Human embryology and the Holy Qur'ān: an overview


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Dr.Sabiha Saadat
Anak General Hospital, Anak, Saudi Arabia
Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2009 January; 3(1): 103–109.
PMID: 21475518

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Human embryology and the Holy Qur'ān: an overview

  1. 1. International Journal of Health Sciences, Qassim University, Quran: No.1, (January 2009/Muharram 1430H) Human Embryology and the Holy Vol. 3, An Overview 103Human Embryology and the Holy Quran: An Overview Sabiha Saadat Anak General Hospital, Anak, Saudi ArabiaAbstract: Man’s quest to know about his origin has led him to search his roots and the best source for him has been religiousscriptures. The greatest miracle is the Holy Quraan. There is an elegant description of origin, development and step by stepdevelopmental stages of intra-uterine life in Quraan. Muslims had this knowledge in 7th century and the Prophet Muhammad’sAhadeeth (sayings, deeds, approvals narrated by authentic narrators) had explained almost everything about natal and evenpostnatal events. These findings once presented to experts in the field of Anatomy and Embryology surprised them and theybelieved that the knowledge given to the Prophet Muhammad was indeed divine. Who else would provide this knowledge to theProphet Muhammad (PBUH) except the Creator Himself. Modern embryology is a fairly recent development which has its beginning with the invention of microscope in the 17thcentury. However the concept of the human being developing in stages was not recognised until much later. But the scientiststhen and most Muslim and non-Muslim scholars do not even know that the holy Quran and Sunnah [words, deeds, approvals ofProphet Muhammad (PBUH) collected by authentic narrators] had provided a detailed description of the significant events inhuman development from the stages of gametes and conception until the full term pregnancy and delivery or even post partum.Actually information in the Quran and Hadith corrected many superstitious and vague ideas about human development thatwere prevalent before. Correspondence: Dr. Sabiha Saadat Anak General Hospital, Anak Po Box: 1624, Al Qatif 31911 Saudi Arabia Email: 103
  2. 2. 104 Sabiha SaadatIntroductionSince eternity man has always wanted tounderstand and probe into secrets of Nature;how and when creation began and his purposein this world. This inquisitive man sought thehelp of civilizations, nature, old manuscripts,sometimes even the prophesies of saints andabove all religions Aristotle thought that foetus was formed inuterus from a coagulum of blood and seed from Homo nucleusmenstrual blood. Greeks and Europeansthought that foetus was created from menstrual Now we are at a stage when we can look atblood, or else they thought that foetus was fully embryos with clarity unimaginable duringcreated and was in a miniature form in sperm or Malphighi’s time. We have Artificial Reproductivein ovule. In 1604 Fabricus came out with Technology (ART) and a choice of GIFT, ZIFT,excellent drawings of chick embryo. Malphigi in ICSI and we have even a choice of designer1672 who is considered father of modern babies! We have frozen embryos, a prospect ofembryology thought poultry eggs contained a having minimum of five parents for a childminiature chick and others thought that human conceived with ART technique. We can see inbeing was fully formed in sperm or an ovum. He future a woman giving birth to,in essence, tocame out with chick drawings showing clear herself, or to her sister, or even her mother!somites. In 1673 Leeuwenhoek invented the first Thanks to cloning!! Yes, we have come a longmicroscope. Hartsoeker’s drawing of a human way but with the help of modern sophisticatedspermatozoon in 1694 clearly had this techniques. But my aim is to take the present day thimpression that a fully formed homo person to the Arabia of 7 century whennucleus (human form) was formed in a prophethood was bestowed to the most lovedspermatozoon or in ovum. In 1775 this person in Islam the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).controversy ended when Spallanzani showed Imagine Arabia in 7th century. Arabs livingthe necessity of both ovum and sperm for the in deserts were wanderers and camel herders.development of a new individual. It was in 19th They had no interest in inventions andcentury that the development cycle of discoveries except making gauntlets andmammalian ovum was discovered. The writings sharpening swords to wage wars and only fewof Von Baer, Darwin and Haeckel introduced the affluent families were traders and in thatphase of “experimental embryology”. The surroundings we do not expect someone tosecond phase called the “stage of mechanisms” have a high tech lab; Or for that matter studystarted in late 19th century and scientists found abortion specimens to inform mankind aboutchemical mechanisms of development by Otto the various stages of inra-uterine life.Warburg. Ross Harrison introduced the Prophet Muhammad was illiterate, had notechnique of in vitro cell culture. Frank Lillie formal education and it was through him thatinvestigated the mechanism by which the egg Muslim scholars had the knowledge aboutwas fertilized by the spermatozoon and finally conception, morphology, various phases ofHans Spermann gave us the mechanism of intrauterine life which modern day scientiststissue interaction. The third or the most modern came to know only few decades back.phase started from 1940 to the present day. The In Quran there is reference of variouspresent stage may be aptly called the stage of stages of human development in many chapters“instrumentation”. We had electron microscope, and it is not possible here to mention andsophisticated imaging tools, ultracentrifuge, explain them all. I have selected two referencesspectrophotometer and the list is very long. for this brief communication.Thus, we could study role of nucleus, cytoplasm, s r q p o n m l k j i h g f emcell hybridization, nuclear transplants, and genecloning and other techniques. }| {zyxwvu t .l «ª © ¨§ ¦¥ ¤£¢ ¡ ~ (Quran: Surah AI-Mu’minun,23:Ayat 12-14).
  3. 3. Human Embryology and the Holy Quran: An Overview 105 We (Allah) created man from a 1. Nutfa amshaj: Nutfa means a drop andquintessence of clay. We then placed him as a amshaj means mixtures. This term describesnutfah (drop) in a place of settlement, firmly the mixture and convergence of male andfixed, then We made the drop into an alaqah female fluids in the uterine or the Fallopian(leech like structure), and then We changed the tubes to form zygote. It has the form of a dropalaqah into a mudghah (chewed like of fluid and consists of a mixture of male andsubstance),then We made out of that mudghah, female secretions. The nutfa amshaj can beizam (skeleton,bones),then We clothed the subdivided into:-bones with lahm (muscles,flesh) then We 1.1. Khalk: when the male and femalecaused him to grow and come in being and secretions meet they may or may not form aattain the definitive (human)form. So, blessed be coceptus or a a zygote. If a zygote is formedGod, the best to create. with 46 chromosomes, a new being will be So if we arrange these stages produced. This process of formation of a singlechronologically we might come up with individual by fusion of two secretions has beensomething like this aptly termed Khalak. 1. Nutfah amshaj (drop that is mixed) this 1.2. Taqdir: The human creation beginsstage covers the period from fertilization to with formation of a zygote but what are itsimplantation. This stage is further divided into: characteristics, what it will inherit from father(present day germinal stage): Khalq, Taqdir, and what from mother? This process takesHarth. place a few hours after Khalak phase. The 2. Takhleeq (present day embryonic): this Holy Quran called it Taqdir phase and modern rdstage extends from the beginning of the 3 week scientists call it genetic programming. The thuntil the end of the 8 week and covers the Taqdeer in Arabic means planning,developmental events. This stage is further divided determining or programming. Very similarinto: Alaqah (leech-like), Mudghah (somites), Izam indeed! The Quran indicates that these(skeleton) and Laham (muscles). processes occur in immediate succession and 3. Nash”ah: (Growth) [present day we know that these processes are completedFoetal stage] During this period the shaping less than 30 hrs after fertilization. The processand modelling are active,the external of sex determination takes place in this stage.appearance develops in such a way that The Quran states in sura An-Najam that:foetus becomes recognizably human.It lasts l K J I H G F E D C B A m.till the completion of pregnancy.It is furtherdivided into: An-nashaa-Khalaqakha (from 9- “And He did create the two sexes, the26wks) and Al Hadana-al Rahamiya (from 26 male and the female from Nutfah when emittedwks to full term). This could be an apt way of or planned”Quran: (surah An-Najam,53:Ayat45-classifying the various stages of human 46).We know that if sperm with a “y” (3) chromosome fertilizes ovum, it is a male childdevelopment. and if sperm bearing “X” chromosome fertilizesExplanation: ovum it is a female child.
  4. 4. 106 Sabiha Saadat 1.3. Harth: When the phases of Khalk and the most important internal structure that affectsTaqdir are completed, the zygote migrates from the external appearance, for in alaqah stagefrom fallopian tube to the uterus where it blood is formed in the blood vessels in the formimplants itself similar to a seed planting in soil. of isolated islands and the embryo resembles aIt gets embedded in endometrium and receives blood clot descriptions are given miraculously byits nourishment and develops a different shape a single word----“Alaqah”.and structure. It is mentioned in Quran thatendometrial lining of the uterus is similar to thesoil in which a seed is embedded. During thisstage the real settlement begins, and isdescribed In Prophet’s Hadith as: “The Angel enters upon the conceptus(nutfah) after it rests in the uterus for forty orforty-five nights….(Narrated by Muslim).Creation (Takhliq) During the second main stage, theTakhliq, cell differentiation takes place to formsystems and organs. It starts at the beginning ofthe third week upto eighth week and is aprocess of rapid cell growth and intense activity (3)with regard to organogenesis. The embryogoes through the following stages: 2.2: The second stage is Mudghah which means a chewed substance. The embryo changes from Alaqah to Mudgaha stage at 24 to 26 days.The word Mudghahah means: - Something that has been chewed by teeth - A piece of a meat of a chewable size - Small substance 2.1: Alaqah:- The period begins on day 15and is completed on day23 or 24,when theembryo gradually acquires the shape of aleech, the Arabic word “alaqah” has threemeanings --- (i) Leech (ii) a suspended thing (iii)a blood clot. There is a great similarity betweena fresh water leech to early embryo. Enclosed In this phase the embryo resembles apicture shows the similarity between the two. chewed substance but still bears the teethThe second meaning is a suspended thing and marks. The embryo shows the distinct somitesthat is what we can see the way embryo is which resemble teeth marks in the embryo’sattached to the placenta in this stage. Both body. The second and the third meaning ofthese meanings describe and reflect accurately Mudghah apply to the embryo in relation to itsthe external appearance of embryo at this stage. size for it is approximately 1 centimeter inThe third meaning –“the blood clot” describes length, the size of a chewable object. Outside
  5. 5. Human Embryology and the Holy Quran: An Overview 107surface in Alaqah stage is smooth and in “Then (fa) We clothed the bones withMudghah. It acquires furrows, swellings and lahm, muscle, flesh)....”The passage alsocorrugated surface which gives the embryo the indicates that lahm stage represents the end ofchewed appearance. embryonic (takhlik) stage, which is followed by Nashah stage. The conjunction thumma (then)The next stage is: indicates a slow sequence with a time lag (3) between the two stages. The Growth (Al-Nashaa) The word Nasha’a in Arabic means: to initiate, grow and develop, to rise and increase 2.3: The izam... which means (bones inArabic). The embryo stays in Mudgaha stageupto 6 weeks.In the beginning of seventhweek, cartiligenous skeleton begins to formand eventually the embryo takes the humanshape with formation of skeleton. Bone This phase begins from ninth week toformation is sequential, pry. Ossification term and is further divided in two stages:centres appear in femur in seventh week and 1. Attaining the definite human form (thein sternum and the maxilla in weeks8-9.With first stage is An-Nashaa al khalqan)this stage the embryo takes the human shape This stage begins from 9 weeks until 26and this fact has been verily described in the weeks and during this stage there is rapidfollowing Hadeeth: growth and development. Up to 12 wks the “When 42 nights have passed from the growth is slow but after 12 weeks the growth istime of Nutfah (time of conception), Allah sends very rapid and the overall size of the foetusan angel to it, who shapes it and makes its increases rapidly. The proportional size of head,hearing, sight, skin, muscles and body and limbs is more balanced and lanugobones.....(Narrated by Sahih Muslim, hair appears on the body. The sex differentiationKitab Al-Qadar). Before 42 days embryo cannot is possible amid movements are very wellbe distinguished from embryo of other animals, appreciated. By the end of this stage the variousbut at this stage it becomes clearly organs are fully functioning, e.g: kidneys aredistinguishable. forming urine, blood cells are formed in bone 2.4: Laham...Al-Kisa’ bil-Laham (clothing marrow and hair follicles appear.the bones with flesh) We have already seen that skeleton isformed in seventh week and thedifferenciation of muscles starts in the eighthweek, in other words myogenesis takes placeduring this stage. Development of definitivemuscles starts in the trunk and the foetusstarts moving, and muscles take their positionaround the bones. The sequence of events isvery fast as is mentioned in the Quran.(use Arabic conjunction which means rapidsequence of events). The Quran states the fact as.. lª©¨§¦¥¤£¢¡ ~m Human form not attained (5-6)
  6. 6. 108 Sabiha Saadat placenta and membranes in his book” on the Formation of a Foetus. Definite human form 2. The second stage is Al-Hadanah ar – rahamiya (uterine incubation) The three veils of darkness may be This stage begins from 26 weeks to full referred to: Anterior abdominal wall, the uterineterm (40 weeks by dates). It is a known fact that wall and Amnio-chorionic membrane.a baby can survive outside without placental or The interpretation seems to be the mostuterine support after 24 to 26 weeks that is logical from embryological point of view. Withviability; so minimum required period to survive grace and elegance it has been described in theis up to 26, last 3 months can be Holy Quran!considered a time for the uterus to provide This interpretation seems to be the mostadditional support and a place for normal logical from an embryological point of view. (4)growth. The Holy Quran has explained with Discussionprecise definition and elegance this stage of Scientifically we came to know aboutintra uterine development and the meaning of these stages in 19th or 20th century and beforeNashah applies clearly. The meaning to “initiate, that there is no detailed mention. Generallydescribes the initial functioning of various Scholars held the Aristotle’s view that foetusorgans and systems. The second meaning “to was formed from menstrual blood and theygrow” indicates the rapid growth and the believed in other fanciful and imaginativedevelopment of various organs. The third theories without any scientific proof. Manymeaning “to rise and increase” describes the Muslim scholars refuted those views and theirvery rapid and obvious increase in foetal size denial was based on their knowledge from theand weight. Holy Quran. They refuted this view in 1448 AD, Therefore, the term “nash’ah” clearly and on the basis of this Quranic verses....accurately describes the foetal period. l u t s r q pmM L K J I H G F E D C B Am “Was he not a drop of germinal fluid emited”? Al- Qiyamah,(75:37).[Z Y XWVU T S RQP ON They held their view as per this Hadeeth mentioned and discussed by Ibn-Hajer (852l hg fe d c ba` _^ ] H:1448 AD) in Fath-Al-Bari (Vol 2; p 447-491) (Quran: Surah Az-zumar, 39:Ayah 6). which goes like this....Many Anatomists claim “He makes you in the wombs of your that the male fluid has no effect on the creationmothers in stages, one after another, in three of child except for coagulation of blood and thatveils of darkness..” the child is formed from the menstrual blood This statement is from Sura 39:6. It is not .However ,prophet’s Hadeeth in this chapterknown when scholars realized that human refutes this claim” It is true that they took thebeings were developed in uterus, but the known verbal meaning of the words but could notillustration is of “foetus in a womb” drawn by understand the hidden meaning which was thLeonardo da Vinci in the 15 century but Galen possible only after the discovery of Electronin the second century AD had described the microscope and other high tech. machines used
  7. 7. Human Embryology and the Holy Quran: An Overview 109in modern labs. It is since 19th century that we Conclusionhave come to know the precise steps and Holy Quran contains comprehensivestages in the development of various stages in description of human development; no suchhuman development. The Muslims scholars distinct and complete record of humanwere overwhelmed and started collecting data development, such as classification, terminologyand compiling it.(3) and description existed before. This knowledge It was two decades ago that all the data came to us in an era when there was nowas given to famous Scientists, Anatomists and microscope, no slides, no fixatives or any otherEmbryologists. Actually this work was started in gadgets and above all this description is (3)King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. One of narrated by a person who was illiterate! Whothe most eminent scholars is Keith Moore (one would reveal this information to him except theof the highest authorities in the field of CREATOR Himself!embryology) and he surveyed a lot and was In fact Allah verily says:overwhelmed to know that Muslims had this ËÊ É È Ç Æ Å Ä Ã Â Á À mknowledge since seventh century. He studied alot and said that he would not have been able to l Ó Ò ÑÐ Ï Î Í Ìanswer most of the questions 30 years back dueto lack of scientific knowledge. “Soon we will show them our signs in the In 1981, during the Seventh Medical (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their ownConference in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, Moore selves, until it becomes manifest to them thatsaid, “It has been a great pleasure for me to this is the truth .Is it not enough that your Lordhelp clarify some statements in Quraan about does witness all things”. Quran (41:53).human development. It is clear to me that thesestatements must have come to Muhammad from ReferencesGod (Allah), because almost all of this 1. The Holy Quraan. English Translation of theknowledge was not discovered until many Meanings and Commenatary. Ed. Thecenturies later. This proves to me that Presidency of Islamic Research, IFTA, CallMuhammad must have been a Messenger of and Guidance. Publisher: The Custodian ofGod (Allah). (10) The Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd Joe, the Chairman of Baylor College of Comples for the printing of Holy Quran.the USA said that not only the findings were Madinah Al-Munawarah, Saudi Arabia. 2007correct but in fact Islam could guide science in 2. The English Translation of the Holy Quraanfuture. (10) by M. Yousuf Ali ( Johnson, another Anatomist from USA 2006was really surprised and contradicted his own 3. Human Development in Quraan. Worldtheories that these statements from Holy Quran Muslim League, Makkah al Mukarrama.could be a coincidence,or else Prophet Commission on Scientific Signs in QuranMuhammad (PBUH) had a powerful microscope and the Sunnah. 2000.and in the end said that being a scientist and 4. Keith Moore, Journal of Islamic Medicaldepending on Quranic verses he believed that Association. 1986;18: p15-16.Muhammad was receiving information from 5. Scientist’s Interpretation of Refernces tosomewhere and felt that Divine intervention was Embryology in Islam.( 6. These great minds confirmed that this 7. A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understandingknowledge is true word by word and conformed Islam.1997. (www.islam. present embryological findings. Their surprise 8. overwhelming as to how all this was 9. Ibn Hajer (852H;1448 AD) in Fateh-al-Bari.possible in 7th century and that Syedna Prophet Chapter 1-some evidence for truth of Islam)Muhammad (PBUH) was illiterate and he could Second edition 1997;vol 2, p 477-491.neither read nor write. 10. The Quraan and the Modern Science by Above all they agreed that Divine Zakir Naik. Riyadh, 2007:p60-74.intervention was involved!!