Sexy Fruits?

It needs a miracle to believe in this ...

Recently, I discoved another "scientific miracle" in the Qur'an. At least that is what Khalid Baig claims it to be in an article titled "Quran: Witness the Miracle":

Science found that fruit has sexual characteristics - 1400 yrs after the Quran (13.3) stated this fact. (Source)[1]

Does that mean it is haram for Muslimahs to eat male fruit? Is it halal for male Muslims to eat female fruit? Do Muslimahs have to cover up when they make fruit salad and are they required to put the male and the female fruits in separate bowls to prevent indecent behavior of fruits in Muslim homes? Maybe that could even give a new meaning to the expression "covered dish" (1, 2)?

Okay, let's get back to being serious. Khalid Baig has not clarified what he means by fruits having sexual characteristics, but he has given the reference to Surah 13:3 which is rendered by several Muslim translations as follows:

And it is He who spread out the earth, and set thereon mountains standing firm and (flowing) rivers: and fruit of every kind He made in pairs, two and two: He draweth the night as a veil o'er the Day. Behold, verily in these things there are signs for those who consider! (Yusuf Ali)

And He it is Who spread out the earth and placed therein firm hills and flowing streams, and of all fruits He placed therein two spouses (male and female). He covereth the night with the day. Lo! herein verily are portents for people who take thought. (Pickthall)

And HE it is Who spread out the earth and made therein mountains and rivers, and of fruits of every kind HE made therein two sexes. HE causes the night to cover the day. Therein, verily, are Signs for a people who reflect. (Sher Ali)

He is the One who constructed the earth and placed on it mountains and rivers. And from the different kinds of fruits, He made them into pairs - males and females. The night overtakes the day. These are solid proofs for people who think. (Rashad Khalifa)

And it is He who spread the earth and placed therein firmly set mountains and rivers; and from all of the fruits He made therein two mates; He causes the night to cover the day. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought. (Saheeh International)

And it is He who has spread the earth wide and placed on it firm mountains and running waters, and created thereon two sexes of every [kind of] plant; [and it is He who] causes the night to cover the day. Verily, in all this there are messages indeed for people who think! (Muhammad Asad)

And He is the One who stretched-out the land, and made in it stabilizers and rivers, and from every fruit He made a pair of two; the night covers the day. In that are signs for a people who will think. (Free Minds)

Unless these Muslim translators messed up completely in rendering this phrase, the Qur'an actually claims that all fruits come in pairs, with the intended meaning that there is male and female fruit, not just for a couple of plants, but every fruit is either male or female, and from each fruit there exists the male and the female kind.

Without the slightest doubt, that is plain nonsense. There are no male and female apples, male and female strawberries, etc. Fruits do not have a gender; fruits do neither have intercourse nor do fruits give birth. They do not impregnate or fertilize each other. No matter how many pieces of fruit you put together in the same basket, and no matter how long you wait, they will not multiply. They will not give birth to little fruit children. With time, they will only spoil and get rotten. In its literal understanding, this statement of the Qur'an is not a scientific miracle, it is a total scientific failure.

However, this statement is so wrong, that one can hardly imagine that it really talks about fruits as such. Maybe we have to allow for poetic license and the author simply used the literary device of synecdoche (*), speaking pars pro toto (*), and by saying "fruit" he really meant "the plant that bears the fruit".

It is true: there are a number of plants, even plants that bear edible fruits, which come in pairs of male and female. One of the most important cultivated plants in the Middle East is the date palm which is mentioned in the Qur'an many times (Surah 16:11,67; 17:91; 18:32; 23:19; 26:148; 36:34; 50:10; 55:11,68). Muhammad even discussed the cultivation of date palms with some of his followers (Sahih Muslim, Book 30, Number 5831).

Wikipedia provides quote a bit of information about the date palm. It is most likely that Muhammad knew that the date palm has separate male and female plants. Perhaps Muhammad simply extrapolated from the date palm to all plants, believing that all of them have this characteristic? Maybe his experience with the date palm is the reason that he claimed that every fruit comes in pairs?

Nevertheless, this claim is wrong for the majority of plants, and anyone interested to know more about this can read the Wikipedia entry on plant sexuality. In particular, many plants are hermaphrodite, having only bisexual reproductive units that contain both the male and the female part. There are no "pairs" for them; they exist in only one kind. To see just how wrong the Qur'an is in this case:

Hermaphroditism is very common in plants -- about 70% of flowering plants are hermaphroditic, while only about 5% are dioecious and 7% are monoecious. About 7% of species exhibit gynodioecy or androdioecy, while 10% contain both unisexual and bisexual flowers. (Source)

To list information on some specific fruits:

Not all plants have perfect flowers. "Perfect" in a botanical sense means that each flower has both male and female parts in the same structure. Lilies, roses, and apple flowers are perfect. (Source)

A perfect flower contains both male and female reproductive parts. If a perfect flower has petals and sepals, it is also then a complete flower. Examples of perfect flowers include: Roses, Olives (also has staminate flowers), Apples, Cherries, Nectarines (Source)

The perfect flower with fertile male and female organs both on the same flower. Plants with flowers in this category include apples, plums, lilacs, potentilla, tomato and many ornamental flowers; (Source)

The flower of peach and nectarine (Prunus persica) is hermaphroditic, and produces nectar as well as pollen. (Source)

Orange flowers are mostly hermaphrodite, releasing pollen when the stigma is receptive. (Source)

Avocados have perfect flowers but exhibit dichogamy (the female and male organs do not mature at the same time, making self pollination difficult). ... All higher plants have male and female parts, but they may or may not be on the same plant. If a plant produces only male or only female flowers, it is called dioecious. ... If a plant produces both male and female flowers, it is called monoecious. A plant that produces bisexual ('perfect') flowers is called hermaphroditic. An avocado is therefore a dichogamous hermaphrodite. (Source)

Coconuts (Cocos nucifera) [are] ... B. monoecious monocots with a tree-like trunk composed of sheathing leaf bases (Source)

Now, in coconut, since both, male and female flowers are borne on one and the same tree, all the coconut palms bear fruits. There is nothing like male coconut tree/palm and female coconut tree / palm. (Source)

Another fruit mentioned in the Qur'an is the olive (6:99,141; 16:11; 23:20; 24:35; 80:29; 95:1). This tree also has only one kind, but it has two kinds of flowers:

... The olive produces two kinds of flowers: a perfect flower containing both male and female parts, and a staminate flower with stamens only. The flowers are largely wind pollinated with most olive varieties being self-pollinating, although fruit set is usually improved by cross pollination with other varieties. ... (Source)

Two types of flowers arise on the tree: perfect and staminate. Staminate flowers contain only male parts; the pistil is aborted. Only perfect flowers can become fruits. Bees and other insects play a minor role in olive pollination; wind moves most of the pollen from tree to tree. Most olive varieties are self-fertile, but increased production often results from cross pollination. (Source)

Moreover, the Qur'an mentions the pomegranate several times (S. 6:99; 6:141; 55:68) but the pomegranate tree is monoecious (*). The pomegranate tree has both male flowers and female flowers on the same plant. It does not come in pairs like the date palm.

As a final example of fruits mentioned in the Qur'an (2:266; 6:99; 12:36; 13:4; 16:11,67; 17:91; 18:32; 23:19; 36:34; 78:32; 80:28), we look at grapes or vines:

... Depending on the individual vine, flowers might be female, male, or hermaphroditic (also known as "perfect", which means that each flower contains both male and female structures).

By far, the majority of cultivated varieties are hermaphroditic. Because fruit does not result without fertilization, hermaphroditic vines are preferred because they are capable of fertilizing themselves, and every vine planted is capable of bearing fruit. (Source)

In other words, there are varieties of vines that have male plants and female plants (like the date palm), but the great majority of cultivated vines are hermaphrodite plants (no "pairs" for them).

Some may debate whether wheat and other crops are "fruits", but since wheat is so important, I will mention it here as well: "Wheat is an example of a crop with a perfect flower." (Source)

In conclusion, the author of the Qur'an is wrong for fruits as such, and is wrong also for many (most) plants that are bearing fruit in general and edible fruit in particular. (Actually, the author of the Qur'an goes even further, when he claims that everything is created in pairs, see this article.)

Given how wrong the statement is, it is no wonder that other translators are trying to make sense of it is a way that is not immediately contradicting science:

And it is He Who spread out the earth, and placed therein firm mountains and rivers and of every kind of fruits He made Zawjain Ithnain (two in pairs - may mean two kinds or it may mean: of two sorts, e.g. black and white, sweet and sour, small and big, etc.) He brings the night as a cover over the day. Verily, in these things, there are Ayat (proofs, evidences, lessons, signs, etc.) for people who reflect. (Al-Hilali & Khan)

But that is still wrong: Most fruits have many more sorts or kinds than two. There are hundreds of different sorts of apples. There are (at least) four varieties of oranges (*), there are not two distinguishable sizes in apples, small apples and big apples. Instead, there is a continuous spectrum of smaller, middle sized and bigger apples, and often enough, all of them grow on the same tree (my parents have a plantation of dozens of apple trees, I see this every year). Regarding colors, all apples are green at the beginning. Ripe apples, however, depending on the kind of apple, can be completely red, or totally yellow or only green (or a mixture of these colors). Again, the possible colors do not come in pairs. Finally, I wonder which fruit the translators had in mind when they were talking about black and white sorts of the same fruit. Anyway, it should be obvious that this "alternative reading" does not fare much better than the meaning admitted by the majority of the translations.

As wrong as most of Surah 13:3 is (see this article for the statement on "spreading out the earth"), I am in full agreement with the last sentence of this verse:

... Behold, verily in these things there are signs for those who consider! (Yusuf Ali)

... Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought. (Saheeh International)

... Verily, in all this there are messages indeed for people who think! (Muhammad Asad)

... In that are signs for a people who will think. (Free Minds)

Isn't it rather ironic[2] that this exhortation comes directly after a statement that is so blatantly wrong? Will Muslims then consider, give thought, reflect and ponder this matter properly? Is this particular wrong statement, along with many other wrong statements in the Qur'an, not reason enough to reconsider whether this book can really be from the divine source it claims to originate from? What will your decision be after you have examined this matter, just as the Qur'an asks you to do?

Jochen Katz


1. Actually, comparing various webpages mentioning the name Khalid Baig, he seems to have written plenty of articles that were first published online, and then later he put many of them into his book titled First Things First: For Inquiring Minds and Yearning Hearts (*). Since two section titles from the above quoted source appear again as chapter titles of his book, this claim is likely also found in this book in the chapter titled "Miracles of the Qur'an".

2. This same irony applies also to the book of Khalid Baig which is specifically addressed to "inquiring minds", despite the fact that it is full of wrong claims, particularly in the section on the alleged scientific miracles of the Qur'an. There seems to be a certain (perverse) dynamic that if a statement or a whole books is claimed to be for those who think, then one can believe what it says without having to think about it. It must be true, since it claims to be for those who think, right? The Qur'an is full of such statements, seemingly addressing itself to those who think more deeply about matters, but at the same time the Qur'an is probably the one book that is accepted and believed most uncritically. Most Muslims simply believe everything it says without ever thinking about it critically.

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