Qur'an Describes Gender Determination By Sperm

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Statue depicting King Horemheb kneeling in front of Atum.

This article analyzes the apologetic claim that the Qur'an was the first religious text to suggest gender is determined by the semen of the male parent.


Various individuals have claimed the Qur'an is the only ancient book that states gender is determined by the sperm. In this, they may point out the ignorance of the Greeks who thought gender was determined by the relative strengths of sperm from the male and female parents as Hippocrates imagined.[1]

This article does not seek to prove that the ancient Egyptians shared some aspects of the scientific understanding of gender determination and reproduction. It merely aims to show that the Qur'an was not the first religious text to suggest that gender is determined by the semen of the male parent.

Apologetic Claim

Dr. Al Zeiny, the Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Evansville states:

Until fairly recently, it was thought that a baby's sex was determined by the mother's cells. Or at least, it was believed that the sex was determined by the male and female cells together. The Quran is the only ancient book that states that sex is determined by the sperms. "He has created both sexes, male and female from a drop of a sperm which has been ejected." (The Qur'an, 53:45-46)

This claim is repeated by Dr. Zakir Naik of the Islamic Research Foundation:


The sex of a fetus is determined by the nature of the sperm and not the ovum. The sex of the child, whether female or male, depends on whether the 23rd pair of chromosomes is XX or XY respectively. Primarily sex determination occurs at fertilization and depends upon the type of sex chromosome in the sperm that fertilizes an ovum. If it is an ‘X’ bearing sperm that fertilizes the ovum, the fetus is a female and if it is a ‘Y’ bearing sperm then the fetus is a male. “That He did create In pairs – male and female, From a seed when lodged (In its place).” [Al-Qur’aan 53:45-46]

The Arabic word nutfah means a minute quantity of liquid and tumnâ means ejaculated or planted. Therefore nutfah specifically refers to sperm because it is ejaculated. The Qur’aan says: “Was he not a drop of sperm emitted (In lowly form)? “Then did he become A clinging clot; Then did (Allah) make And fashion (him) In due proportion. “And of him He made Two sexes, male And female.” [Al-Qur’aan 75:37-39]

Here again it is mentioned that a small quantity (drop) of sperm (indicated by the word nutfatan min maniyyin) which comes from the man is responsible for the sex of the fetus.

Mothers-in-law in the Indian subcontinent, by and large prefer having male grandchildren and often blame their daughters-in-law if the child is not of the desired sex. If only they knew that the determining factor is the nature of the male sperm and not the female ovum! If they were to blame anybody, they should blame their sons and not their daughters-in-law since both the Qur’aan and Science hold that it is the male fluid that is responsible for the sex of the child!


Some of the ancient Egyptians clearly believed that the gender of progeny is determined by the sperm of the male parent.

Atem is he who masturbated in Iunu (On, Heliopolis). He took his phallus in his grasp that he might create orgasm by means of it, and so were born the twins Shu and Tefnut. -- Pyramid Text 1248-49

Shu was the god of dry air, wind and the atmosphere, while Tefnut was the lunar goddess of moisture, humidity and water who was also a solar goddess connected with the sun and dryness (more specifically, the absence of moisture).

Some ancient Egyptians also believe that Shu and Tefnut were the children of Ra and Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty and happiness.

Tefnut, Sister and twin of Shu, daughter of Ra and Hathor.

While others believed Shu and Tefnut were progeny of Ra alone.

Shu and his female counterpart Tefnut may be considered together, at all events in the texts of the later periods. The name Shu appears to be derived from the root shu, "dry, parched, withered, empty," and the like, and the name Tefnut must be connected with tef, or teftet, "to spit, be moist," and the like; thus Shu was a god who was connected with the heat and dryness of sunlight and with the dry atmosphere which exists between the earth and the sky, and Tefnut was a personification of the moisture of the sky, and made herself manifest in various forms. The oldest legend about the origin of the gods is contained in the text of Pepi I., wherein it is said {line 465 that once upon a time Tem went to the city of Annu and that he there produced from his own body by the irregular means of masturbation his two children Shu and Tefnut. In this circle form the myth is probably of Libyan origin, and it suggests that its inventors were in a semi-savage, or perhaps wholly savage, state when it was first promulgated. In later times, as we have already seen the Egyptians appear to have rejected certain of the details of the myth, or to have felt some difficulty in believing that Shu and Tefnut were begotten and conceived and brought forth by Tem, and they therefore assumed that his shadow, khaibit, acted the part of wife to him; another view was that the goddess Iusaaset was his wife.

Therefore, in the fully developed myth, Ra (aka Atum aka Tem) contributed sperm which determined the sex of Shu and Tefnut, in conjunction with Iusaaset (or Hathor) as his wife.

There is a clear mistake in that Iusaaset (or Hathor) does not seem to contribute anything more than a womb for incubation. However, this is no different from Qur'anic embryology which never explicitly claims that the female parent contributes genetic material. It is merely the assumption, and an assumption only, of the apologists that 'nutfatun amshaajin' (mixed drop or mingled sperm) includes the female gamete.

"Verily WE created Man from a drop of mingled sperm."

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. Verses 53:45-46 are very similar to the Ra’s masturbation text.

Pickthall: And that He createth the two spouses, the male and the female, From a drop (of seed) when it is poured forth;

Yusuf Ali: That He did create in pairs, - male and female, From a seed when lodged (in its place);

Shakir: And that He created pairs, the male and the female From the small seed when it is adapted

Sher Ali: And that HE creates the pairs, male and female, From a sperm drop when it is emitted;

Khalifa: He is the One who created the two kinds, male and female from a tiny drop of semen.

Palmer: and that He created pairs, male and female, from a clot when it is emitted;

Sale: and that he createth the two sexes, the male and the female, of seed when it is emitted;

Rodwell: And that He hath created the sexes, male and female, From the diffused germs of life,

Transliterated: Arabic 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 by apologists without evidence and suggests a biased interpretation of the verses in light of modern facts. 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 a tilth. This is saying they are like the earth receiving the zygote (i.e. seed) from the male.

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.

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, merely contributes the environment and nutrients for the growth and development of this diploid seed.

Hence it can be seen that the fully developed ancient Egyptian Ra-Hathor-Shu-Tefnut myth of gender determination and the contribution of the female parent in reproduction is very similar, if not identical, to that described by the Qur'an.


It is apparent that some of the ancient Egyptians believed that gender is created by the sperm from the male parent, and reproduction is via male and female union. This belief predated the Qur'an by about 2,900 years as evidenced by the pyramid text of Pharaoh Pepi I, 2332-2283 BC.

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See Also

  • Reproduction - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Reproduction


  1. For example, see Dr. Omar Abdul Rehman's "Does the Qur’an Plagiarise Ancient Greek Embryology?".