EMBRYOLOGY

1) BEGINNING: THE NUTFAH (DROP) STAGE

Modern scientific knowledge tells us that human development begins at fertilisation, when the male sperm combines with the female egg (ovum) to form a cell called the 'zygote'. The zygote has the form of a drop of fluid and consists of both male and female secretions.

The Quran describes in simple language that mankind is created from a drop (Nutfah):-

"Verily, We created man from mixture of germinal drop..(Nutfah Amshaj)" (The Quran - Al-Insan 76:2)

In the above verse, the term Amshaj means a mixture and the whole verse refers to a mixture of male and female germinal fluid.

A PART OF A DROP

We know today that the embryo only develops from the inner cell mass contents of the zygote, the rest becomes nutritive and protective in function. The following Quranic verse accomodates this fact, implying that only part of the Nutfah takes part in embryonic formation:-

"He created him from (a part of) Nutfah." (The Quran - 'Abasa 80:19)

The Quran also states that the embryo develops in three veils of darkness:-

"He created you in the wombs of your mothers, from one stage to another, and all along three veils of darkness surrounded you" (The Quran - Az-Zumanr 39:6)

"The three veils of darkness" would seem to refer to: (1) the anterior abdominal wall; (2) the uterine wall; and (3) the amniochorionic membrane.

2) THE 'ALAQAH STAGE

"After that he was a leech-like structure ('Alaqah); then (God) fashioned him in due proportion" (The Quran - Al-Qiyamah 75:37-38)

In Arabic, 'Alaqah has several meanings; i) something which clings; ii) a suspended thing; iii) a leech-like structure iv) a blood clot.

Amazingly, all of these terms, encompassed by the word 'Alaqah, accurately describe the appearance of the embryo as well as its relationship with the womb, with stunning precision. In fact, the embryo resembles a primitive multicellular organism which is attached to a host and feeding on its blood.

Drawings illustrating the similarities in appearance between a leech and a human embryo at the alaqah stage. (Leech drawing from Human Development as Described in the Quran and Sunnah, Moore and others, p. 37, modified from Integrated Principles of Zoology, Hickman and others. Embryo drawing from The Developing Human, Moore and Persaud, 5th ed., p. 73.)

In reference to the other two meanings of the Arabic word 'Alaqah ('a suspended thing' and 'a blood clot'), the following two diagrams illustrate this:-

We can see in this diagram the suspension of an embryo during the alaqah stage in the womb (uterus) of the mother. (The Developing Human, Moore and Persaud, 5th ed., p. 66.)

Diagram of the primitive cardiovascular system in an embryo during the alaqah stage. The external appearance of the embryo and its sacs is similar to that of a blood clot, due to the presence of relatively large amounts of blood present in the embryo. (The Developing Human, Moore, 5th ed., p. 65.)

3) THE MUDGHAH STAGE

At about 26 to 27 days old the embryo has curved and the main external features are distinct pharyngeal arches and somites. These indentations closely resemble teeth marks and give the embryo the appearance of a chewed substance.

Photograph of an embryo at the mudghah stage (28 days old). The embryo at this stage acquires the appearance of a chewed substance, because the somites at the back of the embryo somewhat resemble teeth marks in a chewed substance. The actual size of the embryo is 4 mm. (The Developing Human, Moore and Persaud, 5th ed., p. 82, from Professor Hideo Nishimura, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan.)

When comparing the appearance of an embryo at the mudghah stage with a piece of gum that has been chewed, we find similarity between the two. A) Drawing of an embryo at the mudghah stage. We can see here the somites at the back of the embryo that look like teeth marks. (The Developing Human, Moore and Persaud, 5th ed., p. 79.) B) Photograph of a piece of gum that has been chewed.

The Quran states that after the leech-like structure ('Alaqah), the embryo passes through the stage of Mudghah. The Quranic term Mudghah literally means "a piece of substance which has been chewed" and precisely describes the features present on the embryo. It is astonishing to read the following Quranic verse:-

"Then We fashioned the drop into a leech-like structure ('Alaqah); then We fashioned the thing which clings into a chewed-like substance (Mudghah)" (The Quran - Al-Mu'minun 23:13-14)

4) IZAM (BONES) CLOTHING WITH FLESH (LAHM)

"...We made out of that chewed-like substance a skeleton (bones, Izam). Then We clothed the bones with flesh (Lahm); then We developed it into another act of creation. Blessed is Allah, the best to create." (The Quran - Al-Mu'minun 23:14)

The above verse explicitly explains that the bones are formed first and that this is followed by the formation of flesh and muscles which take up positions around the bone, hence 'clothing the bones'.

We now know that the precursors of bones and muscle are both formed within the first 40 days in the form of myotomes and scelertomes. However, these do not have the shape of bones or muscles which means that the embryo does not have a human appearance. During the 7th week, the embryo starts to appear human as the skeleton begins to spread throughout the body and the bones take up their positions. By the 8th week the muscles take up their positions around the bones throughout the body and therefore, 'clothe' the bones. After this stage, the embryo acquires human features and starts to become more straight. The foetal period of development now begins which is termed Insha' in the Quran.

5) INSHA' - THE FOETAL STAGE

"Then We clothed the bones with flesh (Lahm); then We developed it into another act of creation (Insha'). Blessed is Allah, the best to create." (The Quran - Al-Mu'minun 23:14)

In the above verse, the Quran mentions "another act of creation". This refers to the fact that the developing embryo only begins to look human from about the 7th week. The word Insha' in the above verse has two meanings; i) to initiate and ii) to grow and develop.

Both of these can be applied to the foetal period of development. At 9 weeks old the foetal period begins. It is characterised by maturation and rapid growth of the body. The most obvious difference with the embryonic period is that the foetus has acquired definite signs of human appearance.

Professor Keith Moore is one of the worlds leading embryologists. He has found the Quranic text to be an incredibly accurate description of the embryo. After examining all these Quranic texts in detail, Professor Moore concluded; "How could Prophet Muhammad describe the embryo and its development stages with an accuracy which only we have come to know in the 20th century. These statements prove to me that this knowledge has come from God" (Professor Moore, KL., Toronto University, Canada). (See Moore KL., 7th Saudi Medical Conference Proceedings, 1982; Moore, KL and Zindani, AMA, "The Developing Human, Clinically Orientated Embryology, with Islamic additions." 3rd Ed., Dar Al-Qiblah and Saunders WB).

6) CONCLUSION

Over fourteen hundred years ago the Quran expressed in simple layman's terms statements about embryology which modern science has only just discovered. It becomes quite obvious after reading the verses in the Quran that science cannot disagree or find any error in them. Also we should note that the Quran contains none of the inaccurate theories and myths concerning human development held by the likes of Aristotle or Galen which were popular at the time of revelation.

In view of the state of knowledge in Messenger Muhammad's (PBUH) day, it is inconceivable that the statements in the Quran which are connected with embryology could have been the work of a man. It is legitimate, therefore, to award the Quran a special place on account of the guarantee of authenticity it provides. Moreover, the presence of scientific statements in the Quran which, when studied today, appear as a challenge to human explanation.