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.