Prophecy #2: The Stages of an Embryo
Dr Maurice Bucaille & Dr Keith L. Moore have popularized the idea that the Qur’ān miraculously foretells our modern understanding that the embryo develops through stages:
Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay); Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed; Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (foetus) lump; then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So blessed be Allah, the best to create! (Sura Mu’minun 23:12-14)
So we find the following five stages outlined in the Qur’ān :
1. Nutfa (نُطْفَه) – sperm
2. ‘alaqa (عَلَق) – clot
3. Mudagha (مُضْغَه) – piece or lump of flesh
4. ‘adaam (عَظَمَ) – Dressing the bones with muscles.
It is alleged that since these stages were only discovered in the last century, the Qur’ān contains an unexplainable prediction of science. However, since ‘blood clot’ cannot describe any embryonic stage, Bucaille reinvented the word ‘alaqa(عَلَق) to mean “that which clings” or “leech-like substance”.
There are many problems with this argument:
1. History indicates that these stages were not unknown at Muhammad’s time, but were actually fairly common knowledge. The Greek writings of Hippocrates, Aristotle and Galen all give the same stages of development: sperm, menstrual blood, flesh, bones, then flesh growth around bones. This Greek science was well known around Arabia, and Muhammad’s companion Harith ben Kalada had studied medicine at Jundi-Shapur and was thus intimately acquainted with the medical teaching of Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen.
2. Second, the word ‘alaqa (عَلَق) simply does not mean “leech” as any historical translation shows; it means ‘clot’, which fits the ancient Greeks’ stages but doesn’t fit the scientific description. Both Ibn Sina’ and Ibn Qayyim understood the ‘alaqa as clotted blood, as have all translators for the past fourteen hundred years until today.
3. Third, modern embryology indicates that muscle mass (stage 5 above) appears before any bones are calcified (stage 4 above). The bones aren’t “clothed with flesh”; rather, they start to emerge and solidify within the already-existing muscle mass.
4. A Sahih Hadith from both Bukhari and Muslim expands on the Qur’ānic stages of development, saying that the first three stages all last for forty days. Even Dr Bucaille is forced to admit, “This description of embryonic development does not agree with modern data.”
5. Zakir Naik quotes Western obstetrician Dr Joe Leigh Simpson supporting this “miracle”. Dr. Simpson later described these out-of-context comments as “silly and embarrassing.”
Embryology in the hadith
Stages of development
According to Muhammad, the embryo spends 40 days as a drop of sperm, 40 days as a clot, and then 40 days as a piece of flesh. In reality by day 56 the fetus is essentially a complete, though tiny, human being with all organ systems in place, and all tissues developed.
Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Mus’ud: “Allah’s Apostle, the true and truly inspired said, “(The matter of the Creation of) a human being is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period.”
Sahih Bukhari 4:54:430, See also: Sahih Bukhari 4:55:549, Sahih Bukhari 8:77:593, Sahih Bukhari 9:93:546, and Sahih Muslim 33:6390
By Faishal Ahmed (Ex-Muslim)