Embryology in the Quran
"Then we developed the drop into a hanging embryo (alakah), then developed the hanging (embryo) into a bite-size flesh (mudgah), then created the bite-size flesh into bones, then covered the bones with flesh. We thus produce a new creature. Most blessed is Allah(God), the best Creator." (Quran: 23/14)
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.
Before proceeding in describing the embryonic stages as narrated in the Quran, it is important to define the following Arabic words that are used in the Quran:
"Nutfah": seed, zygote.
"Alakah": something that clings; leech-like structure;
"Mudgah": piece of flesh; bead-like segmental masses of flesh; like chewed gum with teeth marks.
"Then We made him a small seed in a firm resting-place" (Quran: 23/13) This verse refers to the zygote("Nutfah") which is implanted in the uterus ("a safe place of rest").
"We created the human from a liquid mixture, from two parents, in order to test him." (Quran :76/2).This verse refers to the zygote that forms by the union of a mixture of the sperm and the ovum . (Allah(God) knows the best)
"Then we developed the drop into a hanging embryo (alakah), then developed the hanging (embryo) into a bite-size flesh (mudgah), then created the bite-size flesh into bones, then covered the bones with flesh. We thus produce a new creature. Most blessed is Allah(God), the best Creator." ( Quran: 23/14)
The word "alakah" refers to "something that clings; leech-like structure". 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 (Allah(God) knows the best). 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 (See Figure1). 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.
The Arabic word "mudgah" means "chewed substance or chewed lump." Toward the end of the fourth week, the human embryo looks somewhat like a chewed lump of flesh (See Figure 2). The chewed appearance results from the somites which resemble teeth marks. The somites represent the beginnings or primordia of the vertebrae.
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 a 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.
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