This section is based on an article entitled “Highlights of Human
Embryology in the Koran and Hadith” by Dr. Keith Moore, Professor of
Anatomy and Chairman of the department, Faculty of Medicine, at the
University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada, 1982.
Human beings have always been intrigued by questions such as:
Where they came from? How they developed before birth? We know
from the earliest records that primitive peoples realized that the birth
of a baby was the result of sexual union or intercourse. However, for
many centuries the idea of human prenatal development was based on
speculation and mysticism. Aristotle wrote the first embryology book in
the fourth century BC. In it he recorded some observations on comparative
embryology, especially on the general progress of the developing chick.
He promoted, however, the incorrect idea that the human embryo
developed from a formless mass that resulted from the union of semen
with menstrual blood.
Scientific knowledge of embryology did not progress significantly for
nearly 2000 years. It was not until near the end of the 17th century, when
the microscope was invented, that the early stages of human development
could be effectively studied. After it was possible to examine cells under
the microscope, it was reasoned in the 18th century that embryonic
development resulted from the growth and differentiation of embryonic
The realization that the embryo develops in stages in the uterus was
not discussed or proven until the 15th century, although Galen mentioned
the placenta and fetal membranes in his book “On the Formation of the
Fetus” written in the second century AD. Galen must have known about
the uterus. After the microscope was developed in the 17th century,
descriptions of the early stages of the developing chick were made as
observed with simple lenses. The staging of human embryos was not
proposed until the 1942 by Streeter and the stages as we know them now
were not adopted worldwide until a few decades ago. The Glorious Quran
refers to the embryonic stages and the uterus as follows:
“...He creates you in the wombs of your mothers in stages, one after
another, in three veils of darkness. Such is Allah, your Lord and
Cherisher. To Him belongs (all) dominion. There is no God but He:
Then how are ye turned away (from your true Lord)?.”
(Surah 39, Ayah 6)
2 months fetus
Drawing of a sagittal section of a female′s abdomen and pelvis
showing a fetus in utero. The “three veils of darkness” are:
(1) the anterior abdominal wall;
(2) the uterine wall and
(3) the amniochorionicmembrane.
It is realistic to interpret the three veils of darkness in the above Ayah
1. The mother′s abdominal wall.
2. The uterus wall.
3. The surroundings of the fetus (placenta, embryonic membranes,
The above three anatomical layers protect the embryo from external
injury. The above Ayah refers to the stages of embryonic development
without giving any details about these stages.
Before proceeding in describing the embryonic stages as narrated in
the Quran, it is important to define the following Arabic words that are
used in the Quran:
Nutfah: a drop of sperm; zygote.
Alakah: something that clings; leech-like structure; blood clot.
Mudgah: piece of flesh; bead-like segmental masses of flesh; like chewed
gum with teeth marks.
It is interesting to note that B. Sproul translates “Nutfah” into “moist
germ” in his book “Primal Myths”! This distorted translation implicates
that the Holy Quran fades in its validity.
A human being develops from a single cell, the zygote, which forms
when an ovum (Latin for egg) is fertilized by a sperm (Greek for seed).
The Quran refers to this process as follows:
“And made his progeny from the quintessence of a despised liquid.”
(Surah 32, Ayah 8)
“Was he (Man) not a drop of sperm emitted (in lowly form)?”
(Surah 75, Ayah 37)
“Verily We created Man from a drop of mingled sperm.”
(Surah 76, Ayah 2)
The above Ayat make it clear that the sperms are derived from a
very small part of the fluid or the semen that is ejaculated from the penis.
They are expelled from the urethra via the same route followed by the
urine that is sometimes referred to as a “despised fluid.” There are other
references in the Quran to the origin of man from a small quantity of
“mingled fluids”, undoubtedly the male and female sexual secretions.
The resulting mixture (drop) composed of the ovum and the penetrating
sperm, becomes a zygote.
A popular idea in the 17th century among scientists was that
sperm contained a miniature human being that simply enlarged inside
the sperm. Another equally strong idea was that the ovum contained a
miniature human being that was stimulated to grow by the semen. It was
not until the 18th century that Spallanzani experimentally demonstrated
that the initiation of development required sex products from male and
female. From his experiments, including artificial insemination in dogs,
he concluded that sperm was the fertilizing agent. The mixture of the
male and female fluids was discovered recently though it was known in
the Quran for fourteen centuries. There are some theories that the female
fluid acts as an agent to prevent the rejection of the sperms, which are
foreign bodies in the uterus.
Top, a drawing of a 24 day-old human embryo. Note the leech-like appearance of the human embryo at this stage. Below, a drawing of a leech or bloodsucker.
In the following Ayah, more details are given about the staging process:
“Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay), (Arabic, sulalah);
Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm (Arabic, nutfah) in a place
of rest, firmly fixed; Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed
blood (Arabic, alakah); then of that clot We made a (fetus) lump
(Arabic, mudgah); then we made out of that lump bones and clothed
the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So
blessed be Allah, the best to create!”
(Surah 23, Ayah 12-14)
This Ayah states that God made human from a drop into a thing that
clings in the mother′s womb, then to a leech-like form that soon changed
to a shape that looks like a piece of chewed gum. The “mudgah” then took
the shape of bone and was clothed with flesh.
Top, a drawing of a 28 day-old human embryo showing several bead-like somites which resemble the teeth marks in the model shown below.
During the embryonic period, the embryo acquires distinctive
human characteristics as bones and muscles begin to form. By the end
of the embryonic period, the blossoming of all the main organ systems is
established. The external appearance of the embryo is greatly affected by
the formation of the brain, heart, liver, bones, limbs, ears, nose and eyes.
As these structures develop, they affect the appearance of the embryo as
The second major stage of prenatal development is the fetus stage.
This is a period of rapid growth and differentiation. At that time the fetus
is capable of survival if born prematurely.
The idea that development results from a genetic plan contained in
the chromosomes of the zygote was not discovered until the end of the
19th century. The Quran states:
“From a sperm-drop, He has created him (man), then (right away)
mouldeth him in due proportions.”
(Surah 80, Ayah 19)
This Ayah from the Quran clearly implies that the “nutfah”
contained the blueprint for the future characteristics and the features
of the developing human being. It is reasonable to interpret the drop
(Arabic, nutfah) as the small sample of sperms which are extracted
from the ejaculated semen because it is well established that only a
few hundred of the several million sperms in the semen are able to pass
through the uterus and surround the ovum in the uterine tube. The Arabic
conjunction used to join the two sentences in the above Ayah is “fa”
which means a rapid succession. So, immediately after insemination, the
genetic future is determined. The realization that sex is determined at the
moment of fertilization was established about 60 years ago when the sex
chromosomes were discovered.
The blastocyst, or the early embryo implant, subsides in the uterus
about ten days after fertilization. The embryo assumes human appearance
during the eighth week, i.e. 40 to 50 nights after its implantation in the
uterus. Before that, there is no difference between human and animal
embryos. The Prophet said:
“When the drop of (semen) remains in the womb for forty or fifty
(days) or forty nights, the angel comes and says: My Lord, will he be
good or evil? And both these things would be written.”
(Narrated by Huzaifa ibn Usaid, Sahih Muslim)
The Prophet did not study embryology; he was unlettered! He
did not have a microscope to examine the embryo. He did not conduct
experiments on chicks or animals of other sorts. Yet, he said the above
Hadith that is recorded in the authentic Hadith′s book. The similarity
of the leech and the human embryo at 24 days is astounding. A human
embryo at 28 days shows pairs of bead-like segmental masses that make
the appearance of the embryo similar to the chewed gum with teeth
marks! Another reference to this stage is given as:
“O mankind! If you have a doubt about resurrection, (c
We created you out of dust, then out of sperms (Arabic nutfah), then
out of leech-like clot (Arabic, alakah), then out of morsel of flesh
(Arabic, mudgah) partly formed (differentiated) and partly unformed
(Surah 22, Ayah 5)
Allah addresses mankind and their doubts about life, death and
resurrection by providing a simple and logical answer; He is the Creator
of all mankind. Then, Allah proceeds by stating overwhelming facts
about their physical growth from lifeless matter, to seed, fertilized ovum,
embryo, fetus, child, youth, old age and then death! How can there be any
doubt about the Author of all these wonderful stages of life? How can
there be any doubt about the ability of the Creator of life to create another
life and cause resurrection of all mankind?
In the above Ayah, Allah states that during the chewed stage, the
embryo has both differentiated and undifferentiated parts. It is now well
established that the brain and the heart are only partially differentiated
at the end of the fourth week when the embryo resembles a chewed
substance. After the chewed-like appearance, bones develop, which are
soon clothed with muscles. The bones begin to form in the sixth week
and muscles attach to them shortly thereafter. By the beginning of the
seventh week, the bones give human shape to the embryo′s body. The
ears and the eyes begin to form in the fourth week and are clearly visible
at the sixth week, 42 days after the zygote or “nutfah” forms. Sex is not
distinguishable at this stage. The Prophet said:
“After 42 nights of forming the zygote “nutfah” God sends an angel
to it to make its features, hearing, vision, skin, flesh, and bones. ′Oh
God′, the angel asks, “male or female.”
(Narrated by Huzaifa ibn Usaid, Sahih Muslim)
In the above Surah 80, Ayah 19, the sex of the child is determined
immediately after insemination. The inquiry of the Angel about the
sexual differentiation of the embryo indicates that Angels do not know
the future. Because the Angel is shaping the organs of the zygote and all
that is common between male and female, he asks Allah about the sex
to form the sex organs. The external genitalia are not distinctly male or
female until the 12th week.
There are many other Ayat and sayings in the Hadith about
embryology. Some Ayat we understand now and others we may
understand in the future, God′s willing. The meaning, of some of the Ayat
that we understand, became clear to us only few decades ago. These Ayat
are an overwhelming challenge from God to those who do not believe
in Him and to the non-Muslims. There is no other holy book that has
such information about embryology. There is no other explanation except
that the Quran is a revelation from God to the Prophet. All the abovementioned
Ayat are stated not as stand-alone scientific facts, but rather in
context of encouraging mankind to think and to believe in The Creator.