Quran on Embryology Historical background
Alalaqa (Leech - like-clot)
AlMudgha (Chewed- like lump of flesh)
The stage of bones
The stage of Muscles
The stage of Nash'ah
The stage of Labour
By: Dr. Sharif Al-Ghazal
Since Aristotle had summed up the prevailing theories in his age relating to the creation of the embryo, controversy continued among the supporters of the theory of the full dwarf embryo existing in man’s sperm and those of the theory of the full dwarf embryo created out of the woman’s menstrual blood coagulation (thickening). Most of them believed that man was reduced into that sperm drop, and they drew a figure in which they imagined the embryo as a full creature in the sperm drop, which then grew up in the womb as a small tree. (Figure 1).
Figure 1 : The dwarf embryo as imagined by Leonardo da Vinci from the 15th century (on the left) and the sperm as miniature human being by Hartsoeker from the 17th century (on the right)
None of both groups could realize that man’s sperm and woman’s ovum participate in the creation of the embryo, as supported by the Italian Scientist “Spallanzani” in the year of 1775. In 1783, Van Beneden was able to confirm this statement, and thus the idea of the dwarf embryo had been discarded. During the years 1888 and 1909 Boveri proved that chromosomes when divided carry the different genetic characteristics. Morgan, in 1912, was able to determine the role of genes, existing in certain parts of chromosomes, in hereditary.
Therefore, it is clear that mankind did not realize that the embryo is created of a man’s sperm mingled with a woman’s ovum except in the 18th century, and only to be confirmed at the beginning of the 20th century.
On the other hand, the Holy Quran and the Prophetic speeches have confirmed in a very accurate scientific manner the creation of man from a mingled fluid-drop (nutfa amshaj), as coined by the Quran, which says ;
( إِنَّا خَلَقْنَا الإِنسَانَ مِنْ نُطْفَةٍ أَمْشَاجٍ نَبْتَلِيهِ فَجَعَلْنَاهُ سَمِيعًا بَصِيرًا) (الإنسان:2)
“Verily We created man from a drop of a mingled fluid-drop (nutfa amshaj), in order to try him: so We gave him (the gifts), of hearing and sight.” (76:2).
It has been agreed upon by commentators of the Holy Quran that “amshaj” means mingling, as man’s water mingles with that of the woman, and this is also what the Prophet (peace be upon him) confirmed in one of his speeches. Imam Ahmed indicated in his book “Al Musnad” that a Jew passed by the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) while he was addressing his companions. Some people from Quarish said; “O Jew! This man proclaims that he is a prophet.” The Jew said: “I will ask him of something no one knows except a prophet.” He asked the prophet (PBUH); “O Mohammed! What is man created from? The Prophet (PBUH) said; “O Jew! Man is created from both: man’s fluid (nutfa) and woman’s fluid.” The Jew said; “This is said by those prophets before you.”
In the next few pages, the embryological developments as indicated in the Quranic verses will be discussed, while shedding light on the fixed scientific facts in each stage of development.
The sperms are formed in the testicles, which in turn are created, as proved by embryology, from cells underneath the kidneys at the back and then go down to the lower abdomen at the last weeks of pregnancy. Man’s fluid mainly contains the following components: the sperms which should be gushing, and motile to cause fertilization and Prostaglandin which causes contractions to the uterus, thus helping the transport of sperms into the place of fertilization. The man's fluid (semen) contains also sugar necessary for providing energy for the sperms, different fluids for neutralizing the acids at the entrance of the uterus and creating a slippery environment for the easy movement of the sperms.
While hundred millions of these sperms (500 m.- 600 m.) enter through the vagina to the uterine cervix, only one sperm is able to fertilize the ovum (Fig. 2); crossing through a long distance to reach the place of fertilization in the Fallopian Uterine Tube which connects the ovary with the uterus. The distance is full of obstacles that can be compared with the distance man takes to reach the moon! After direct fertilization, a quick change occurs to the membrane of the ovum preventing the entrance of the rest of the sperms.
The sperm contains 23 chromosomes, of which one chromosome determines the sex of the embryo. The chromosome in the sperm is either (Y) or (X), while the chromosome in the ovum is always (X). When a sperm of the chromosome type (Y) mingles with an ovum of the chromosome (X), the formed zygote will be male (XY), whereas the embryo will be female (XX) if the sperm (X) mingles with an (X) ovum. So, the sex of the embryo is determined by the sperm (the male), rather than the ovum (the female).
After 5 hours of forming the zygote, which is the primary human cell containing 46 chromosomes, the dominant and recessive genetic characteristics can appear in the parent's sons or grandsons (the stage of genetic programming). The zygote is then divided quickly (Fig. 3) without a change in size and move from the Fallopian Tube (connecting the ovary and the uterus) towards the uterus, where it is implanted as seeds are implanted in the soil.
|(Fig. 2) Of hundreds of sperms, only one can fertilize the ovum.|
(Fig. 3) The zygote divides within hours of the process of fertilization.
The Uterus is the place where the embryo grows and develops before emerging as a fully created and well formed child. The uterus is distinguished as a safe place to perform this function for the following reasons:
1- The location of the uterus in the woman’s pelvis, where it is protected with ligaments and fascia that hold the uterus from the sides and allow its mobility and growth to hundred times its size at full term pregnancy.
2- Muscles of pelvis and perineum fix the uterus in-situ.
3- The secretion of Progesterone (pregnancy hormone) helps stabilize the uterus and slows down the uterine contractions.
4- The embryo in uterus is surrounded with different membranes that produce amniotic fluid which the embryo swims in to protect the embryo from the effect of external traumas .
The process of fertilization and the travel of the zygote to the uterus continue for about 6 days, and the zygote keeps implanting ( known as blastocyst) and growing in the uterus wall for 15 days, when the Alaqa (thick clotted blood) stage begins.
Reflections and comments on related Quranic verses:
“Nutfa” in Arabic means “very little water” or “a drop of water”. This coincides with man’s water which contains sperms as part of its components. The sperm or (spermatozoon) is reproduced from the despised lowly water (nutfa) and looks like a long-tailed fish (this is one of the meanings of Sulalah). Allah the Almighty says;
( الَّذِي أَحْسَنَ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقَهُ وَبَدَأَ خَلْقَ الْإِنسَانِ مِن طِينٍ . ثُمَّ جَعَلَ نَسْلَهُ مِن سُلَالَةٍ مِّن مَّاء مَّهِينٍ ) (السجدة :7-8)
“He It is Who created all things in the best way and began the creation of man from clay, and made his progeny from an extract of despised fluid (Sulalah)” (32: 7-8)
The other meaning of Sulalah is "extract", means the essential or best part of something . By either implication, it means "part of a whole" indicating that the origin of creation is from only part of man's fluid and not all of it (which contains many components as shown above) .
Clarifying the role of the nutfa in creation, He the Almighty says;
( فَلْيَنظُرِ الْإِنسَانُ مِمَ خُلِقَ. خُلِقَ مِن مَّاء دَافِقٍ) (الطارق 5-6)
“So, let man consider of what he was created. He was created of gushing water” (86: 5-6)
and also says;
( خَلَقَ الإِنسَانَ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ فَإِذَا هُوَ خَصِيمٌ مُّبِينٌ ) (النحل : 4)
“He has created man from a sperm (fluid-drop) and behold this same (man) becomes an open disputer.” (16: 4).
The Quran tells us also that the essence of man is not the whole semen, but only a small part of it. this is explained in the Quran :
( أَيَحْسَبُ الْإِنسَانُ أَن يُتْرَكَ سُدًى ، أَلَمْ يَكُ نُطْفَةً مِّن مَّنِيٍّ يُمْنَى ) القيامة 36-37
"Does man think that he will be left uncontrolled (without purpose)? Was he not once a fluid-drop of ejected semen?" (75:36-37)
As we have seen, the Quran informs us that man is made not from the entire semen, but only a small part of it. That the particular emphasis in this statement announces a fact only discovered by modern science is evidence that the statement is divine in origin. The divine statement also reiterates that man’s characteristics are determined and decreed in the nutfa stage, as He says
( قُتِلَ الْإِنسَانُ مَا أَكْفَرَهُ . مِنْ أَيِّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقَهُ . مِن نُّطْفَةٍ خَلَقَهُ فَقَدَّرَهُ ) ( عبس17-19)
“Woe to man! What has made him reject (Allah)? From what stuff has He created him? From a nutfa (fluid-drop) He has created him, and then moulds him in due proportions.” (80: 17-19).
And Allah says:
(إِنَّا خَلَقْنَا الإِنسَانَ مِنْ نُطْفَةٍ أَمْشَاجٍ نَبْتَلِيهِ فَجَعَلْنَاهُ سَمِيعًا بَصِيرًا ) (الإنسان:2)
“Verily We created man of a fluid-drop (nutfa), mingling (amshaj), in order to try him: so We gave him (the gifts of) hearing and sight.” (76:2).
The mingled nutfa in this verse reveals the Quran miraculous nature. Nutfa, in Arabic, is a single small drop of water, but it was described here as (amshaj) , which means its structure consists of combined mixtures . This fits with the scientific finding, as the zygote is shaped as a drop, and is simultaneously a mixture of male fluid chromosomes and female ovum chromosomes.
Has anyone ever thought, before the Quran was revealed, that man’s nutfa, when ejected, is responsible for determining if the embryo will be male or female? Has this ever occurred to one’s mind? The Quran says;
( وَأَنَّهُ خَلَقَ الزَّوْجَيْنِ الذَّكَرَ وَالْأُنثَىِ . من نُّطْفَةٍ إِذَا تُمْنَى) ) النجم 45-46 )
“That He created the pairs, male and female, from a fluid-drop sperm as it is emitted.” (53: 45-46), confirming that man’s gender as male or female is determined when the sperm drop is emitted. Who told the Prophet Mohammed that the sperm (nutfa) with one of its types (Y) or (X) is responsible for determining the sex of the embryo? This was not discovered except after the invention of microscopes in the past century, when it was possible then to know that the embryo being a male or female is only determined by the sperm (nutfa), rather than the ovum. In other words, we were in the beginning of the 20th century and the whole of mankind were not aware that the nutfa decrees if the embryo is male or female. While the Quran, which was revealed 14 centuries ago, has stated this fact in a very clear manner.
Here is a remarkable note! We have mentioned earlier that the sperms are formed in the testicles, which in turn are created, as proved by embryology, from cells underneath the kidneys at the back and then go down to the lower abdomen at the last weeks of pregnancy. This is in confirmation of Allah’s saying:
( وإذ أخذ ربك من بني آدم من ظهورهم ذريتهم ) (الأعراف 172)
“And remember when your Lord brought forth from the children of Adam, from their loins, their seeds…” (7: 172).
This is a clear indication that the origin of progeny is at the region of the back where the embryonic testicles are formed. So, praise be to Allah the Omniscient.
The uterus, as mentioned before, is considered as a place settled (Makeen) and safe for the growth and protection of the embryo, according to reasons mentioned earlier. We find that Quran mentions and affirms this fact 14 centuries ago, as He Almighty says:
( فَجَعَلْنَاهُ فِي قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ . إِلَى قَدَرٍ مَّعْلُومٍ . فَقَدَرْنَا فَنِعْمَ الْقَادِرُونَ ) ( المرسلات :21-23)
”The which (embryo) We placed in a place of settlement, firmly fixed for a period (of gestation), determined. For We do determine, for We are the best to determine (things). (77: 21-23).