Embryology in the Quran

One of the sciences that is given attention in the Quran is embryology, and specifically the development of the embryo/foetus inside the mother's womb. Much of the detailed information given in the Quran was not discovered until long after the revelation of the Quran. Numerous scientists have written about this amazing scientific content of the Quran, one of which is Keith L. Moore, Ph.D., F.I.A.C, at the Department of Anatomy, University of Toronto, Canada.

The following are extracts from 'The developing Human' by the author:

Statements referring to human reproduction and development are scattered throughout the Quran. It is only recently that the scientific meaning of some of these verses has been appreciated fully. The long delay in interpreting these verses correctly resulted mainly from inaccurate translations and commentaries and from a lack of awareness of scientific knowledge.

He creates you in your mothers' wombs, creation after creation, in three realms of darkness. 39:6

We do not know when it was realized that human beings underwent development in the uterus (womb), but the first known illustration of a fetus in the uterus was drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century. In the 2nd century A.D., Galen described the placenta and foetal membranes in his book "On The Formation of the Foetus." Consequently, doctors in the 7th century A.D. likely knew that the human embryo developed in the uterus. It is unlikely that they knew that it developed in stages, even though Aristotle had described the stages of development of the chick embryo in the 4th century B.C. The realization that the human embryo develops in stages was not discussed and illustrated until the 15th century.

After the microscope was discovered in the 17th century by Leeuwenhoek descriptions were made of the early stages of the chick embryo. The staging of human embryos was not described until the 20th century. Streeter (1941) developed the first system of staging which has now been replaced by a more accurate system proposed by O'Rahilly (1972).

"The three realms of darkness" refer to: (l) the anterior abdominal wall; (2) the uterine wall; and (3) the amniochorionic membrane. Although there are other interpretations of this statement, the one presented here seems the most logical from an embryological point of view.

Figure 1. Drawing of a sagittal section of a female's abdomen and pelvis showing a foetus in utero.

Then We placed him as a 'notfah' (tiny drop of semen) in a 'qarar makeen' (secure lodging). 23:13

The drop or nutfah has been interpreted as the sperm or spermatozoon, or the zygote which divides to form a blastocyst which is implanted in the uterus "secure lodging".

Then We created from the tiny drop of semen an 'alaqah' (leech-like structure). 23:14

The word "alaqah" refers to something that clings (like a leech or bloodsucker). This is an appropriate description of the human embryo from days 7-24 when it clings to the endometrium of the uterus, in the same way that a leech clings to the skin. Just as the leech derives blood from the host, the human embryo derives blood from the decidua or pregnant endometrium. It is remarkable how much the embryo of 23-24 days resembles a leech (Fig. 2). As there were no microscopes or lenses available in the 7th century, doctors would not have known that the human embryo had this leech-like appearance. In the early part of the fourth week, the embryo is just visible to the unaided eye because it is smaller than a kernel of wheat.

Figure 2. Top, a drawing of a leech or bloodsucker. Below, a drawing of a 24 day-old human embryo. Note the leech-like appearance of the human embryo at this stage.

Then We created from the alaqah a 'mudghah' (chewed-shaped lump). 23:14

This statement is also from 23:14. The Arabic word "mudghah" means a chewed substance or chewed lump. Towards the end of the fourth week, the human embryo looks somewhat like a chewed lump of flesh (Fig. 3). The chewed appearance results from the somites which resemble teeth marks. The somites represent the beginnings or primordia of the vertebrae.

Figure 3. Left, a plasticine model of the human embryo which has the appearance of chewed flesh. Right, a drawing of a 28 day-old human embryo showing several bead-like somites which resemble the teeth marks in the model shown to the left.

Then We created from the mudghah bones, then We covered the bones with flesh. 23:14

Verse 23:14 continues to say that out of the chewed lump stage, bones and muscles form. This is in accordance with embryological development. First the bones form as cartilage models and then the muscles (flesh) develop around them from the somatic mesoderm.

Then We produce him as another creation. 23:14

These next words in 23:14 tell us that the bones and muscles result in the formation of "another creation". This may refer to the human-like embryo that forms by the end of the eighth week. At this stage, it has distinctive human characteristics and possesses the primordia of all the internal and external organs and parts. After the eighth week, the human embryo is called a foetus.

He made for you the hearing and the eyesight. 32:9

These words in 32:9 indicate that the senses of hearing and seeing develop in that order, which is true. The primordia of the internal ears appear before the beginning of the eyes.

We settle in the wombs what We will for a specified term. 22:5

These words in 22:5 imply that God determines which embryos will remain in the uterus until full term. It is well known that many embryos abort during the first month of development, and that only about 30% of zygotes that form, develop into foetuses that survive until birth.

The interpretation of the verses in the Quran referring to human development would not have been possible in the 7th century A.D. or even two hundred years ago. We can interpret them now because the science of modern embryology affords us new understanding. Undoubtedly, there are other verses in the Quran related to human development that will be understood in the future as our knowledge increases.

---------------------------------------------

Further Quranic scientific information relating to the sex of the embryo, which was only confirmed recently, states that the sex of the embryo is determined by the male sperm and not by the female egg. The Quranic words go to say:

Sura 75

36: Does the human being think that he will be left to go unchecked?
37: Was he not a tiny drop of ejected 'maneye' (semen),
38: then he became an 'alaqah' (something that clings) which He created and fashioned,
39: then He ordained from it the two sexes, the male and the female?
40:
Is He who does this not able to revive the dead?

The key words in relation to our inquiry are the first two words in 75:39. They are the Arabic words 'fajaala minhu' which translates to (and out of it). The word "it" refers to the 'maneye' (semen) in verse 37, confirming that the sex of the embryo is determined by the male sperm.

This scientific piece of information, revealed more than 14 centuries ago in the Quran, was only discovered very recently with the birth of the modern science of genetics.