It is not easy to gain an idea of what the Qur’an contains on this subject. The first difficulty arises from the fact already mentioned, i.e. that the statements dealing with this subject are scattered throughout the Book. This is not however a major difficulty. What is more likely to mislead the inquiring reader is, once again, the problem of vocabulary.
In fact there are still many translations and commentaries in circulation today that can give a completely false idea of the Qur’anic Revelation on this subject to the scientist who reads them. 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. In the paragraph dealing with the implantation of the egg in the maternal uterus, we shall see the reasons why distinguished Arabists who lack a scientific background have made such blunders.
This observation implies how great the importance of an association between linguistic and scientific knowledge is when it comes to grasping the meaning of
Qur’anic statements on reproduction.
The Qur’an sets out by stressing the successive transformations the embryo undergoes before reaching its destination in the maternal uterus.
–sura 82, verses 6 to 8:
“O Man! Who deceives you about your Lord the Noble, Who created you and
fashioned you in due proportion and gave you any form He willed.”
–sura 71, verse 14:
“(God) fashioned you in (different) stages.”
Along with this very general observation, the text of the Qur’an draws attention to several points concerning reproduction which might be listed as follows:
1) fertilization is performed by only a very small volume of liquid.
2) the constituents of the fertilizing liquid.
3) the implantation of the fertilized egg.
4) the evolution of the embryo. (This will be discussed in the next note, Insha Allah)
1. Fertilization is Performed by Only a Very Small Volume of Liquid.
The Qur’an repeats this concept eleven times using the following expression:
–sura 16, verse 4:
“(God) fashioned man from a small quantity (of sperm).”
The Arabic word nutfa has been translated by the words ‘small quantity (of sperm)’ because we do not have the terms that are strictly appropriate. This word comes from a verb signifying ‘to dribble, to trickle’; it is used to describe what remains at the bottom of a bucket that has been emptied out. It therefore indicates a very small quantity of liquid. Here it is sperm because the word is associated in another verse with the word sperm.
–sura 75, verse 37:
“Was (man) not a small quantity of sperm which has been poured out?” Here the Arabic wordmani signifies sperm.
Another verse indicates that the small quantity in question is put in a ‘firmly established lodging’ (qarar) which obviously means the genital organs.
–sura 23, verse 13. God is speaking:
“Then We placed (man) as a small quantity (of sperm) in a safe lodging firmly established.”
It must be added that the adjective which in this text refers to the ‘firmly established lodging’ makin is, I think, hardly translatable. It expresses the idea of a firmly established and respected place. However this may be, it refers to the spot where man grows in the maternal organism. It IS important to stress the concept of a very small quantity of liquid needed in the fertilization process, which is strictly in agreement with what we know on this subject today.
2. The Constituents of the Fertilizing Liquid.
The Qur’an describes the liquid enabling fertilization to take place in terms which it is interesting to examine:
a) ‘sperm’, as has been stated precisely (sura 75, verse 37)
b) ‘a liquid poured out’. “Man was fashioned from a liquid poured out” (sura 86, verse 6)
c) ‘a despised liquid’ (sura 32, verse 8 and sura 77, verse 20) The adjective ‘despised’ (mahin) would, it seems, be interpreted not so much on account of the nature of the liquid itself, as more the fact that it is emitted through the outlet of the urinary tract, using the channels that are employed for passing urine.
d) ‘Mixtures’ or ‘mingled liquids’ (amsaj): “Verily, we fashioned man from a small quantity of mingled liquids” (sura 76, verse 2)
Many commentators, like professor Hamidullah, consider these liquids to be the male and female agents. The same view was shared by older commentators, who could not have had any idea of the physiology of fertilization, especially its biological conditions in the case of the woman. They thought that the word simply meant the unification of the two elements.
Modern authors however, like the commentator of theMuntakab edited by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Cairo, have corrected this view and note here that the ‘small quantity of sperm’ is made up of various component parts. The commentator in the Muntakab does not go into detail, but in my opinion it is a very judicious observation.
What are the components parts of sperm?
Spermatic liquid is formed by various secretions which come from the following glands:
a) the testicles: the secretion of the male genital gland contains spermatozoons, which are elongated cells with a long flagellum; they are bathed in a sero-fluid liquid.
b) the seminal vesicles. these organs are reservoirs of spermatozoons and are placed near the prostate gland; they also secrete their own liquid but it does not contain any fertilizing agents.
c) the prostate gland: this secretes a liquid which gives the sperm its creamy texture and characteristic odour.
d) the glands annexed to the urinary tract: Cooper’s or Méry’s glands secrete a stringy liquid and Littré’s glands give off mucous.
These are the origins of the ‘mingled liquids’ which the Qur’an would appear to refer to.
There is, however, more to be said on this subject. When the Qur’an talks of a fertilizing liquid composed of different components, it also informs us that man’s progeny will be maintained by something which may be extracted from this liquid.
This is the meaning of verse 8, sura 32:
“(God) made his progeny from the quintessence of a despised liquid.”
The Arabic word, translated here by the word ‘quintessence’, is sulala. It signifies ‘something which is extracted, the issue of something else, the best part of a thing’. In whatever way it is translated, it refers to a part of a whole.
Fertilization of the egg and reproduction are produced by a cell that is very elongated:
its dimensions are measured in ten thousandths of a millimetre. In normal conditions, only one single cell among several tens of millions produced by a man will actually penetrate the ovule; a large number of them are left behind and never complete the journey which leads from the vagina to the ovule, passing through the uterus and Fallopian tubes. It is therefore an infinitesimally small part of the extract from a liquid whose composition is highly complex which actually fulfills its function.
In consequence, it is difficult not to be struck by the agreement between the text of the Qur’an and the scientific knowledge we possess today of these phenomena.
3. The Implantation of the Egg In the Female Genital Organs.
Once the egg has been fertilized in the Fallopian tube it descends to lodge inside the uterus; this is called the ‘implantation of the egg’. The Qur’an names the lodging of the fertilized egg womb:
-sura 22, verse 5:
“We cause whom We will to rest in the womb for an appointed term.”
The implantation of the egg in the uterus (womb) is the result of the development of villosities, veritable elongations of the egg, which, like roots in the soil, draw nourishment from the thickness of the uterus necessary to the egg’s growth. These formations make the egg literally cling to the uterus. This is a discovery of modern times.
The act of clinging is described five different times in the Qur’an. Firstly in verses 1 and 2 of sura 96:
“Read, in the name of thy Lord Who fashioned, Who fashioned man from something which clings.”
‘Something which clings’ is the translation of the word ‘alaq. It is the original meaning of the word. A meaning derived from it, ‘blood clot’, often figures in translation; it is a mistake against which one should guard: man has never passed through the stage of being a ‘blood clot’. The same is true for another translation of this term, ‘adhesion’ which is equally inappropriate. The original sense of ‘something which clings’ corresponds exactly to today’s firmly established reality.
This concept is recalled in four other verses which describe successive transformations from the small quantity of sperm through to the end:
–sura 22, verse 5:
“We have fashioned you from . . . something which clings.”
–sura 23, verse 14:
“We have fashioned the small quantity (of sperm) into something which clings.”
–sura 40, verse 67:
“(God) fashioned you from a small quantity (of sperm), from something which clings.”
-sura 75, verse 37-38:
“Was (man) not a small quantity of sperm which has been poured out? After that he was something which clings; then God fashioned him in due proportion.”
The organ which harbours the pregnancy is qualified in the Qur’an by a word which, as we have seen, is still used in Arabic to signify the uterus. In some suras, it is called a ‘lodging firmly established’ (sura 23, verse 13, quoted above and sura 77, verse 21)
I consider that the existence in the Qur’an of the verse referring to these concepts can have no human explanation on account of the period in which they were formulated.