Dr. William F. Campbell

It has been said that the idea of the embryo developing through stages is a modern one; that the Qur'an is anticipating (i.e. prophesying) modern embryology by describing different stages in the development of the embryo. In a pamphlet entitled Highlights of Human Embryology in the Koran and the Hadith by Keith L. Moore, M.D.[1], Dr. Moore claims that outside the Qur'an, "The realization that the embryo develops in stages in the uterus was not discussed or illustrated until the 15th century AD".[2] In addition the claim is made that the stages described in the Qur'an match our modern knowledge.

We will weigh these claims by considering the meaning of the Arabic words used by the Qur'an and secondly by examining the historical situation leading up to and surrounding the Qur'an.

Let us start by looking at the main verses using the word ‘alaqa.


The Arabic word ‘alaqa in the singular; or ‘alaq as the collective plural is used to indicate a stage in the development of the fetus six times in five different Quranic verses.

In the Sura of the Resurrection (Al-Qiyama) 75:37-39, we read,

"Was he (man) not a drop of sperm ejaculated? Then he became a leech-like clot (‘alaqa) and God shaped and formed and made of him a pair, the male and the female."

In the Sura of The Believer (Al-Mu'min) 40:67, it says,

"He it is Who created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a leech-like clot (‘alaqa), then brings you forth as a child, ... that perhaps you may understand."

In the Sura of The Pilgrimage (Al-Hajj) 22:5, it says,

"O mankind! if you have doubt about the resurrection (consider) that We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot (‘alaqa), then from a little lump of flesh, shapely and shapeless ..."

And finally the fullest treatment is in the Sura of The Believers (Al-Mu'minun) 23:12-14, which reads:

"Verily We created man from a product of wet earth, then placed him as a drop of seed in a safe lodging, then We fashioned the drop a clot (‘alaqa), and of the clot (‘alaqa) We fashioned a lump, and of the lump We fashioned bones, and We clothed the bones (with) meat. Then We produced it as another creation."

These stages can be summarized as follows:



STAGE 1. nutfa -- sperm

STAGE 2. ‘alaqa -- clot

STAGE 3. mudagha -- piece or lump of flesh

STAGE 4. ‘adaam -- bones

STAGE 5. dressing the bones with muscles


Over the last 100 plus years this word ‘alaqa has been translated as follows:

As every reader who has studied human reproduction will realize, there is no stage as a clot during the formation of a fetus so this is a very major scientific problem.

In the dictionaries of Wehr and Abdel-Nour the only meanings given for ‘alaqa in this feminine singular form are "clot" and "leech", and in North Africa both of these meanings are still used. Many patients have come to me to have a leech removed from their throats, and many women, believing that the fetus goes through a stage as a clot, have come to me in the dispensary asking for medicine because their periods haven't come. When I would answer that I couldn't do that because I believed that the fetus was a person, they would say, "but it's still blood."

Lastly we must consider the first verses which came to Muhammad in Mecca. These are found in the 96th Sura called ‘Alaq (Clots?) from this very word which we are studying. In 96:1-2, we read,

"Proclaim! in the name of your Lord Who created--created man from ‘alaq.

Here the word is in the collective plural. This word form can have other meanings because ‘alaq is also the derived verbal noun of the verb ‘aliqa which means "to hang, be suspended, dangle, to stick, cling, cleave, adhere, and to be attached". The verbal noun usually corresponds to the gerund in English as in the sentence "Swimming is fun". Therefore we could expect it to mean hanging, clinging, adhering, etc. In addition the verbal noun can have other meanings established by usage.

But the twelve translators listed above have all considered this the collective plural of ‘alaqa rather than a verbal noun and used "clot" or "congealed blood" in this verse too, and Fazlur Rahman also uses "congealed blood" for this verse in his well-known book Islam first published in 1966.[10]

Maulana Muhammad Ali explains why in Note 2770 on this verse. He says,

" ‘Alaq signifies a clot of blood as well as attachment and love. The former significance is the one generally adopted, because of the mention of ‘alaqa in the process of the creation of man in other places in the Holy Qur'an, and it indicates the insignificance of man's origin."[11]

In other words the meaning of the singular form is controlling the plural, even though there is great attraction to understand and use a different word which would avoid the scientific difficulty.

In spite of the number and qualifications of these translators who use the word "clot" to translate ‘alaqa, the French Doctor Maurice Bucaille has sharp words for them. He writes,

"What is more likely to mislead the inquiring reader is, once again, the problem of vocabulary ...

The majority of translations describe, for example, man's formation from a 'blood clot' or an 'adhesion'. A statement of this kind is totally unacceptable to scientists specializing in this field... This shows how great the importance of an association between linguistic and scientific knowledge is when it comes to grasping the meaning of Quranic statements on reproduction."[12]

Put in other words, "Nobody has translated the Qur'an correctly until Dr. Bucaille came along."

How does Dr. Bucaille think that it should be translated? He proposes that instead of "clot", the word ‘alaqa should be translated as "something which clings" which would refer to the fetus being attached to the uterus through the placenta.[13]

We will use the good Doctor's translation for ‘alaqa and try it.

"Then from the sperm-drop We created (or fashioned) the thing which clings, and from the thing which clings We created (or fashioned) chewed flesh, and from the chewed flesh We created (or fashioned) bones, and We clothed the bones with meat."

Now that we are getting very 20th century in our demands, where is the ovum? "The thing which clings" is not formed from a sperm-drop. It is formed by the fusion of the nucleus of the sperm and the nucleus of the ovum. Of course leaving something out is not exactly an error, but we will see later that for Muhammad and the Muslims hearing him, the clot (‘alaqa) was the female contribution.

Secondly, "the thing which clings" doesn't stop its clinging to become "chewed meat". It keeps on being "the thing which clings"--which is attached by the placenta--for 8 1/2 months until birth.

Even among scientists, though, there is disagreement about the translation of this word. Dr. Bechir Torki takes up the problem and translates Sura 96 as,

"Read in the name of your Lord Who has created, who has created man from links (d'attaches). Read, for your Lord is most generous. It is He Who has taught by the pen."[14]

The French word which I have translated as "links" can also mean bonds, ties, or attachments. Those meanings sound very similar to that given by Dr. Bucaille, but Torki actually proposes quite a different sense. He writes,

"He (God) 'created man from links (or bonds)'... (in) which is attached or suspended all the genes of the cells ... The first word 'read' (in the Sura) concerns the information which is contained in the first cell from which the structure of man is made. The second word 'read' concerns the great Qur'an which God has taught to man by the pen."[15]

This is a very ingenious idea, although I personally find it difficult to believe that God's first words to Muhammad would be "Read the gene code". What would the people of Mecca understand? In addition, what will Dr. Torki do with the other verses where the singular form ‘alaqa is used? What will it mean even with our modern education to say, "from a drop of sperm we created 'a gene code'; and from 'a gene code' we created a small lump of meat"? The 'gene code' is in the sperm, not created from it.

A few translators have used other words to translate ‘alaqa. In his translation of 1957, Regis Blachère has for 23:14,

"We have made the ejaculation an adhesion, We have made the adhesion a flabby mass. We have made of the flabby mass skeleton, and we have clothed the skeleton with flesh."[16]

(but it should be noted that for 75:38 he has "a congealed drop")

and Muhammad Asad in his translation of 1964, published in 1980, proposes,

"And then We created out of the drop of sperm a germ-cell and then We created out of the germ-cell an embryonic lump and then we created within the embryonic lump bones and then we clothed the bones with flesh."[17]

Muhammad Asad has a note with 96:2 suggesting that the germ-cell ‘alaqa is the fertilized ovum.

However, I think that it is clear to the reader that:

(a) The sperm does not become an adhesion or a fertilized ovum without an unfertilized female ovum.

(b) To say that ‘alaqa means "germ-cell" means fertilized ovum is a basic assumption.

(c) If it is an adhesion it stays stuck during the whole pregnancy and does not become something else.

(d) To translate "mudagha (lump of flesh)" with the 20th century adjective "embryonic" added to lump, and to say that the bones are created "within" the embryonic lump rather than "from" the embryonic lump are both basic assumptions.

Lastly in this section we must consider Dr. Keith Moore's suggestion as to the meaning of ‘alaqa. Dr. Moore, retired Professor of Anatomy and author of a text book on embryology, proposes, "Another verse in the Koran refers to the leech-like appearance and the chewed like stages of human development."[18] From this definition Dr. Moore has gone ahead to propose that a 23 day embryo, 3 mm long. or 1/8th of an inch, resembles a leech. This is Carnegie stage 10 from the inside front cover of Dr. Moore's own book and shown here in Diagram 9.[19]

Diagram 9, STAGES 7 through 17

Figure 5-9 shows an x-ray enlargement of day 22 and day 23. This x-ray of the back of day 22 shows the neural groove of the backbone is still wide open.[20]

Diagram 10[21] of day 23, similar to the x-ray view, shows the rostral and caudal neuropores still widely open and the cut edges of the yolk sac.

Figure 4-10[22] shows the embryo with a large ventral yoke sac and an umbilical connecting stalk. A leech has none of these characteristics.

In conclusion, we can say that this 23 day, 3 millimeter (1/8th inch) embryo with its rostral and caudal neuropores still widely open, with a large ventral yoke sac and an umbilical connecting stalk, does not look like a leech at all. Furthermore, no dictionary gives "leech like appearance" as a meaning for ‘alaqa and no one has suggested that the Qur'an says that man was made from a drop of sperm which became a leech. Dr. Moore does not know Arabic and said straight out to me in a personal conversation that if the true meaning of ‘alaqa is "clot", then there is no such stage in the development of an embryo.


Thirdly these quranic verses say that the "lump of flesh" becomes bones and then the bones are covered with muscles. The same idea is repeated in the Sura of the Heifer (Al-Baqara) 2:259 from 2 AH which says,

"... Look further at the bones, how We bring them together and clothe them with flesh ..."

They give the impression that first the skeleton is formed, and then it is clothed with flesh. Dr. Bucaille knows perfectly well that this is not true.

The muscles and the cartilage precursors of the bones start forming from the somite at the same time. At the end of the eighth week there are only a few centers of ossification started but the fetus is already capable of some muscular movement.

In a personal letter dated 8/1/87 from Dr. T.W. Sadler, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514, and author of Langman's Medical Embryology, Dr. Sadler states,

"At the 8th week post fertilization, the ribs would be cartilaginous and muscles would be present. Also at this time ossification would begin near the angle of the rib and would spread along the shaft until it reached the costal cartilage by the 4th month. Muscles would be capable of some movement at 8 weeks, but by 10-12 weeks this capacity would be much better developed."

It is always better to have two witnesses so we shall see what Dr. Keith L. Moore has to say about the development of bones and muscles in his book The Developing Human. Extracted from Chapters 15-17 we find the following information:

The skeletal and muscle system develops from the mesoderm, some of which becomes mesenchymal cells. These mesenchymal cells make muscles, and also have the ability to differentiate...into osteoblasts which make bone. At first the bones form as cartilage models so that by the end of the sixth week the whole limb skeleton is formed out of cartilage but without any bony calcium as shown in Figure 15-13.[23]

While the bone models are forming, myoblasts develop a large muscle mass in each limb bud, separating into extensor and flexor components. In other words, the limb musculature develops simultaneously in situ from the mesenchyme surrounding the developing bones. So Dr. Moore agrees completely with Dr. Sadler.

Furthermore, during a personal conversation with Dr. Moore I showed him Dr. Sadler's statement and he agreed that it was absolutely valid.

Conclusion: on bone development Dr. Sadler and Dr. Moore agree. There is no time when calcified bones have been formed and then the muscles are placed around them. The muscles are there several weeks before there are calcified bones, rather than being added around previously formed bones as the Qur'an states. The Qur'an is in complete error here.


The great problem with these new definitions for words like ‘alaqa and mudagha is that no confirming examples of such a usage have been provided from the Arabic used in the centuries surrounding the Hejira.

Dr. Bucaille wishes to say that all of these older translators are wrong; that to correctly translate the Qur'an one must have a very good scientific education. How good? These translators would have all had modern high school biology telling about the sperm and the ovum.

Does Dr. Bucaille not understand? These translators are scientists in their field of words, and they have not found any valid linguistic facts which will allow them to change the meaning of the words in these verses. They have been honest translators, not ignorant of science.

Bucaille says that their translations are "hardly comprehensible". I am sorry but I must disagree. Their translations are very comprehensible and correct. They just reflect the scientific problems which are present in the original Arabic.

The only way to establish the meaning of a word is by usage. The only way to establish whether the singular form "‘alaqa" can mean a 3 mm embryo or "the thing that clings" is to bring sentences demonstrating this usage from the literature of the Arabs of Mecca and Medina close to the time of Muhammad--especially from the language of the Quraish--for the Qur'an was written in "Clear Arabic" (‘arabiiyun mubinun), the Colloquial Arabic of the Quraish tribe.[24]

This will not be an easy task because much work has already been done on that "clear Arabic" of the Quraish, and has only shown "clot" & "leech" as valid meanings for ‘alaqa. The early Muslims understood intuitively the need to know exactly what the Quranic words mean, and for this reason they made comprehensive studies of their language and poetry.

The great historian Ibn Khaldun could say,

"Know therefore that the Qur'an descended in the language of the Arabs and in accordance with their style of eloquence, and all of them understood it and knew its various meanings in its several parts and in their relation to each other."[25]

His statement that "all" of the Arabs understood the Qur'an is no doubt an enthusiastic exaggeration which any one might make, but it is surely closer to the truth than Dr. Bucaille's statements that nobody has understood the Qur'an until now.

Hamza Boubakeur, former rector of the main mosque in Paris brought up this subject at the "Colloque sur le Dieu unique" held at Montpellier on May 6, 1985. He posed the rhetorical question to the audience,

"Has the comprehension of the text (of the Qur'an ) known at the time of Muhammad remained stable?"

and his answer was,

"Ancient poetry attests to the semantic stability."

We can only conclude that if the verses which bring spiritual comfort and hope to Muslims have remained stable, then the scientific statements imbedded in those verses must also be accepted as stable unless new evidence can be brought forward.

This is especially important since some of the verses say that this information is a sign. The Sura of the Believer (Al-Mu'min) 40:76 says,

"He it is Who created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a clot (‘alaqa) ... that perhaps you may understand."

and in the Sura of the Pilgrimage ( Al-Hajj) 22:5 we read,

"O mankind! If you have doubt about the resurrection (consider) that We have created you from dust, etc., etc. ..."

Therefore the question must be asked, if it was a clear sign to the men and women of Mecca and Medina what did they understand from this word ‘alaqa which would lead them to faith in the resurrection?


We are going to examine the historical situation leading up to the time of Muhammad to see what Muhammad and his people believed about embryology. The trail will start with the Greek and Indian medical men.


We will start with Hippocrates. According to the best evidence, he was born on the Greek island of Cos in 460 BC. His stages are as follows with the references in the text.


Sperm is a product which comes from the whole body of each parent, weak sperm coming from the weak parts, and strong sperm from the strong parts. Section 8, p 321

Coagulation of Mother's blood

The seed (embryo), then, is contained in a membrane ... Moreover, it grows because of its mother's blood, which descends to the womb. For once a woman conceives, she ceases to menstruate... Section 14, p. 326


At this stage, with the descent and coagulation of the mother's blood, flesh begins to be formed, with the umbilicus. Section 14, p. 326


As the flesh grows it is formed into distinct members by breath ... The bones grow hard ... moreover they send out branches like a tree ... Section 17, p. 328

This information is clearly summarized in the following chart.



STAGE 1. sperm

STAGE 2. mother's blood descends around the membrane

STAGE 3. flesh, fed through umbilicus

STAGE 4. bones

Clearly this shows that 1000 years before the Qur'an the development of the embryo was divided into stages.



Next we will look at Aristotle. In his book On the Generation of Animals,[26] sometime about 350 BC, Aristotle gives his stages of embryology. (The section numbers are in the text.)

Semen and menstrual blood

In this section, 728a, Aristotle speaks of the male semen as being in a pure state ... "It follows that what the female would contribute to the semen of the male would be material for the semen to work upon." In other words the semen clots the menstrual blood.

Then he continues, "Nature forms from the purest material the flesh ... and from the residues thereof bones, sinews, hair, and also nails ... and lastly, round about the bones, and attached to them by thin fibrous bands, grow the fleshy parts. ..." 654b

Clearly the Qur'an follows this exactly, sperm clotting the menstrual blood which forms meat. Then the bones are formed and lastly "round about the bones ... grow the fleshy parts" as we see in the following chart.



STAGE 1. sperm

STAGE 2. catamenia -- menstrual blood

STAGE 3. flesh

STAGE 4. bones

STAGE 5. around the bones grow the fleshy parts



The opinion of Charaka (123 AD) and Susruta is that both the male and female contributed seed. The "secretion" of the male is called the sukra (semen) ...

The "secretion" of the woman is called artava or sonita (blood) and it is derived from food by way of blood ..."[27]

Here we see that in the medicine of India, they too had the idea that the child was formed from the male semen and the female menstrual blood.



Galen was born in 131 AD in Pergamum (modern Bergama in Turkey).

Our knowledge of his book, De Semine, depends on two Greek manuscripts of the 15th and 16th century and two Arabic copies from the 12th and 13th century of the same translation made in about 840 AD, i.e. 700 years after Galen lived. Galen's work was considered so important that copies were still being made in 1500 AD. Secondly, although the Arabic copies reflect a translation made 700 years after Galen's life, no one doubts their essential accuracy.

I mention this because in comparison we Christians have 75% of the Greek Gospel-New Testament in papyrus copies from only 150 years after Christ ascended into heaven, and we have 2 complete Greek copies from 350 AD. Therefore, there is no reason to doubt the essential accuracy of the Gospel-New Testament either. It has not been changed.

Galen - On Semen

Galen says, "The substance from which the fetus is formed is not merely menstrual blood, as Aristotle maintained, but menstrual blood plus the two semens." p 50.

The Qur'an agrees with Galen here when it says in Sura 76:2, "We created man from a drop of mingled sperm."

Embryological Development

Concerning Embryological development, Galen also taught that the embryo developed in stages.

He wrote, "the first is that in which ... the form of the semen prevails. At this time Hippocrates too, the all marvelous, ... still calls it semen (geniture)."

The next stage is "when it has been filled with blood, and heart, brain and liver are (still) unarticulated and unshaped ... this is the period ... that Hippocrates (called) foetus."

(The Quranic Sura 22:5 reflects this when it says, "... Then out of a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed ...")

"And now the third period of gestation has come ... Thus it (nature) caused flesh to grow on and around all the bones."

We saw above that the Qur'an agrees with this in Sura 23:14 where it says, "And we clothed the bones (with) meat."

"The fourth and final period (puer or child - verse 9) is at the stage when all the parts in the limbs have been differentiated."[28]



STAGE 1. The two semens

STAGE 1b. plus menstrual blood

STAGE 2. unshaped flesh

STAGE 3. bones

STAGE 3b. flesh grows on and around the bones


Thus we see that Galen also has stages. He divides them differently, but the sequence is the same.


Galen was so important in medicine that just about the time of the Hejira, four leading medical men in Alexandria, Egypt decided to form a medical school using 16 books of Galen as the basis of the studies. This continued up to and including the 13th century.[29]


We must now ask ourselves what the political, economic and medical climate was in Arabia at the time of Muhammad.

From the Hadramaut in Yemen, the caravans of the spice trade passed north through Mecca and Medina and then reached into all of Europe.

In North Arabia in about 500 AD the Ghassanids took over and by 528 AD the Ghassan controlled the Syrian desert to the outskirts of Yathrib (Medina). Syriac (a form of Aramaic, related to Arabic) was their official language.

As early as 463 AD, the Jews translated the Torah and Old Testament from Hebrew into Syriac. (The British Museum has a copy) This made it available to the Ghassan who were Christians and to the Jewish tribes in Arabia for their members who didn't know Hebrew.

During this time, Sergius al-ras Ayni, (died in Constantinople in 536 AD), one of the earliest and greatest translators from Greek into Syriac (Aramaic), translated various works on medicine, including 26 books of Galen's works into Syriac. This made them available in the Kingdom of Khosru I and to the Ghassan Tribe whose influence extended to the outskirts of Medina.

Khosru I, (Arabic Kisra) King of Persia from 531-579, was known as Khosru the Great. His troops conquered areas as far away as Yemen. He also loved learning and started several schools.

"The school of Jundi-Shapur became, during Khosru I's long reign of 48 years, the greatest intellectual center of the time. Within its walls Greek, Jewish, Nestorian, Persian and Hindu thought and experience were freely exchanged.

Teaching was done largely in Syriac from Syriac translations of Greek texts."[30] This meant that Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen were readily available when the medical school at Jundi-Shapur was operating during his reign.

The next step was that the conquering Arabs compelled the Nestorians to translate their Syriac texts of Greek medicine into Arabic. The translation from Syriac to Arabic was easy as the two languages had the same grammar.

Concerning the local medical situation during Muhammad's life, we know there were physicians living in Arabia during this period.

Harith ben Kalada was the best-educated physician trained in the healing art. "He was born about the middle of the sixth century, at Ta'if, in the tribe of Banu Thaqif. He traveled through Yemen and then Persia where he received his education in the medical sciences at the great medical school of Jundi-Shapur and thus was intimately acquainted with the medical teachings of Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen.

"Having completed his studies he practiced as a physician in Persia and during this time he was called to the court of King Khosru, with whom he had a long conversation. He came back to Arabia about the beginning of Islam and settled down at Ta'if. While there Abu'l-Khayr, a King of Yemen, came to see him, in connection with a certain disease from which he was suffering and, on being cured, rewarded him with much money and a slave girl.

"Though Harith ben Kalada did not write any book on medicine, his views on many medical problems are preserved in his conversation with Khosru. About the eye he says that it is constituted of fat which is the white part, of water which is the black part, and of wind which constituted the eyesight." All this ... goes to show the acquaintance of Harith with the Greek doctors.[31] He died in the reign of 'Umar the 2nd Caliph.

Summarizing the situation in a few words in his book Histoire de la Médecine Arabe, Dr. Lucien LeClerc writes,

"Harith ben Kalada studied medicine at Jandi-Shapur and Muhammad owed to Harith a part of his medical knowledge. Thus, with the one as well as the other, we easily recognize the traces of Greek (medicine)."[32]

"Sometimes Muhammad treated the sick but in the difficult cases he would send the patients to Harith."[33]

Another educated person around Muhammad was Nadr ben Harith--not related to the doctor. He was a Qurayshite and cousin of Muhammad and had also visited the court of Khosru. He had learned Persian and music which he introduced among the Quraish at Mecca.

However, he was not sympathetic to Muhammad, mocking some of the stories in the Qur'an. "Muhammad never forgave him for this, and when he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Badr, he caused him to be put to death."[34]

In summary, we see that

(1) Arabs living in Mecca and Medina in 600 AD had political and economic relations with people from Ethiopia, Yemen, Persia, and Byzantium, i.e. present day Turkey.

(2) A cousin of Muhammad knew Persian well enough to do his musical studies in it.

(3) The Ghassan tribe, which ruled the Syrian desert over to the gates of Medina, used Syriac--one of the main languages used to teach medicine at Jundi-Shapur--as their official language.

(4) An ill king of Yemen came to Ta'if to consult the physician Harith ben Kalada who had been trained at Jundi-Shapur--the best medical school in that world--and to whom Muhammad sometimes sent patients.

(5) During Muhammad's life time a new medical school was established in Alexandria using the XVI books of Galen as their texts.

This all shows that there was ample opportunity for Muhammad and the people around him to have heard of the embryological theories of Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen when they went to seek treatment from Harith ben Kalada and other local doctors.

Thus when the Qur'an says in the Late Meccan Sura of the Believer (Al-Mu'min) 40:67,

"He it is Who created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a leech-like clot (‘alaqa) ... THAT PERHAPS YOU MAY UNDERSTAND,"

And when the Sura of the Pilgrimage (Al-Hajj) 22:5 starts out,

"O mankind! if you have doubt about the resurrection (consider) that We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot (‘alaqa), etc..."

it is correct for us to ask again what were they to understand?

What were they to consider?

When we look at the Quranic stages again the answer is very clear.



STAGE 1. nutfa -- sperm

STAGE 2. ‘alaqa -- clot

STAGE 3. mudagha -- piece or lump of flesh

STAGE 4. ‘adaam -- bones

STAGE 5. dressing the bones with muscles


They were understanding and considering that which was common knowledge--the embryological stages as taught by the Greek physicians.

I do not mean that Muhammad's listeners all knew the names of the Greek physicians, but they knew the embryological stages of the Greek physicians.

(1) They believed that the male sperm

(2) mixed with the female semen and menstrual blood to cause it to clot and this became the baby.

(3) They believed there was a time when the fetal lump was "formed and unformed".

(4) They believed the lump became bones

(5) which were then covered with muscles

Allah in the Qur'an was using that common knowledge as a sign encouraging the listeners and readers to turn to Him. The trouble is that this common knowledge was and is not true.


We must now look at one hadith and two well-known physicians from the period after Muhammad. Obviously they had no effect on the Qur'an, but they demonstrate that faith in the embryological ideas of Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen continued among the Arabs right up to the 1600's.

The Hadith is found in the Forty Hadiths of An-Nawawi and reads as follows,

This Hadith is reported according to Abi ‘Abd-ar-rahman ‘Abdallah ben Mas‘ud, may God be pleased with him, who said: The Apostle of God, may God bless him and grant him salvation, spoke to us and he is truthful and worthy of belief:

"The creation of any one of you is accomplished in various stages in the abdomen of your mother; 40 days a drop of sperm; then he will be (‘alaqa) a clot for the same period, then chewed meat (mudagha) for the same period; then the angel will be sent to him and he will blow into him the spirit (soul) and he will order four words (about the future) by writing: his monetary fortune, and his length of life, and his actions, and whether he is to be damned or happy in the hereafter.

"And I swear by God Whom there is no other God except Him: it could be that one of you will do acts as the people of heaven until there remains only one arms length between him and it (heaven), and the writing ( of his future) will overtake him and he will do the acts of the people of the fire and he will enter it. And it could be that one of you will do acts of the people of the fire until there remains only one arms length between him and it, and the writing (of his future) will overtake him and he will do the acts of the people of heaven and he will enter it." (translation mine) Transmitted by Bukhari and Muslim[35]

We have here a Hadith which is reported to be from the mouth of Muhammad; attested to by the best authorities--Bukhari and Muslim; included in a special collection of Hadiths by a specialist in Hadiths; which has gross scientific errors. It follows the stages of the Qur'an exactly, but here Muhammad has added other information. The drop of sperm remains a drop of sperm 40 days, then an "‘alaqa" 40 days for a total of 80 days, then "chewed meat" for 40 days for a total of 120 days as shown in the following summary. Modern gynecological studies have shown that sperm remain alive less than a week inside the female genital tract, and that at 70 days organ differentiation and maturation are well advanced, except for the brain.



STAGE 1. sperm--for 40 days

STAGE 2. ‘alaqa -- clot for 40 days

STAGE 3. mudagha -- flesh for 40 days

This makes a total of 120 days or 3 months and there are still no bones.

In truth all organs are formed, bones are beginning to calcify, and muscles are moving at 2 months.


This Hadith says that it doesn't even become "an unformed lump" until 80 days, a clear error. Dr. Bucaille also mentions this Hadith and concludes,

"This description of embryonic evolution does not agree with modern data."[36]

However, it clearly shows something of what men believed only 200 years away from Muhammad, and it raises severe theological problems in relation to all the Hadith.


Do the scientific errors in this Hadith make the theological statements of Muhammad wrong too?

If the scientific error proves that this well attested Hadith is wrong, how do we know anything about the validity of the other well attested Hadiths which don't happen to have a scientific error to betray that they are wrong?

An even more crucial question is, how do we know that this Hadith is not an accurate transmission? How do we know that this does not represent Muhammad's words and understanding of the scientific facts???

Furthermore, if the correct translation of "alaqa" is "leech-like substance" as modern Muslims like Shabir Ally claim, there is no place where these post-Quranic doctors said so. In fact, it is just the opposite. The ideas of these Greek physicians were being used to explain the Qur'an and the Qur'an was quoted to enlighten the meaning of the Greek physicians.

Avicenna (Ibn Sina) 980-1037 AD wrote,

679. The human being takes its origin from two things---(1) the male sperm, which plays the part of "factor"; (2) the female sperm [first part of the menstrual blood], which provides the matter ... These give the coagulum ("He created man from a clot"---Q. 96,2) a certain hardiness or firmness.[37]

Thus we see that "Ibn Sina gave the female semen exactly the same role that Aristotle had assigned to the menstrual blood ... It is difficult to overstate the importance of Ibn Sina as a scientific and philosophical authority for the pre-modern Europeans.[38]

Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (1291-1351)

Ibn Qayyim took full advantage of the agreement between Quranic revelation and Greek medicine.

Here Ibn Qayyim is writing a medical account which includes

Hippocrates (italics),
the Qur'an (bold),
Hadith (bold underlined),
commentaries (plain underlined),
and his own thoughts (in plain)

in one and the same paragraph.

Hippocrates said in the third chapter of Kitab al-ajinna: "... The semen is contained in a membrane, and it grows because of the blood of its mother which descends to the womb[39] ... Some membranes are formed at the beginning, others after the second month, and others in the third month ..." That is why God says, "He creates you in the wombs of your mothers, by one formation after another in three darknesses" (Qur'an 39:6). Since each of these membranes has its own darkness, when God mentioned the stages of creation and transformation from one state to another, He also mentioned the darknesses of the membranes. Most commentators explain: 'it is the darkness of the belly, and the darkness of the womb, and the darkness of the placenta' ...

In a second example we read,

Hippocrates said, "The mouth opens up spontaneously, and the nose and ears are formed from the flesh. The ears are opened, and the eyes, which are filled with a clear liquid." The Prophet used to say, 'I worship Him Who made my face and formed it, and opened my hearing and eyesight' etc. etc."[40]

He could do this because, as we have seen, the educated people of Muhammad's time were familiar with Greek medicine.

However, what is important for us sitting here today to realize is that there is no place where the Qur'an corrected Greek medicine. There is no place where Ibn Qayyim was shouting "Hay you guys. You've got this all wrong. The correct meaning of ‘alaqa is "that which clings" or "leech-like substance." On the contrary, Ibn Qayyim was demonstrating the agreement between the Qur'an and Greek medicine--their agreement in error.

A final witness is the commentary of Imam Naasir-addiin Baidawi who died in 1282 AD. He quotes Sura 22:5 and then gives his understanding. He explains ‘alaqa as "a piece of solid blood (qata min al-dam jaamida)" and mudagha as "a piece of meat originally as much as can be chewed (qata min al-lahm wa hiya fii al-aasal qadr maa yamdagh) ".[41]

Stages of development - a modern idea?!?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this study, it has been said that the idea of the embryo developing through stages is a modern one, and that the Qur'an is prophesying modern embryology by depicting differing stages. Yet, we have seen that Aristotle, Hippocrates, the Indians and Galen have all discussed stages of embryological development during the 1000 years before the Qur'an.

And after the coming of the Qur'an, the account of the different stages as described by the Qur'an, was carried on in the teachings of the Hadiths, Avicenna and Ibn Qayyim, and is essentially the same as that taught by Galen and those preceding him.

Concerning the bone stage, it is clear, as Dr. Moore demonstrates so capably in his textbook, that muscles start forming from the somites at the same time as the cartilage models of the bones. There is no bone stage at which the limbs of the developing fetus are just bones around which muscles will later be placed.

It is equally clear, that ‘alaqa in the Qur'an means clot and that the Quraish who heard Muhammad speaking understood him to be referring to the menstrual blood as the female contribution to the developing baby.

Therefore we can conclude that during all these years, the Quranic verses on embryology saying that "man is created from a drop of sperm which becomes a clot" were in perfect accord with the "science" of the 1st century of the Hejira, of the time of the Qur'an.

But when compared with the modern science of our 20th century,

Hippocrates is in error,

Aristotle is in error,

Galen is in error,

The Qur'an is in error.

They are all in serious error.

  1. Former Professor of Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  2. Arabization and Medical Education, p. 51, reprinted 1995 by Islamic Information & Da`wah Centre International, 957 Dovercourt Road, Toronto, M6H 2X6.
  3. Biberstein Kasimirski, Le Koran, Bibliotheque Charpentier, Paris 1948.
  4. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur'an, American International Printing Co., Washington, 1946.
  5. Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, The Glorious Qur'an, Muslim World League, New York, 1977.
  6. The Holy Qur'an, Ahmadiyyah Anjuman Ishaat Islam, Lahore, 1951.
  7. The Qur'an, Curzon Press, 1981.
  8. Muhammad Hamidullah, Le Coran, Le Club Français du livre, 1981.
  9. N. J. Dawood, checked and revised by Mahmud Y. Zayid, The Quran, Dar Al-Choura, P.O. Box 11-4251, Beirut, 1980.
  10. Islam, 2nd Ed., U. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979, p. 13.
  11. Muhammad Ali, Op. cit.
  12. The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, American Trust Publications, Indianapolis, 1979, p. 200.
  13. Bucaille, ibid., p. 204.
  14. Dr. Bèchir Torki, L'Islam Religion de la Science, l'UGGT, Tunis, 1979, p. 178.
  15. Ibid., p. 178.
  16. Le Coran, Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris, 1957. (translation mine)
  17. The Message of the Qur'an, Dar Al-Andalus Ltd., Gibraltar, 1980.
  18. Moore, Arabization and Medical Education, op. cit., p. 56.
  19. The Developing Human, Moore, 4th ed., 1988.
  20. Moore, Dev. Human, p. 75.
  21. Moore, op. cit., inside front cover.
  22. Moore, op. cit. p. 61.
  23. Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human, 4th ed.,1988, p. 346.
  24. See Section One, Chapter 1, "Some Basic Assumptions about Words", William F. Campbell M.D., The Qur'an and the Bible in the Light of History and Science, Middle East Resources, P.O. Box 96, Upper Darby, PA, 1986, p. 3-12.
  25. Ibn Khaldun, Vol. II, p. 391.
  26. Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, Trans. by Arthur Platt, Vol. 9 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
  27. Dr. P. Kutumbiah, M.D., F.R.C.P., Ancient Indian Medicine, Orient Longmans, Madras, 1969, p. 2-4.
  28. Galen, op.cit. I 9, verses 1-9, p. 92-95.
  29. LeClerc, op. cit., p. 41.
  30. The Role of the Nestorians and Muslims in the History of Medicine, Allen O. Whipple, 1967, Princeton Univ. Press, p. 16.
  31. Dr. Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi, Studies in Arabic and Persian Medical Literature, Calcutta University, 1959, p. 6-7.
  32. LeClerc, op.cit., p. 123.
  33. LeClerc, op.cit., p. 33.
  34. Edward G. Brown, M.B., F.R.C.P., Arabian Medicine, Cambridge, 1921, p. 11.
  35. An-Nawawi, op. cit., p. 28-29.
  36. Bucaille, BQ&S, p. 245.
  37. Gruner, op.cit., p. 359.
  38. Musallam, Basim F., Sex and Society in Islam, Birth control before the 19th century. Cambridge University Press, 1983, p. 47-48.
  39. This is exactly what we quoted from Hippocrates at the beginning of this section: "The seed (embryo), then, is contained in a membrane ... Moreover, it grows because of its mother's blood, which descends to the womb. For once a woman conceives, she ceases to menstruate ... Section 14, p. 326."
  40. Ibn Qayyim, Tuhfat, p. 248-52.
  41. Baidawi's commentary of Sura Al-Hajj 22:1-5, Dar Al-Fikr, P.O. Box 11/7061, Beirut, Lebanon, 1982, p. 439.

This article is taken from Section Four of Dr. Campbell's book, The Qur'an and the Bible in the Light of History and Science.

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