Milk

The Source of the Constituents of Animal MILK:

This is defined in the Qur’an in strict accordance with the data of modern knowledge (sura 16, verse 66). The translation and interpretation of this verse given here is my own because even modern translations habitually give it a meaning which is, in my opinion, hardly acceptable. Here are two examples:

–R. Blachère’s translation:
“Verily, in your cattle there is a lesson for you! We give you a pure milk to drink, excellent for its drinkers; (it comes) from what, in their bellies, is between digested food and blood.”

–Professor Hamidullah’s translation:
“Verily, there is food for thought in your cattle. From what is in their bellies, among their excrement and blood, We make you drink pure milk, easy for drinkers to imbibe.”

If these texts were shown to a physiologist, he would reply that they were extremely obscure, the reason being that there hardly appears to be much agreement between them and modern notions, even on a very elementary level. These translations are the work of highly eminent Arabists. It is a well known fact however, that a translator, even an expert, is liable to make mistakes in the translation of scientific statements, unless he happens to be a specialist in the discipline in question.

The most valid translation seems to me to be the following:
“Verily, in cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of what is inside their bodies, coming from a conjunction between the contents of the intestine and the blood, a milk pure and pleasant for those who drink it.” (sura 16, verse 66)

This interpretation is very close to the one given in the Muntakab, 1973, edited by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Cairo, which relies for its support on modern physiology.

From the point of view of its vocabulary, the proposed translation may be justified as follows:
I have translated «inside their bodies’ and not, as R. Blachère and Professor Hamidullah have done, ‘inside their bellies’. This is because the word batn also means ‘middle’, «interior of something’, as well as ‘belly’. The word does not here have a meaning that is anatomically precise. ‘Inside their bodies’ seems to concur perfectly with the context.

The notion of a ‘primary origin’ of the constituents of milk is expressed by the word min (in English ‘from’) and the idea of a conjunction by the word baini. The latter not only signifies «among’ but also ‘between’ in the other translations quoted. It is however also used to express the idea that two things or two people are brought together. From a scientific point of view, physiological notions must be called upon to grasp the meaning of this verse.

The substances that ensure the general nutrition of the body come from chemical transformations which occur along the length of the digestive tract. These substances come from the contents of the intestine. On arrival in the intestine at the appropriate stage of chemical transformation, they pass through its wall and towards the systemic circulation. This passage is effected in two ways: either directly, by what are called the ‘lymphatic vessels’, or indirectly, by the portal circulation. This conducts them first to the liver, where they undergo alterations, and from here they then emerge to join the systemic circulation. In this way everything passes through the bloodstream. The constituents of milk are secreted by the mammary glands. These are nourished, as it were, by the product of food digestion brought to them via the bloodstream. Blood therefore plays the role of collector and conductor of what has been extracted from food, and it brings nutrition to the mammary glands, the producers of milk, as it does to any other organ.

Here the initial process which sets everything else in motion is the bringing together of the contents of the intestine and blood at the level of the intestinal wall itself. This very precise concept is the result of the discoveries made in the chemistry and physiology of the digestive system. It was totally unknown at the time of the Prophet Muhammad and has been understood only in recent times. The discovery of the circulation of the blood, was made by Harvey roughly ten centuries after the Qur’anic Rev elation.

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.

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