Human Embryology and the Holy Quran


Islamic Medicine
Staff member
Sabiha Saadat


Man’s quest to know about his origin has led him to search his roots and the best source for him has been religious scriptures. The greatest miracle is the Holy Quraan. There is an elegant description of origin, development and step by step developmental stages of intra-uterine life in Quraan. Muslims had this knowledge in 7th century and the Prophet Muhammad’s Ahadeeth (sayings, deeds, approvals narrated by authentic narrators) had explained almost everything about natal and even postnatal events. These findings once presented to experts in the field of Anatomy and Embryology surprised them and they believed that the knowledge given to the Prophet Muhammad was indeed divine. Who else would provide this knowledge to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) except the Creator Himself.

Modern embryology is a fairly recent development which has its beginning with the invention of microscope in the 17th century. However the concept of the human being developing in stages was not recognised until much later. But the scientists then and most Muslim and non-Muslim scholars do not even know that the holy Quran and Sunnah [words, deeds, approvals of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) collected by authentic narrators] had provided a detailed description of the significant events in human development from the stages of gametes and conception until the full term pregnancy and delivery or even post partum. Actually information in the Quran and Hadith corrected many superstitious and vague ideas about human development that were prevalent before.


Since eternity man has always wanted to understand and probe into secrets of Nature; how and when creation began and his purpose in this world. This inquisitive man sought the help of civilizations, nature, old manuscripts, sometimes even the prophesies of saints and above all religions

Aristotle thought that foetus was formed in uterus from a coagulum of blood and seed from menstrual blood. Greeks and Europeans thought that foetus was created from menstrual blood, or else they thought that foetus was fully created and was in a miniature form in sperm or in ovule. In 1604 Fabricus came out with excellent drawings of chick embryo. Malphigi in 1672 who is considered father of modern embryology thought poultry eggs contained a miniature chick and others thought that human being was fully formed in sperm or an ovum. He came out with chick drawings showing clear somites. In 1673 Leeuwenhoek invented the first microscope. Hartsoeker’s drawing of a human spermatozoon in 1694 clearly had this impression that a fully formed homo nucleus (human form) was formed in a spermatozoon or in ovum. In 1775 this controversy ended when Spallanzani showed the necessity of both ovum and sperm for the development of a new individual. It was in 19th century that the development cycle of mammalian ovum was discovered. The writings of Von Baer, Darwin and Haeckel introduced the phase of “experimental embryology”. The second phase called the “stage of mechanisms” started in late 19th century and scientists found chemical mechanisms of development by Otto Warburg. Ross Harrison introduced the technique of in vitro cell culture. Frank Lillie investigated the mechanism by which the egg was fertilized by the spermatozoon and finally Hans Spermann gave us the mechanism of tissue interaction. The third or the most modern phase started from 1940 to the present day. The present stage may be aptly called the stage of “instrumentation”. We had electron microscope, sophisticated imaging tools, ultracentrifuge, spectrophotometer and the list is very long. Thus, we could study role of nucleus, cytoplasm, cell hybridization, nuclear transplants, and gene cloning and other techniques.

Homo nucleus

Now we are at a stage when we can look at embryos with clarity unimaginable during Malphighi’s time. We have Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART) and a choice of GIFT, ZIFT, ICSI and we have even a choice of designer babies! We have frozen embryos, a prospect of having minimum of five parents for a child conceived with ART technique. We can see in future a woman giving birth to, in essence, to herself, or to her sister, or even her mother! Thanks to cloning!! Yes, we have come a long way but with the help of modern sophisticated techniques. But my aim is to take the present day person to the Arabia of 7th century when prophethood was bestowed to the most loved person in Islam the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Imagine Arabia in 7th century. Arabs living in deserts were wanderers and camel herders. They had no interest in inventions and discoveries except making gauntlets and sharpening swords to wage wars and only few affluent families were traders and in that surroundings we do not expect someone to have a high tech lab; Or for that matter study abortion specimens to inform mankind about the various stages of inra-uterine life.

Prophet Muhammad was illiterate, had no formal education and it was through him that Muslim scholars had the knowledge about conception, morphology, various phases of intrauterine life which modern day scientists came to know only few decades back.

In Quran there is reference of various stages of human development in many chapters and it is not possible here to mention and explain them all. I have selected two references for this brief communication.
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