The Qur'anic Science of Human Creation

The Qur'an refers to several types of human creation including the creation of the first human called Adam, from clay; the virgin birth of Jesus, through the intermediary of a woman without sexual joining with a man; the normal sexual reproduction that has resulted in humanity; and the resurrected creation of the human after physical death. Many religious and nonreligious people may wonder about the meaning of the categories of creation other than sexual reproduction which is directly observable in nature. How accurate are the accounts of other types of creation in terms of what we know through modern science? Should they be looked at allegorically with spiritual significance only or could they be literally true? Furthermore, the Qur'an provides a remarkably detailed account of conception and the growth of the human embryo. Given that embryology was not correctly understood until the nineteenth century, could the details mentioned in the Qur'an possibly be accurate? The following sections provide some information from the Qur'an and the writings of modern scientists which may help the individual explore these issues.

Human Sexual Reproduction

The Qur'an gives a surprisingly detailed account of the creation and development of the human embryo, which appears to be consistent with modern scientific findings. In the book, Human Development as Revealed in the Holy Qur'an and Hadith, Dr. Mohammed Ali Albar discusses how verses in the Qur'an and Hadith revealed in the seventh century AD, contain descriptions of embryological development that were only discovered more than 1000 years later. As a framework for the discussion, Dr. Albar gives a brief history of embryology. He begins with the writings of Aristotle in fourth century B.C., which basically stated that embryos containing miniature human beings were imbedded in menstrual blood of the female and the sperm from the male served only as a catalyst to the growth and development of the embryo. Surprisingly in the West, this view dominated medical thought until the middle of the eighteenth century when it was found that the egg from which the embryo developed was built up gradually. And it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that the fertilization of an egg by sperm was first described and it was proven that male and female cells contributed the same number of chromosomes to the embryo. Finally the development of the human embryo in stages was not widely recognized until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Dr. Albar shows how the main modern findings of embryological development are found in the Qur'an. In summary these findings are: the contribution of male and female cells to the formation of the embryo; the determination of the sex of the newborn by the sperm cell; and the development of the embryo in progressive stages. First, concerning the formation of the embryo, Sura 76:2 states that "Verily, We have created man from a drop of mingled fluids." These fluids are called "Nutfah" in Arabic. That the mingled fluids come from both the male and female partner is further clarified in the Hadith in which Ahmed Ibn Hanbal narrates that a Jew asked the Prophet Mohammed the following question, "O Mohammed. Tell me from what thing man is created." According to the Hadith the Prophet answered, "From both male Nutfah and female Nutfah man is created."

Second, modern science has shown that the male sperm determine the sex of the embryo. Sperm cells contain either X or Y chromosomes. The ovum always contains an X chromosome. If the sperm that fertilizes the egg contains an X chromosome the embryo becomes female but if the sperm contains a Y chromosome the embryo becomes male. The emphasis on the sperm as the determinant of the sex of the child is reflected in at least two chapters of the Qur'an.

Sura 53:45-46 states that, "God fashioned both male and female from a drop of fluid that has been ejaculated."

In addition, Sura 80:18-19 states, "Does man ever consider out of what substance God created him. Out of a drop of fluid (Nutfah) He created him, in which He determined his nature."

Third, in describing the further development of the embryo, the Qur'an states in Sura 23:13-14 that: "...We placed him as a drop of liquid (sperm) in a firm lodging (the womb). Then we fashioned the sperm (Nutfah) into something that clings (Alakah) which We fashioned into a chewed like lump (Modgha). The chewed like lump is fashioned into bones which are then covered with flesh...Then we developed it into another act of Creation. Blessed is God, the best to create."

The term "Alakah" in Arabic literally means something that clings or attaches to something else. This term refers to the blastula or ball-like structure of cells that forms about six days after fertilization and becomes implanted in the uterine wall. After the fourth week, the embryo actually looks like what in Arabic is termed "Modgha", a lump or flesh on which indentations that look like teeth marks are apparent, containing the basis for the development of the muscular and skeletal system. The Qur'an also correctly points out the sequence of the development stages: the developments of the bones first, followed by the soft tissues, muscles, and skin.

The gradual, progressive nature of the process is further reflected in Sura 39:6, which describes the process as follows: "...He creates you in your mother's wombs, one act of creation after another in three veils of darkness."

In order to understand this verse and the different "dark zones" it refers to, Dr. NurBaki in his book on science and the Qur'an suggests that you take the point of view of the ovum and then the embryo, imagining what its changing surroundings would look like during the various stages of development. The first dark zone seems to refer to the Fallopian tube where the ovum is fertilized. From the ovum's perspective it would appear as a large dark tunnel. The second dark zone appears to be the implantation of the fertilized ovum on the uterine wall, where its surroundings can be compared to a secluded spot in a dark forest, with the hair-like protrusions on the lining of the uterus resembling trees. The third dark zone could be the enclosure of the embryo in the amnionic sac, which is similar to floating at the bottom of a dark sea where the organs and physiological systems develop.

Therefore, the "triple darkness" would mean the three stages mentioned above. The Hadith has described the processes in detail. It is recorded that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, "Verily the creation of every one of you is brought together in the mother's womb as a drop of semen for forty days, then it becomes a clot for the same period, then it becomes a blob of flesh for the same period. Then the angel will be sent unto it to blow into it a spirit, and the angel is ordered (to carry out) with four instructions, to write down its livelihood, the span of life, its deeds, and whether it is wretched or fortunate."

The period of forty days from semen to clot, and of clot (or embryo) for the same period, approximate with scientific research. The human embryo develops in six weeks or 42 day after fertilization. But then it must be remembered that there is a range of development of embryo from 40 to 42 days depending on the nature and circumstances, and the body temperature of the woman who has conceived. The development of the fetus takes almost the same period, and it is after about 3 months that it takes a recognizable human form. The movement of the baby in the mother's womb starts after this period. It may be noted, however, that the modern scientific information about the stages in the growth of a human baby from conception to delivery, is the product of highly advanced techniques in the study of human biology. Surgical operations, drugs, and X-rays have made some of this knowledge possible, but 1400 years ago, none could dream of such an analytical and specific description of the phases of human growth from conception to birth; much less from the unlettered Prophet of the Desert. This is yet another proof that his knowledge which is now corroborated by modern scientific research was divinely inspired.


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August 1998
Jumaada Awal 1419
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