Muslims are amazed that the Quran contains details about embryology. They believe this is a miracle of Islam and evidence of the divine origin of the Quran.
Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and We made [from] the lump, bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation. So blessed is Allah , the best of creators. (Sura 23:14)
The author of the Quran described a sequence of stages of the growth and development of an embryo.
A sperm drop (nutfah) becomes a blood clot (alaqah).
The blood clot/congealed blood becomes a lump (mudghah).
The lump becomes bones (‘itham).
The bones are then covered in flesh (lahm).
Someone with a modern, scientific knowledge of embryology can see that the process described in the Quran has no resemblance to the actual development process of a child in the womb.
- Does a drop of sperm become a blood clot?
No, it doesn’t. A drop of sperm may contain a hundred million sperm. A hundred million sperm do not become a blood clot. In reality, all it takes is one single sperm cell. And it does not become a blood clot either. The single sperm penetrates and fuses with the female ovum. There is no sign that the author of the Quran was aware of the female egg (ovum) since he makes no mention of it.
An actual embryo is at no point [becomes] blood or a clot of blood. (Dr Mark Hill, “Timeline human development”, University of New South Wales.)
- The Quran claims that bones are formed before being clothed with flesh.
In reality, cartilage models of the bones start to form at the same time as and in parallel with surrounding muscles, and this cartilage is literally replaced with bone.
- Is there a stage of the embryo in which bone is formed and then later covered with flesh?
No. Bone formation (ossification) begins long after muscle has begun to develop around its precursors. The author of the Quran seems to think that an embryo exists as a skeleton for a period of time.
Many have written about the remarkable similarities between Quranic embryology and that taught by Galen of Pergamon. Galen was a highly influential Greek physician (b. 130 CE), whose works were studied in Syria and Egypt during Muhammad’s time. Modern science has proved that the claims of Galen were inaccurate. Some of the most obvious links with Galen (and also with the Talmud) are in statements about the nutfah (نُطْفَةً) stage of embryology in the Quran, and even more so in the hadith.
Al-`Awfi reported that Ibn `Abbas said, “We change it from one stage to another until it emerges as an infant, then it grows up through the stages of being a child, adolescent, youth, mature man, old man and senile man.”
Imam Ahmad recorded in his Musnad that `Abdullah — Ibn Mas`ud — said, “The Messenger of Allah , the Truthful One, told us:
« إِنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ لَيُجْمَعُ خَلْقُهُ فِي بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْمًا نُطْفَةً، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ عَلَقَةً مِثْلَ ذلِكَ، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ مُضْغَةً مِثْلَ ذلِكَ، ثُمَّ يُرْسَلُ إِلَيْهِ الْمَلَكُ فَيَنْفُخُ فِيهِ الرُّوحَ وَيُؤْمَرُ بِأَرْبَعِ كَلِمَاتٍ: رِزْقِهِ، وَأَجَلِهِ، وَعَمَلِهِ، وَهَلْ هُوَ شَقِيٌّ أَوْ سَعِيدٌ، فَوَ الَّذِي لَا إِلهَ غَيْرُهُ إِنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ لَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ حَتَّى مَا يَكُونُ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَهَا إِلَّا ذِرَاعٌ، فَيَسْبِقُ عَلَيْهِ الْكِتَابُ فَيُخْتَمُ لَهُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ فَيَدْخُلُهَا، وَإِنَّ الرَّجُلَ لَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ حَتَّى مَا يَكُونُ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَهَا إِلَّا ذِرَاعٌ، فَيَسْبِقُ عَلَيْهِ الْكِتَابُ فَيُخْتَمُ لَهُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ فَيَدْخُلُهَا »
(The creation of anyone of you is gathered for forty days in his mother’s stomach as a Nutfah, then he becomes a clot for a similar period of time, then he becomes a little lump of flesh for a similar length of time. Then the angel is sent to him and he breathes the soul into it, and four things are decreed: his provision, his life-span, his deeds, and whether he will be wretched or blessed. By the One besides Whom there is no other god, one of you may do the deeds of the people of Paradise until there is no more than a forearm’s length between him and it, then the decree will overtake him and he will do the deeds of the people of Hell and thus enter Hell. And a man may do the deeds of the people of Hell until there is no more than a forearm’s length between him and it, then the decree will overtake him and he will do finally the deeds of the people of Paradise and thus enter Paradise.) This was recorded by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.
Here is an explanation of embryology from Muhammad, hailed as The Truthful One.
To summarize the authentic hadith above:
1. First, you exist as a sperm drop (nutfah) for 40 days in your mother’s stomach!
2. Then, you become a clot for 40 days!
3. After which, you become a little lump of flesh for 40 days!
4. An angel comes and breathes a soul into you.
5. You are decreed whether you will be wretched or blessed.
1. Embryology In The Quran
2. Tafsir Ibn Kathir 23:14