in simple terms and without a well-developed scientific vocabulary at the time, Quran explained things in a way that people in the 7th century could understand. Therefore, verses 15:26, 17:61, 32:7, 23:12, 3:59, 30:20, 35:11 and 25:54 basically talk about a process where a dust-like substance was mixed with water to form a substance which could be molded like clay to form a figure or a body. The “clay” here was formed from both “dust” and “water”. When ‘C’ is derived from ‘A’ and “B”, it can be said that ‘C’ came from A or that ‘C’ came from ‘B’. For example, your mother can claim that you came through her, and she would be right. It is understood that your father had something to do with it too. 

The verse 19:67 points to another fact. We all know that at one time we were not in this world. We were nothing, and then suddenly we appeared as living, thinking individuals. So the statement is correct. 

Verse 30.19 says that essentially we were created from inanimate, ‘dead’ matter, which was given life. This is not in contradiction to verses quoted above. 

Lastly, verse 39:6 says that we were created from a single person. This is ‘after’ the creation of Adam who was this single person that we all came from. After the creation of Adam & Eve, who could reproduce, it was not necessary to create every single human being from clay. 

All the verses you have quoted above are true. Reality is made up of a multitude of facts, not one simple fact. For example, I can say you are Robert, and Robert is a man. And both statements will be true. 

ROBERT WILSON:  Which is confusing, to say the least. Shouldn’t one expect a clear, consistent and unambiguous statement on such a profound topic?

Response: For most people, the verses are very clear, and they are becoming clearer everyday as we learn more about science. What I fail to understand is that when it comes to the Quran, the Christian missionaries and the atheists suddenly have a bout of mental retardation and pretend not to understand anything. 

ROBERT WILSON: Conception. Problems in translation. Suras 23:13-14 The word “Nutfah” is used to describe semen in many suras; to suddenly claim its meaning to be zygote simply because this bolsters your argument is transparently self-serving. 

In 86:6-7 it is written that: “he is created from a drop emitted – proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs.” This is just a version of Hippocrates’ incorrect idea that semen comes from all the fluid in the body, diffusing from the brain via the spinal marrow, through the kidneys to the testicles and finally the penis. Which is, of course, totally wrong.

Response: The correct word for sperm in Arabic is “mani” (see verse 75:37). The word “nutfah” actually means “small quantity”. It comes from a verb “to dribble”, “to trickle” or a “remainder portion.” It is true that in some cases it was used in the sense of the word sperm; however, God used it here because the Arabic language did not have a word like “zygote” or its equivalent, and “nutfah” was the closest word, signifying a small quantity of fluid. 

The correct translation of verse 86:6-7 should read “(Man) was fashioned from a liquid poured out. It issued (as a result) of the conjugation of the sexual area of the man and the sexual area of the woman” (Maurice Bucaille translation). According to Maurice Bucaille, the translation you have quoted above is “hardly comprehensible”. “The sexual area of the man is indicated in the text of the Quran by the word “sulb” (singular). The sexual areas of the woman are designated in the Quran by the word “tara’ib” (plural). 

ROBERT WILSON: The word “alaqua” is variously translated as ‘small lump of blood’, ‘leech-like clot’, ‘leech, suspended thing or blood clot’. Aristotle in the 4th.century BC correctly described the function of the umbilical cord, by which the embryo “clings” to the uterus wall. It cannot, therefore, be assumed that the ancients couldn’t see a 3mm long embryo. (The similarity of which to a leech is quite debatable.) The early commentator, ar-Razi describes “mugdah” as being a little piece of meat the size of what a man can chew; a mouthful, say, about a 25mm wide. To apply this term to a 4mm long embryo (27 days old) is wrong. It has to be about 56 days old to be the size of a mugdah. “Why, if the Qur’an really is giving us a highly precise, scientific account of human development, it only mentions two stages, ‘alaqua’ and ‘mugdah’, when, between fertilization and day 28 for example, (Professor) Moore lists no fewer than 13 stages”. The Arabic terms are simply too ambiguous to be considered precise scientific terms.

Response: I think you have admitted yourself that one of the translations of the word “alqua” is “leech-like”. The fact is no one knew that the embryo looked like leech till Dr. Moore went to a Zoology lab to look at what a leech looks like and to compare the two. Interestingly, the Yusuf Ali’s translation, which first came out in 1934, translated the same word “alaqua” as leech-like. He could not have known that 60 years later science would prove that an embryo looks like a leech. 

You are also a bit disingenuous when you say that Aristotle described that the embryo clings to the uterus wall. What he described was for a chicken reproduction, not for human reproduction. Arabs in Prophet Muhammad’s time didn’t know the works of Aristotle. Interest in Greek Classics became popular among Arabs couple of centuries later. In any case, Aristotle’s ideas and those of his contemporaries on reproduction are ‘unambiguously’ ridiculous. For example, Aristotle believed that males, with their “greater heat,” are perfected faster than the female and the male fetus achieved motion and formation of the body around 40 days, while females quickened and achieved full formation in 90. See also this web site for ancient Greek thought on human reproduction:  http://www.uc.edu/info-services/greekmed.htm 

Ar-Razi was only a scholar who represented his views, not those of God himself. 

ROBERT WILSON:  Bones and Flesh: Sura 23:14 claims that bones are made out of the mugdah (26-27 days old, remember) which are then clothed with flesh. Professor Moore’s textbook, as well as many other embryological books tells us that bones and muscle develop simultaneously out of the same mesodermal tissue from day 20 onwards. Yet another black eye for old Allah!

Response: The verse actually says what you have described. It says that bones were fashioned out of a shapeless lump and the bones are clothed with flesh. So this shapeless lump of embryo, which essentially is flesh itself, give rise to bones which are covered with flesh. It does not contradict what you have described. According to Dr. Moore’s essay, “First the bones form as cartilage models and then the muscles (flesh) develop around them from the somatic mesoderm.” 

ROBERT WILSON:  Development in stages. This is NOT a modern idea, but very old. Galen (2nd.C. AD) taught that the humans developed in four stages, Samuel ha-Yehudi, a 2nd. Century Jewish physician (and just one of many ancient writers on the subject) saw six stages. We now know that the formation of a human being is a seamless process from conception to birth; there are no hard boundaries. Sura 71:14 (“When He created you by divers stages”) is thus nonsense.

Response: Dr. Moore himself quotes Galen and states that, ” In the 2nd century A.D., Galen described the placenta and fetal membranes in his book “On The Formation of the Foetus.” It is true that Galen talks about stages but the rest of his descriptions are completely ridiculous. The question is that if Prophet Mohammed (s.a.w) plagiarized Galen, then how come he didn’t copy other details which are completely false? For example Galen says: 

“Now Nature constructs bone, cartilage, nerve, membrane, ligament, vein, and so forth, at the first stage of the animal’s genesis, employing at this task a faculty which is, in general terms, generative and alterative, and, in more detail, warming, chilling, drying, or moistening; or such as spring from the blending of these, for example, the bone-producing, nerve-producing, and cartilage-producing faculties (since for the sake of clearness these names must be used as well).” 

The rest of Galen’s work can be found at the following web site:  http://classics.mit.edu/Galen/natfac.1.one.html 

I have never heard of Samuel ha-Yahuda, and I am sure Prophet Muhammed had not heard of him either. 

Even in our own times, doctors generally divide pregnancy into three trimesters. A stage is defined as degree of advance in development, which of course is ongoing. See also this web site:  http://www.babyzone.com/stages.htm 

ROBERT WILSON: The “three veils of darkness” of Sura 39:6 have been interpreted as being, amongst others, the abdominal wall, the uterine wall and the amniotic sac. These were well known long before the Qur’an. Hippocrates dissected pregnant dogs to observe them; Queen Cleopatra used to rip open the wombs of her pregnant slave girls to see their fetuses.

Response: I personally could not find any references In Hippocrates writings about the three protective layers around a fetus; however, I found several references to pregnancy that can only be described as primitive. Here are some samples of his writings on this subject: 

Hippocrates on Infertility: 

“It is impossible that persons of such a constitution could be prolific, for, with the man, the sexual desires are not strong, owing to the laxity of his constitution, the softness and coldness of his belly, from all which causes it is little likely that a man should be given to venery; and besides, from being jaded by exercise on horseback, the men become weak in their desires. On the part of the men these are the causes; but on that of the women, they are embonpoint and humidity; for the womb cannot take in the semen, nor is the menstrual discharge such as it should be, but scanty and at too long intervals; and the mouth of the womb is shut up by fat and does not admit the semen; and, moreover, they themselves are indolent and fat, and their bellies cold and soft. From these causes the Scythian race is not prolific. Their female servants furnish a strong proof of this; for they no sooner have connection with a man than they prove with child, owing to their active course of life and the slenderness of body.” 

His other quotes: 

*Fumigation with aromatics promotes menstruation, and would be useful in many other cases, if it did not occasion heaviness of the head. 

*Women in a state of pregnancy may be purged, if there be any urgent necessity (or, if the humors be in a state of orgasm?), from the fourth to the seventh month, but less so in the latter case. In the first and last periods it must be avoided. 

*If a woman with child be bled, she will have an abortion, and this will be the more likely to happen, the larger the foetus. 

*In a woman when there is a stoppage the menses, a discharge of blood from the nose is good. 

*When a pregnant woman has a violent diarrhea, there is danger of her miscarrying. 

*Sneezing occurring to a woman affected with hysterics, and in difficult labor, is a good symptom. 

For these and other ancient ridiculous comments of Hippocrates, please see: 


You do not find any such nonsense in the Quran. 

I have never heard of Queen Cleopatra as a leading authority on medicine in her times. If you have references of her writings on this subject, please do provide them to us. 

ROBERT WILSON: The conclusions. “There is not a single statement contained in the Qur’an relating to modern embryology that is not either scientifically incorrect or which was well known through direct observation by the ancient Greek and Indian physicians many centuries before the Qur’an was written. Far from proving the alleged divine credentials of the Qur’an, its embryological statements actually provide further convincing evidence for its human origins.” 

You really have to read it for yourselves; I can only mention a few parts.

RESPONSE: As you can see the ancient texts that you have quoted or referenced are full of errors regarding pregnancy and human reproduction. What is amazing is not only what is in the Quran about this subject but also what isn’t, considering the age when it was revealed. The critics claim that what is written in the Quran is too vague. They do not realize that science was not well developed in the 1400 years ago and God used the closest words he could find to describe scientific facts. We try to understand words from their roots all the time, especially in scientific and religious writings. Why is it considered wrong when the same practice is applied to the Quran? 

The other objection that the critics have is that the understanding of the Muslims scholars, or even of Prophet Muhammed, was different of these verses. The truth is that they understood these verses in the light of their own understanding of Nature. God’s purpose was to teach religion, not science. He chose to let people derive their own meanings, knowing full well that, in time, mankind will know the actual meanings of these verses. The interesting thing is that many English translators of the Quran, not knowing science, mistranslated some verses by putting their own interpretation rather than translating word to word. One must go to actual Arabic to know the exact meaning of the Quranic verses for correct interpretations, and that is why Quran has been called untranslatable by many scholars. 

I think there is abundant proof that Quran has numerous verses which are consistent with modern science, unlike any other book from the same time period, religious or otherwise.


3 thoughts on “Embryology in Quran Debate

  1. The Islam Papers April 6, 2013 at 1:42 pm Reply

    I have posted a number of posts and videos on the topic which can be found here: http://islampapers.com/embryology/

    Of note is a short video clip where Dr. Moore talks about bone and muscle development and which appears first.

    Also, I have several posts and a video response about the Alaqah (leech-like) stage. These include What does Alaqah mean and does the embryo really look like a leech.



  2. sam September 24, 2013 at 3:48 pm Reply

    when mom told me to alaq your coat….she meant hang your coat…..or alaq the magnet on the fridge attach the magnets….alaqah ..then mugdah……alaqah definitely means blastocyst in the embryology process…..heres the kicker the blastocyst at this stage cannot be seen by the naked eye..allah akbar

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