Embryology in the Qur'an

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This article analyzes the apologetic claim that Qur'anic embryology is scientifically accurate.


There are propagations of Qur'anic Embryology by such luminaries as Dr. Keith Moore (alongside his co-author Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist")[1] and Dr. Maurice Bucaille. These works are copied by Dr. Al Zeiny, Dr. Zakir Naik, Dr. Ibrahim Syed, Dr. Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Harun Yahya and others. A good additional material is provided by Dr. Omar Abdul Rehman in which he goes into even greater detail in his attempt to validate the Qur'anic ‘human reproduction’ verses with modern scientific knowledge.

There are already many responses available. So here we will attempt to add to this debate, concentrating solely on the Qur'anic verses, because inclusion of the hadiths would clearly show up the unscientific nature of Qur'anic embryology.

Apologetic Claim

Dr. Omar Abdul Rehman’s article will be used as the basis for our analysis as it is clearly the most detailed. A summary of his claims is contained herein:

Thus the order and rate of development is similar in the two surahs.

(2) The first and second stages (Nutfah and 'Alaqah) : These two stages are congruent in Al-Mu'minun and AI-Qiyamah and the conjunction "thumma" has been used in both. No mention of these two stages is made in AI-Infitar.

(3) The third stage (Mudghah) "Mudghah" (a noun) was used in AI-Mu'minun to describe the stage which follows the "'Alaqah". This noun is indicative of the shape. In "Al-Qiyamah" text, the verb "Khalaqa" has been used. This verb indicates the events which take place in "Mudghah" stage. "Khalaqa" is thus taken to correspond to the beginning of the development of the various organs during the "Mudghah' stage.

As the outer appearance of the embryo alters with the changes taking place inside it, then the verb "sawwa" in "AI-Qiyamah" is taken to indicate that the "Mudghah" stage is over. The "Mudghah" has no bones or muscles and therefore does not have the human shape.

Thus the stage of straightening and making the surface of the embryo more even mentioned in "AI-Qiyamah" must therefore, come after "Mudghah" stage. The order of events in "AI-Mu'minun" and "AI-Qiyamah is the same. Thus it is taken that the straightening in "Al-Oiyamah" follows immediately after the "Mudghah" i.e. corresponding to the bones "Izam" stage in "AI-Mu'minun

"Mudghah" has been described by the verb "Khalaqa" in "AI-Qiyamah" describing the events which take place in it. Thus the process of creation is a particular feature of the "Mudghah" while terms like Nutfah and 'Alaqah have been used in the previous stages. In "Surah Al-Haj" the "Mudghah" is again described as formed and unformed. This indicates that the process of formation and initiation of various organs is a prominent characteristic of this stage.

Furthermore, by comparing the texts in "Al-Qiyamah" and "AI-Infitar", we find that "Khalq" and straightening are in congruent sequence in both texts. This also indicates that "AI-Infitar" text has also started with the Mudghah stage by using the verb "Khalaqa" which is an important characteristic of this stage as explained in the above paragraph.

(4) The fourth stage: As explained in the third stage the beginning of the bones 'Izam" stage corresponds to the stage of straightening, Furthermore, Al-Infitar shows that the stage of straightening does not include modification "Ta'dil" as this is stated to follow upon; straightening. Modification occurs by approaching the human appearance which cannot occur at the stage of bones without the presence of the muscle. It can therefore be concluded that the modification stage starts with the beginning of the clothing with flesh (muscle) stage i.e. it follows the stage of the bones which corresponds to the straightening stage. This is indicated by the order of events stated in "AI-Mu'minun" on one hand and both "AI-Qiyamah" and 'AI-Infitar" on the other. The Qur'an has therefore used the noun 'bones' to indicate shape in the first instance and a verb "sawwa" in both the latter surahs to describe an event. The embryo at this stage becomes more straight after having been bent (C-shape) and its surface more smooth after having been uneven during the "Mudghah" stage.

(5) The fifth stage: In the above discourse it has been mentioned that the beginning of the stage, clothing with flesh, corresponds to the beginning of the modification stage in "AI-Infitar". This latter stage must correspond to the statement:

"and We made from it the male and female" in "AI-Qiyamah" because both are preceded by the straightening stage. Therefore, the beginning of male and female differentiation corresponds to the stage of clothing with flesh in Al-Mu'minun. This is in fact what actually takes place. There is differentiation of the genital ridge into either an ovary or a testis at this stage.

(6) The sixth stage and the continuation of the fifth: In surah AI-Mu'minun the conjunction "thumma" was used between the stage of clothing with flesh and the stage of Nash'ah. However, in "AI-Qiyamah" and "AI-Infitar" no sixth stage is mentioned. This indicates that male and female sex differentiation continues to its completion and this is what actually happens. The external genital organs differentiate between the 11th and 12th weeks Similarly "Ta’dil" or modification of the organs and acquiring of human proportions of the body continues to a late stage of pregnancy.


Debating Technique

Proponents of Qur'anic embryology often defend their position by claiming that words like alaqa can have several meanings, and each of these meanings apply at the same time. Thus, an alaqa is a leech, looks like a leech if viewed in a certain angle or a clot in another angle, or clings to the endometrium. It is a waste of time to argue such imponderables We will accept each and every one of these definitions because such arguments are futile.

The best method of refuting Qur'anic embryology is by questioning every claim as to their validity, and to make its proponents justify every claim. This would include why they chose to make a choice when there are several other equally valid possibilities, why they chose to ignore clearly nonsensical phrases, and why they assume certain phrases to be metaphorical while others to be literal.

We will ignore the obvious similarities between the embryology prevailing at the time the Qur'an was written and the embryology contained within its pages. This is because Prophet Muhammad’s plagiarizing of ancient Greek and Indian embryology can never be proven one way or the other. Therefore, we will concentrate solely in showing that Qur'anic embryology is made up of incorrect or illogical or unproven assertions.

If, however, the reader is so inclined, they can read a good summary of the apologetic debating technique here, and read the relevant sections here to see how many of the word definitions used by them are based on misquotes of Arabic dictionaries and are incompatible with how those same Arabic words were used in the hadith (such as the claims that the word alaqah meant a "leech-like substance", that a mudghah is not merely a small piece of meat, but one that has been chewed).

The Role of the Female Gamete

The Qur'an never explicitly claims that the female parent contributes genetic material. It is merely the assumption, and an assumption only, of apologists that 'nutfatun amshaajin' (mixed drop or mingled sperm) includes the female gamete.

Verily WE created Man from a drop of mingled sperm, in order to try him: So We gave him (the gifts), of Hearing and Sight.

The term ‘nutfatun amshaajin’ could just as easily refer to the sperm-menstrual blood union of Aristotle and the ancient Indian embryologists, or the two sperm hypothesis of Hippocrates and Galen, or even the readily observed mingling of semen and vaginal discharge during sexual intercourse. In other words, the fact the Qur'an does not explicitly state that ‘nutfatun amshaajin’ contains the ovum, together with the existence of other possible explanations, means that it is illogical to assume the former and not the latter.

The insistence that it explains the former is pure conjecture devoid of evidence, and constitutes the logical fallacy of equivocation, and its adoption is merely wishful thinking or 'reinterpretation after the fact.’

One might contend that the Qur'an does not claim a role for the ovum at all, or is even ignorant of its existence.

Apologists claim that the Qur'an correctly states that the sex of the progeny is determined by the sperm from the male parent, based on verses 53:45-46.

Pickthal: And that He createth the two spouses, the male and the female, From a drop (of seed) when it is poured forth;
Transliteration: Waannahu khalaqa alzzawjayni alththakara waal-ontha Min nutfatin itha tumna

There are only two logical explanations of nutfatin itha tumna; that it is the sperm emitted, or the blastocyst (i.e. zygote) implanted. If it is the latter, there is no case to argue that the Qur'an correctly states that gender is determined by the sperm of the male parent. Hence, nutfatin itha tumna must refer to the sperm emitted.

It is possible the Qur'anic verses 53:45-46 state that the male and female progenies, and not merely the genders, are created from the sperm. This is a possibility totally discounted without evidence and suggests a biased interpretation of the verses in light of modern knowledge. For where is the mention of the ovum? Not in these verses nor anywhere else in the Qur'an.

In fact, the Qur'an itself provides the evidence of its doctrinal omission or rejection of the role of the ovum in procreation, for verse 2:223 states that wives are tilth. This is saying they are like the earth receiving the zygote (i.e. seed) from the male.

Pickthal: Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) go to your tilth as ye will, and send (good deeds) before you for your souls, and fear Allah, and know that ye will (one day) meet Him. Give glad tidings to believers, (O Muhammad).

Therefore, if read in the context of verse 2:223, ‘nutfatun amshaajin’ cannot contain the ovum because tilth does not contribute genetic material to the development of the seed (i.e. zygote), and must mean the semen mingled with some unspecified non-genetic material-contributing female secretion.[2]

In light of these facts, backed by the Qur'anic verses, it is apparent that the Qur'an’s view of human conception and reproduction is that the male parent contributes the diploid seed (nutfatin itha tumna) and the female parent, as tilth, contributes the environment and nutrients for the growth and development of this diploid seed.

Furthermore, verses 77:20-22 strongly imply that it is semen that is stored in the womb and developed into the embryo, as the Jews and Greeks believed.

Sahih International: Did We not create you from a liquid disdained? And We placed it in a firm lodging For a known extent.

Verses 20-21 closely parallel 23:13, which too says "We placed it (jaAAalnahu) in a safe place (qararin makeen)", and uses the word nutfah instead of maa' maheenin (liquid disdained). The 'hu' ending to jaAAalnahu can mean him or it, and probably means the former in 23:13. However, 77:20 uses the 2nd person "you", so the latter meaning, 'it' is clearly intended in the next verse, in reference to the liquid.

The Dust Stage

These verses form the basis for Qur'anic embryology.

Pickthal: O mankind! if ye are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then lo! We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot, then from a little lump of flesh shapely and shapeless, that We may make (it) clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterward We bring you forth as infants, then (give you growth) that ye attain your full strength. And among you there is he who dieth (young), and among you there is he who is brought back to the most abject time of life, so that, after knowledge, he knoweth naught. And thou (Muhammad) seest the earth barren, but when We send down water thereon, it doth thrill and swell and put forth every lovely kind (of growth).
Transliteration: Ya ayyuha alnnasu in kuntum fee raybin mina albaAAthi fa-inna khalaqnakum min turabin thumma min nutfatin thumma min AAalaqatin thumma min mudghatin mukhallaqatin waghayri mukhallaqatin linubayyina lakum wanuqirru fee al-arhami ma nashao ila ajalin musamman thumma nukhrijukum tiflan thumma litablughoo ashuddakum waminkum man yutawaffa waminkum man yuraddu ila arthali alAAumuri likayla yaAAlama min baAAdi AAilmin shay-an watara al-arda hamidatan fa-itha anzalna AAalayha almaa ihtazzat warabat waanbatat min kulli zawjin baheejin
Pickthal: Verily We created man from a product of wet earth; Then placed him as a drop (of seed) in a safe lodging; Then fashioned We the drop a clot, then fashioned We the clot a little lump, then fashioned We the little lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it as another creation. So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators!
Transliteration: Walaqad khalaqna al-insana min sulalatin min teenin Thumma jaAAalnahu nutfatan fee qararin makeenin Thumma khalaqna alnnutfata AAalaqatan fakhalaqna alAAalaqata mudghatan fakhalaqna almudghata AAithaman fakasawna alAAithama lahman thumma ansha/nahu khalqan akhara fatabaraka Allahu ahsanu alkhaliqeena

These verses clearly delineate the stages of Qur'anic embryology as thus:

  1. Dust/wet earth/clay
  2. Nutfah (Believed to be sperm)
  3. Alaqa (leech, clot, clinging thing)
  4. Mudgha (lump of meat, partly formed and partly unformed)
  5. Izhaam/Aitham (bones)
  6. Izhaam covered with Lahm (muscles and flesh)
  7. Another creation (fetus?)

Proponents of Qur'anic embryology all conveniently ignore the first stage which is ‘dust’. What does it correspond to in the modern Embryology? We know some would claim the dust to be metaphorical. Where is the evidence for that? If the dust is metaphorical, then the other stages should also be metaphorical, in the absence of evidence to differentiate between metaphorical and literal phrases.

The evidence that ‘dust’ is not metaphorical is the word ‘then’ or ‘thumma’ linking dust and sperm. This is the same word linking various stages in the Qur'an embryology sequence of events. To arbitrary assume that this word now no longer means an immediate follow-on to the next stage is disingenuous and devoid of explanatory evidence.

Some will argue that the dust refers to the catalytic stage of clay in the first stage of abiogenesis. However, this is in error because there are numerous, literally eons length, steps between this clay-catalysis stage and the creation of humans. Secondly, the verse implies that man was made from clay, giving the impression clay was a building block and not a catalytic compound. Therefore, this clay-catalysis notion is shown to be in error.

The Missing Stages

Most proponents of Qur'anic embryology either conveniently omit the embarrassing verse 40:67 or dishonestly quote only the fragment supporting their case.

Pickthal: He it is Who created you from dust, then from a drop (of seed) then from a clot, then bringeth you forth as a child, then (ordaineth) that ye attain full strength and afterward that ye become old men - though some among you die before - and that ye reach an appointed term, that haply ye may understand.
Transliteration: Huwa allathee khalaqakum min turabin thumma min nutfatin thumma min AAalaqatin thumma yukhrijukum tiflan thumma litablughoo ashuddakum thumma litakoonoo shuyookhan waminkum man yutawaffa min qablu walitablughoo ajalan musamman walaAAallakum taAAqiloona

Those who omit this verse are Keith Moore, Maurice Bucaille, Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Nadeem Arif Najmi and Omar Abdul Rehman. Only Ibrahim Syed quotes the verse, but only up to the alaqa stage. Zakir Naik references it in a footnote, glossing over the ‘missing stages’, while Sulayman Gani quotes the verse in full, but glosses over the missing stages.

This shows that the Qur'an cannot even get its embryology stages correct. Some might view 40:67 to ‘contradict’ the other embryology verses as it states clearly and plainly that the child is formed straight after the alaqa stage.

The 'Alaqah Stage

Clinging Thing

Those who claim that 'alaqah is used in the sense of a clinging thing in the Qur'an should consider that the embryo does not cease to be attached to the uterine wall when the musculo-skeletal system begins to develop around the 5th week. Yet the Qur'anic stages appear to describe a transition between a succession of states. Moreover it would be self-evident from aborted fetuses that at some stage the embryo becomes attached to something.

Hanging / Suspended

Also flawed is a related claim, that 'alaqah is used here in its meaning of a suspended, or hanging thing, because the early embryo is attached via a connecting stalk to the uterine wall. The problem is that not all embryos hang downwards below their connecting stalk. Rather it depends where in the uterus implantation occurs. The uterus lies fairly horizontal at this time, so depending on the side of the uterus implantation occurs, the early embryo can also be above its stalk, as this diagram[3] of twins at 4 weeks demonstrates :

Fraternal twins in womb-4 weeks.jpg

Various studies of placentas and ultrasound scans have found that between 26% and 53% of implantations occur on the anterior (frontal) wall of the uterus (like the lower twin in the diagram).[4] Clearly apologists should expect better of the Qur'an's author than to say that as early embryos, humans are "hanging things" when such a description is untrue for a significant percentage of the population, not even a general rule.

This scientific inaccuracy should be considered before even raising the doubts above concerning the suitability of the word 'alaqah to describe embryos that are on the posterior wall, and thus below their connecting stalks. For it is highly doubtful that 'alaqah in the sense of “hanging” would be a good way to describe the embryo in relation to the connecting stalk. Lane’s lexicon strongly indicates that 'alaq is not just the thing which is hung, but the entire apparatus or vertical rope by which means it is suspended, or even just the rope itself, giving the example of a suspended bucket in a well.[5] The stalk evidently has a certain amount of stiffness and does not hang vertically under gravity like a bucket in a well.


Apologists who are fond of leech metaphors should consider that unlike a leech, which simply sucks blood from its host, the embryo circulates and exchanges blood and waste products with its mother.[6] A leech has many characteristics such as size, behaviour, shape, color, appearance. Why would the author use 'alaqah intending such a metaphorical meaning when his listeners could not be expected to know in what respect the analogy applies? It is a typical Texan Sharpshooter fallacy[7] of apologists to choose one characteristic, shape, to an arbitrarily very limited degree find a similarity with an embryo, and draw any conclusions, particularly as the early embryo passes through a wide range of shapes and is itself a biological organism. Moreover, such apologetics have to conveniently ignore the embryo's yolk sac when depicting the embryo.

Congealed Blood

Given that one of the meanings of 'alaqah is congealed blood, which was also the understanding given in numerous tafsirs, it is most unwise to use a word with such a biological meaning to describe a biological process if that meaning was not the intention. A perfect author would avoid arousing any such suspicion of inaccurate biology with his choice of words.

The poet al-Nabigha alja'di النابغة الجعدي (died c.670 AD), who was a contemporary of Muhammad, in one of his poems says:

الخـالق البـارئ المصـور في الأرحام ماء حتى يصير دما

The creator, the maker, the fashioner, in the wombs semen until it becomes blood[8]

This further underlines the suspicion just mentioned, and moreover, suggests some influence in 7th century Arabia of the ideas of the Greek physician, Galen, whose works were studied at that time by groups in Alexandria and Syria. Indeed, other similarities between Galenic embryology and that of the Qur'an are well known.

The Formation of Bone

There is a clear mistake in the Qur'anic idea of the formation of bone. Drs Needham and Needbeer of freethoughtmecca explain this well.

While we will return to the issue of mudgha below, we should now move on to the issue of izhaam (bones). As was noted above, after the alaqa is turned into a mudgha, the Qur'an states fa-khalaqnaa al-mudghata izhaaman, or "then we formed the morsel into bones." Moore and his cohort try to change the translation to "out of the mudgha we formed bones," so as to give the impression that the bones are forming inside the embryo, rather than the entire object becoming bones. This brings to light the duplicitous nature that these people are taking to the text.

Consider that word khalaqnaa ("we created/formed") appears in three times in Soorat al-Moominoon 23:14: (1) khalaqnaa al-nutfata alaqatan - "we formed the nutfa into an alaqa"; (2) khalaqnaa al-alaqata mudghatan - "we formed the alaqa into a mudgha"; (3) khalaqnaa al-mudghata izhaaman - "we formed the mudgha into bones." So the question that needs to be asked is how one properly interprets the logical structure khalaqnaa X,Y.

As will be noted below, proponents of this polemic want izhaam to not actually be a reference to bone, but rather cartilaginous precursors to bone, thus we see that there are two possible (and rather different) usages of the logical structure khalaqnaa X,Y being employed. Does the logical structure mean "we formed the X into a Y," or does it mean "we caused a precursor to Y to form inside the X"? No person to put forth the polemic has ever explained which is the correct interpretation, or if both are possible how they know to use one and not the other. The reality is that khalaqnaa X,Y means "we formed the X into a Y," and there is no implication that the Y (much less something other than Y!) is only forming inside the X.

When we reach izhaam we find another problematic part of the verse. Consider that the text reads: khalaqnaa al-mudghata izhaaman, fa-kasawnaa al-izhaaman laHman. First note that khalaqnaa is past tense, and the pre-fix fa means "then." So the verse reads: "we formed the morsel into bones, then we clothed the bones with flesh." Thus, it implies bone forms before soft tissue, which is a blatant error, not to mention one that parallels Galen.

As was alluded to above, there is an argument put forth by those who push this polemic that the "bones" are actually a reference to cartilaginous models that will later ossify. Of course, the text has izhaam, which only means bone - there is no reference to cartilage (Arabic: ghudhroof), so we see that the champions of this deceptive polemic are importing things. Furthermore, as was noted in the previous paragraph, the text has a past tense conjugation followed by the word "then" (fa), thus the logic of the text is that the bones were completed, finished, and then they were clothed with flesh. This does not square with the actual process that some wish to correlate the text with, where cartilaginous skeletal models ossify while muscle forms around them simultaneously.

Unless and until a proponent of Qur'anic embryology can adequately explain why the syntax of stage transformation is somehow different in the izhaam stage compared to all the other stages, one must logically conclude that the Qur'an is in error in believing that the mudgha turned totally into izhaam.

Some may simply say that the syntax allows both interpretations, i.e. khalaqna can mean made into or made within. However, no proof has been provided for this assertion. It is easy to make assertions. Supporting them up with evidence is another matter. Therefore, in the failure of evidence otherwise, the conclusion must be that the syntax of verse 23:12-14 must reveal the Qur'an to be in error.

Secondly, they have to explain why the author of the Qur'an was deficient in their language and forgot to mention cartilage (ghudhroof)[9] but bone (izhaam).[10]

Thirdly, muscle and bone (or their precursors) develop contemporaneously, although muscle begins developing before cartilage and bone. Therefore, there is no scientific basis for the Qur'anic claim of a stage in which bone is later covered with flesh after its own formation. Muscles begin developing in week four. There are 40 pairs of developing muscles in the five-week embryo, and they begin to move by week six when the skeletal system is still totally cartilage which forms in week five or six. By week seven, the muscles and nerves begin work together, when ossification (i.e. bone formation) begins.

It can be argued that since cartilage does not begin forming until week five or six and muscles begin forming in the fourth week, the Qur'anic verse 23:14 got the embryology completely reversed, and therefore, incorrect.

Here is the scientific evidence for the contemporaneous development of cartilage/bone and muscles:

Ossification (in upper limb) occurs at the end of the 7th week. - The Developing Human, 6th Edition Clinically Oriented Embryology Keith L. Moore, Ph..D., FIAC, FRSM T.V.N. Persaud, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc., FRCPath W.B. Saunders Company (Philadelphia), 1998 p. 96

According to Rugh in Conception to Birth Roberts Rugh, Ph.D., Landrum B. Shettles, Ph.D., M.D. Harper & Row, (New York), 1971, muscles appear in pelvis by 6th week (p 43). Movement of the muscles is being controlled by the nervous system by the 6th week (p 34). All of the muscle blocks have appeared by day 36 after conception (p 46).

Thus bone appears after muscles have formed.

Even if we were to accept that the Qur'an was only referring to precursors of bone and not bone itself, even though it used the Arabic word for bone, izhaam, the embryology is still wrong.

Muscle precursors begin developing into muscle soon after mesenchymal (skeletal) condensation.[11]

Muscle forms contemporaneously with cartilage formation and is not delayed until bone has formed. Muscle development starts on Day 28.[12]

Building blocks are present for 40 pairs of muscles, which are located from the base of the skull to the bottom of the spinal column. Day 28 after conception (Rugh, p 35) Muscles appear in the pelvic region. Day 31 after conception (Rugh, p 43) All of the muscle blocks have appeared. Day 36 after conception (Rugh, p 46) Muscular layers of the stomach, esophagus, and intestines begin to proliferate. Day 56 after conception (Rugh, p 53) The first indication of limb musculature is observed. 7th week of development (Sadler, 7th edition, p 168)

Cartilage first appears in week 5.[13] But the cartilage skeleton begins forming by week 6.[14]

Thus, when the bone precursors were developing, muscles were also developing at the same time. The cartilage model of the skeleton begins developing by week 6[14] and is only developed by the 7th week.[15]

Mesenchymal models of the bones in the limbs undergo chondrification to form hyaline cartilage. Week 6 (Moore: The Developing Human, 6th ed., p. 420, fig. 15-15D)

At this time, all the muscle blocks have already appeared. (Rugh p 46)

Thus, Keith Moore and his co-author are wrong. Muscles do not take their positions around the bone forms at the end of the seventh week and during the eighth week. All the muscle blocks have already appeared around the developing skeleton by day 36 – i.e. early week 5. Bone and Muscle develop contemporaneously. In fact, muscle appears before bone and around the same time as the cartilage precursor.

A week 6 embryo (Carnegie Stage 16) already has musculature when the cartilage is forming.

A very detailed account of musculo-skeletal development in the human limb by clinical-geneticist Robert Jan Galjaard can be read online.[16][17]It details that muscle precursor cells migrate from the somites into the limb buds (ca. day 26), well before the condensing core of mesenchyme has started to chondrify into cartilage bone models in the upper part of the limb (ca. day 37), followed by the lower part (ca. day 41). The muscle precursor cells aggregate around these cores and have grouped into distinct muscle masses by day 41.

Furthermore, Lane's Lexicon gives no indication that lahm means muscles specifically rather than flesh in general.[18][19] Thus Qur'an embryology is even more inaccurate as it suggests that there is a stage when the bones are unclothed without any kind of flesh. We have more evidence supporting this interpretation elsewhere in the Qur'an. Verse 2:259 uses the same Arabic words as does 23:14 for 'bones', 'clothed' and 'flesh' to describe the resurrection of a donkey which had been dead for 100 years. Verse 22:5 (see quote in next section) suggests that embryological development has similarities with resurrection.

Pickthal: ...and look at your ass; and that We may make you a sign to men, and look at the bones, how We set them together, then clothed them with flesh...
Transliteration: waonthur ila himarika walinajAAalaka ayatan lilnnasi waonthur ila alAAithami kayfa nunshizuha thumma naksooha lahman

The resurrected donkey's bones clearly had no flesh on them (were unclothed), and then Allah clothed them. This rather suggests that when the same words are used in 23:14 to describe the developing fetus, the author had in mind a small bare skeleton, which is then clothed with flesh.

The End of Cell Differentiation

Proponent of Qur'anic embryology state that mudgha stage in which the phrase “partly formed and partly unformed” or “shaped and shapeless” refers to the incomplete cell differentiation observed in this stage.

Pickthal: O mankind! if ye are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then lo! We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot, then from a little lump of flesh shapely and shapeless, …

This claim is not backed by the scientific evidence.

Remembering that this mudgha stage occurs before the izham stage, it must occur before week six, when the progeny is still in the “embryo” stage. However, modern embryologists know that cell differentiation occurs well before the ‘mudgha’ stage and well into the “fetal” stage. Hence the Qur'anic embryology claim must be incorrect.

The Beginning of the Fetal Stage

Proponents also claim that the Qur'an correctly denotes the start of the Fetal stage by referring to the creation of ‘another creation’ after the izham/lahm (bone clothed with flesh) stage which supposedly occurs at week eight.

Pickthal: …We the clot a little lump, then fashioned We the little lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it as another creation.

An experienced embryologist would know that the delineation of the embryo and fetal stages is arbitrary.

However, the 8-week dividing line is still arbitrary, since a firm scientific basis for the transition to the fetal stage is lacking.[20]

The Least Period of Conception

Another claim is that the Qur'an correctly states that the least period of conception is 6 months. They base this claim on two verses.

Pickthal: And We have commended unto man kindness toward parents. His mother beareth him with reluctance, and bringeth him forth with reluctance, and the bearing of him and the weaning of him is thirty months, till, when he attaineth full strength and reacheth forty years, he saith: My Lord! Arouse me that I may give thanks for the favour wherewith Thou hast favoured me and my parents, and that I may do right acceptable unto Thee. And be gracious unto me In the matter of my seed. Lo! I have turned unto Thee repentant, and lo! I am of those who surrender (unto Thee).
Pickthal: And We have enjoined upon man concerning his parents. His mother beareth him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Give thanks unto Me and unto thy parents. Unto Me is the journeying.

Dr. Omar Abdul Rehman claims that ‘the two texts taken together leave only six months (22 weeks i.e., five and half Gregorian months are equal to about six lunar months. of pregnancy).’ Here, Dr. Abdul Rehman’s sleight of hand to fit 22 weeks into six lunar months is ludicrous as each lunar month consists of four weeks, while five and a half Gregorian months consist of about 23.8 weeks.

Dr. Al-Ghazal also claims that according to ‘scientific facts’ the least period of conception is 22 weeks.

Even assuming the arbitrary claim by Drs Al-Ghazal and Abdul Rehman of 22 weeks, being the ‘most cases’ scenario (which is false according to medical statistics – see below), one is left with the conclusion that the Qur'an is still in error as six lunar months is 24 weeks, not 22 weeks.

This two-week difference is very important to the development and survivability of the fetus. Hence, it should not be summarily dismissed and rounded to the nearest month. If anything, it should be rounded to five lunar months, not six.

Regardless, the claim of six lunar months or 22 weeks as the least period of conception or ‘minimum period for fetal viability’ is unsupported by modern medical science.

A fetus is defined as being viable if it has the ability to "potentially able to live outside the mother's womb [that is, can survive], albeit with artificial help." In the fifties viability was reached about 30 weeks after conception. Modern medical technology changed that to 25 weeks in the seventies. Now viability continues to be pushed further and further back in the pregnancy and is now as early as 19 weeks. 21 and 22 week premature babies are now supported routinely, and have a good chance of survival. By 24 weeks after conception, premature babies have a 40% chance of reaching adulthood without any major complications. By 28 weeks, the chance is 90%. By 29 weeks, survival is almost definite. (Note: These percentages are from reports written during the late 1980s. Current survival rates are most likely much higher.)[21]

Thus, it can be seen that the minimum period of fetal viability has changed, at least in recent history. It was never 22 weeks or 6 lunar months prior to the era of modern medicine, being likely to have been at least 30 weeks. Now, it has shrunk to only 19 weeks in countries with advanced pediatric medicine. We would suggest the minimum period of fetal viability in many third-world countries would still be around 30 weeks. Thus, Qur'anic embryology's proposition of the least period of conception is false.


Qur'anic Embryology can be seen to be false due to the following points:

1. The Qur'an itself omits mention of the ovum in human reproduction, with doctrinal evidence that it regards the progeny to be the resulting union between the seed from the male parent and the female parent as tilth. As tilth do not provide genetic material to the seed, it is clear that the Qur'an regards the nutfah (semen) as the diploid seed. Moreover, the choice of the words nutfah (small amount of liquid) and maa' maheenin (water/liquid disdained) in key passages indicate a belief that the embryo is formed out of semen, with no knowledge of the sperm cell.

2. The Qur'an includes an initial dust stage that cannot be reconciled with modern embryology.

3. The missing stages of verse 40:67 contradict the other embryology verses.

4. The stages of bone formation then clothing with flesh is in error, even assuming that izhaam means both bone and cartilage.

5. The Qur'anic view of cell differentiation at the Mudgha stage is incorrect, as modern embryology has discovered cell differentiation occurring before and after the putative ‘Mudgha’ stage.

6. The claim that the Qur'an correctly predicted the beginning of the fetal stage is shown to be in error because the transition between the embryo and the fetus is arbitrary.

7. The claim that the Qur'an correctly states the least period of conception at 24 weeks is in error, as according to modern medical knowledge this period is closer to 21-22 weeks or even less with advanced medical science, and at least 30 weeks without modern medical assistance.

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See Also

External Links


  1. United States Designates bin Laden Loyalist, United States Department of the Treasury, JS-1190, February 24, 2004
  2. Many other common arguments used by proponents of Qur'anic embryology concerning the nutfah stage are analyzed in the article Greek and Jewish Ideas about Reproduction in the Quran and Hadith.
  3. Fraternal twins in the womb -- 4 weeks - BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board, June 1, 2013
  4. Benirschke, K. & Kaufmann, B. 2000. Pathology of the Human Placenta. 4th Edition. Springer-Verlag, New York. Page 399 - 400
  5. http://www.studyquran.org/LaneLexicon/Volume5/00000419.pdf 'Alaq - Lane’s lexicon page 2134
  6. Barry Mitchell & Ram Sharma 2009. Embryology: An Illustrated Colour Text. Second Edition. Chruchill Livingstone ElSevier. Page 10-11
  7. "The Texas sharpshooter fallacy is an informal fallacy in which pieces of information that have no relationship to one another are called out for their similarities, and that similarity is used for claiming the existence of a pattern. This fallacy is the philosophical/rhetorical application of the multiple comparisons problem (in statistics) and apophenia (in cognitive psychology). It is related to the clustering illusion, which refers to the tendency in human cognition to interpret patterns where none actually exist. The name comes from a joke about a Texan who fires some shots at the side of a barn, then paints a target centered on the biggest cluster of hits and claims to be a sharpshooter.", "Texas sharpshooter fallacy", Wikipedia, accessed August 13, 2013 (archived), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_sharpshooter_fallacy 
  8. "الحمد لله لا شريك له", PoetsGate (Arabic), February 15, 2007 (archived), http://poetsgate.com/poem_14021.html. 
  9. ghudhroof, alternatively spelt ghurdoof - Lane's Lexicon - Volume 6/ 32 - StudyQuran.org>
  10. 'azam - Lane’s Lexicon - Volume 5/ 372 - StudyQuran.org
  11. Dr. Tim Ballard, Department of Biological Sciences - Biology 316/Limb Development - University of North Carolina at Wilmington, 2005
  12. fetal Development - Choosethechild
  13. South Australian Orthopaedic Registrar's Notbook - Embriology - Flinders University School of Medicine
  14. 14.0 14.1 Monaco Education Service - Study Guide 10a/Bone Development and Growth - The Pennsylvania State University, May 1, 2003
  15. Executive Director, Pregnancy Center & Clinic of the Low County, Vera L. Bailey, Ph.D. - Fetal Development: The Story of a Baby (with photos) - American Collegians for Life, November 3, 2003
  16. Galjaard, R.J.H 2003. Mapping Studies of Congenital Limb Anomalies. Page 16
  17. This diagram (strictly speaking for mice, but considered a good analog for humans in this respect) also helps us appreciate the complexity of the process: Musculoskeletal System - Muscle Development
  18. Lane’s Lexicon - Volume 8/ 262 - StudyQuran.org
  19. Lane’s Lexicon - Volume 8/ 263 - StudyQuran.org
  20. Network for European CNS Transplantation and Restoration (NECTAR) - Ethical Guidelines for the Use of Human Embryonic or Fetal Tissue for Experimental and Clinical Neurotransplantation and Research (1994) - Human Rights Library, University of Minnesota
  21. Fetal Development/Viability - Abortioninfo