Vol. 2    Issue 9   01-15 September 2007
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Human Embryology in the Quran

Dwelling on the miraculous qualities of the Holy Quran, a distinguished 15th century Egyptian scholar Jalauddin al-Suyuti has remarked: “Scholars will never become fully satiated with it, nor will its miracles ever cease.” The truth of this perceptive observation is attested by the discovery in recent years that the Quran contains astonishing scientific data which are confirmed by modern researches. One such data relates to human embryology.

The Quran says: “He makes you in the wombs of your mothers in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness” (39:6). Professor Keith Moore, professor of anatomy at the University of Toronto, Canada, points out that the fact that the development of the human embryo takes place in stages was not known and discussed until the 15th century. The first known illustration of a foetus in the uterus was drawn by the famous Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci. The different stages of the development of the embryo can be seen only through a microscope. After the microscope was invented in the 17th century by Leeuwenhoek, descriptions were made of the early stages of the chic embryo. The stage-wise description of the human embryo was presented only in 1941.

According to Professor Moore, the “three veils of darkness” mentioned in the Quran may refer to: (i) the anterior abdominal wall (ii) the uterine wall, and (iii) the amniochorionic membrane.

The Quran says: “Verily, We created man from a drop of mingled sperm” (76:2). This refers to the mixture of a small quantity of sperms with the oocyte and its associated follicular fluid. The mixture of the ovum and the sperm becomes the zygote or primordium of the embryo. It was not until the 18th century that Spallanzani demonstrated experimentally that both male and female sexual fluids are necessary for the development of the embryo. The Quran referred to this fact more than fourteen centuries ago.

The Quran says: “Then We made the sperm into a leech-like substance; then of that substance We made a chewed-like lump; then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh…..” (23:13). Microscopic examination confirms that a 24-day old human embryo looks like a leech. In the fourth week it begins to look like a chewed substance. The chewed appearance results from the somites which resemble teeth marks. When Professor Moore read about this description, he obtained a picture of a leech and discovered, to his amazement, that there was a remarkable similarity between a 24-day old human embryo and a leech. He subsequently included both the pictures in his widely-read textbook Clinical Embryology. When Professor Moore was asked how he would interpret this description of the human embryo in the Quran, he remarked: “It could only have been divinely revealed.”

The Quran says: “And He gave you hearing and sight and feeling and understanding” (32:9). Professor Moore points out that modern embryology confirms this sequence of the development of different sense organs. The primordial of the internal ears appears before the beginning of the eyes, and the brain—the site of understanding—differentiates last.

Prophet Hud

Prophet Hud (may the blessings of God be upon him) has been mentioned in seven places in the Holy Quran (11:50, 53, 58, 60, 89; 26:124; 7:65). He was sent to ‘Ad, a people who lived in Hadramawt (now Yemen) in the third millennium B.C. Although the Bible does not refer to them, they find a mention in Assyrian inscriptions. In ancient times, the Ahqaf region of southern Arabia, where the ‘Ad lived, was nestled in verdant valleys which had abundant water resources. They were very proud of their physical prowess and their material prosperity. The Quran speaks of their monumental and fortified structures (26:128). The ‘Ad worshipped many idols.

Prophet Hud exhorted them to give up the worship of idols and turn in obedience to God Almighty. But his pleas fell on deaf ears. Very few people heeded his call. God sent down on them a terrifying tornado which lasted for seven nights and eight days. Those who defied Prophet Hud were wiped out and their dwellings were reduced to rubble.

The tomb of Prophet Hud is located in Hadramawt.

Prophet Ibrahim

Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham in the Bible) is mentioned 69 times in the Holy Quran. He is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims and regarded as the Patriarch. Prophet Ibrahim’s family migrated from the Sumerian city of Ur (today known as Tall al-Muqayyar, located about 200 miles from Baghdad) in around 2000 B. C.

The people of Ur worshipped many idols, the chief among whom was Sin or the moon god. The temple structure of the Sumerians was called the ziggurat. It was a pyramidal, stepped tower which was built with a core of mud bricks and an exterior covered with baked bricks. It had no internal chamber and was usually square or rectangular.

This is a picture of the best-preserved ziggurat in Ur, the birth place of Prophet Ibrahim, which was constructed before his birth.

Hud-hud (Hoopoe)

The bird Hud-hud (hoopoe) is mentioned twice in Surah al-Naml in the Holy Quran (27:20-22). The Quran says: “And he (Prophet Sulayman) sought among the birds and said: “How is it that I see not the hoopoe, or is he among the absent?” (27:20). “But the hoopoe tarried not far: he compassed (territory) which thou hast not compassed and I have come to thee from Saba with tidings true (27:22). Prophet Sulayman understood the communication system of animals, birds and insects.

Hoopoe is a beautiful bird found in Asia, North Africa, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. It is 25-29 cm long with a 44-48 cm wingspan. It is fawn or cinnamon in colour with black and white stripes on the back, wings and tail. The hoopoe generally inhabits open cultivated ground with short grass or green patches. It makes its nest in a hole in a tree or wall. It can fly as high as 21,000 feet.

In classical Chinese poetry, the hoopoe is regarded as a celestial messenger which brings news of the spring. The hoopoe finds a prominent place in the celebrated Sufi saint Fariduddin Attar’s classic work of mystical symbolism, Mantiq al-Tayr (Conference of the Birds), which is a symbolic account of the journey of the world’s birds to find their king, the Simurgh. In this journey, which symbolises the journey of the soul towards communion with the divine, the birds are guided and led by the hoopoe, because it served as a communication medium to carry Prophet Sulayman’s message to the Queen of Sheba.

The dance language of the honeybee

The Quran says: “And thy Lord inspired the bee, saying: choose thou habitations in the hills and in the trees and in people’s habitations” (16:68). A German biologist Karl von Frisch carefully observed and recorded the dance communication of the honeybee in the 1940s, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize. The results of his researches were published in his books The Dancing Bees (1954) and The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees (1967). It is estimated that the brain of a honeybee, which weighs only ten milligrams, is superior by about seven orders of magnitude the most efficient of today’s computers. The frequency range of the sounds a bee can detect extends well beyond the threshold of human hearing. Both sound and dance are required to communicate information about the location of food.

Scout bees, when they have found a rich source of nectar, return with the pollen or nectar to the hive and communicate accurately the location of the source by dancing in the dark hive on the vertical combs. The dancer emits sound signals that help the dance followers determine where the dancer is and how she is moving, which in turn offers them critical information regarding the direction and distance to the feeding site. The followers emit sounds that vibrate the comb. It is interesting to note that, in the verse quoted above, the command is given to the bee in the feminine imperative form. It was discovered only a few decades ago that only a female bee finds a new dwelling.

It is interesting to note that, in the verse quoted above, the command is given to the bee in the feminine imperative form. It was discovered only a few decades ago that only a female bee finds a new dwelling.

Communication system in ants

The Quran says: “Then, when they reached the valley of the ants, an ant said: “Ants! Enter your dwellings lest Sulayman and his troops trampled upon you unwittingly” (27:18).

Modern scientific research has brought out the highly complex communication system in ants. An ant carries in her head—which contains half a million nerve cells--multiple sensory organs which pick up chemical and visual signals. The coordination of collective behaviour in ants is incredibly complex and extremely well organized.

The martyrs of Najran

The Quran makes a mention of Ashab al-Ukhdud (The People of Ukhdud). Thus it says: “Woe to the makers of the pit (of fire), fire supplied (abundantly) with fuel. Behold, they sat over against (the fire), and they witnessed (all) that they were doing against the believers. And they ill-treated them for no other reason than that they believed in Allah, Exalted in Power, Worthy of all Praise” (85:4-8). The reference in these verses is to a group of pious Christians who were persecuted and ultimately massacred by a Jewish king in southern Arabia in 523 A.D.

Dhu Nuwas was a Jewish king of Himayr (Yemen). He attacked Najran in southern Arabia, which was inhabited by Christians, so as to wipe out Christianity in the region and forcibly convert the Christians to Judaism. After reaching Najran he asked the Christians to renounce their faith and to embrace Judaism, but they refused. He then ordered a large fire pit to be dug and all those who refused to convert to Judaism were thrown into the fire.

Joseph Halevy, who was a French Jewish traveller, visited Najran in 1869 and found the ruins of the ancient city, which was locally known as Madinat al-Khudud. The ruins of the site where this event occurred are shown in the enclosed picture.

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