The QURAN, Knowledge, and Science (2)

The QURAN, Knowledge, and Science (2)

The following verse describes a property of large rivers...:

[25:53] It is He who has caused to mix freely the two great bodies of water, this one pleasant-tasting and sweet and this one salty and bitter, and He made between them a barrier and a forbidding ban.

A description of the estuaries of large rivers is supplied by the verse above. These estuaries are relatively unusual because the outgoing fresh water of the river does not immediately mix with the salt water of the sea into which the river empties. Instead, the fresh water penetrates deep into the salt water body before any mixing occurs, far from the mouth of the river. Small rivers do not have this property. [10]

Finally, one more reference to clouds.

[52:44] And were they to see a piece of the sky falling down, they would (only) say "Heaps of clouds!"

Another reference to clouds but this time in the context of responding to a challenge by an earlier peoples who ridiculed a prophet by asking him to cause a piece of the sky to fall on them, apparently thinking it to be a solid cap around the earth. Allah refutes their challenge here, declaring that they would only find a pile of clouds, something all of us would understand today. [10]

G. - On Human Embryological and Fetal Development

The Quran has an extensive amount of information on the growth of the human embryo and fetus, especially the former. Before presenting this information, it may be helpful to provide a brief outline of human development in the womb as modern science understands it. [10]

1. An unfertilized egg is produced by the female, and is subsequently placed in her Fallopian tubes.

2. The male cohabits with the female, and a single sperm cell fertilizes the egg.

3. The fertilized egg retreats into the uterus, and attaches itself to the uterine wall.

4. Embryological growth (roughly 3 months).

5. Fetal growth (6 months).

6. Birth

We will examine some of these stages in greater detail as the verses in the Quran require. First, however, two verses which give a general overview of human development:

[71:14] ...seeing that it is He (Allah) Who has created you in stages...

[35:11] And Allah created you from dust, then from a drop...

The first verse is a very general, yet accurate description of our creation as coming in stages (see the six-step outline above). The second verse puts some perspective on the whole affair: how man originally came from dust (Adam), and then from a drop.

There are at least four specific details regarding human development in the Quran which modern science has revealed only within the last few centuries, and in some cases only in this present century. The first concerns the emission of semen:

[75:37] Was he (man) not a drop of semen emitted?

In spite of the large amount of liquid which can be produced by a man during human intercourse, this verse emphasizes that only a small drop of it is important.

The second important detail in the Quran on human development is the description of the fertilizing liquid (i.e. semen):

[86:6] He (man) is created from a gushing liquid.

[76:2] We created the human from a drop which is a mixture...

[32:8] Then He (Allah) made his (Adam's) progeny from a quintessence of a despised liquid.

The second and third verses relate to the contents of semen. Modern science has established that semen is in fact a composition of different secretions which come from four different glands during ejaculation: the testicles, the seminal vesicles, the prostate gland, and the urinary tract glands. The actual sperm cells come from the testicles; the other three glands produce no fertilizing agents. The Quran goes farther than just informing us that semen is a mixture of liquids. It tells us in [32:8] that only the "quintessence" of the liquid is used (the "despised" comes from the fact that semen is emitted from the same place as urine, and thus may be despicable in some people's sight). The Arabic word for "quintessence" in this verse signifies extracting the absolute best out of something. The numbers tell the story: a normal ejaculation involves about 3 ml of fluid containing between 120,000,000 and 150,000,000 sperm cells. Of these cells, only one fertilizes the egg in the female, and this is the point which [32:8] alludes to [15].

A third detail of human development mentioned in the Quran concerns the newly fertilized egg:

[75:37-38] Was he (man) not a drop of semen emitted? Then he did become something leech-like which clings...

Recent observations of the fertilized egg in the womb have revealed that the egg literally implants itself into the uterine wall. It "clings" in the strongest sense, and it remains like so in the early stage of development. On top of that, the developing organism acts as a leech on the female host in the sense that it draws its sustenance directly from its mother's body [10].

Finally, the Quran gives a fascinating account of embryological development (the first three months) in the following verses (certain words have been transliterated directly from the Arabic):

[23:14] ...We made the drop into an ALAQAH (leech-like structure), and then We changed the ALAQAH into a MUDGHAH (chewed-like substance), then We changed the MUDGHAH into IDHAAM (bones, skeleton), then We clothed the IDHAAM with LAHM (flesh, muscles), then We caused him to grow and come into being as another creation.

[22:5] ...We created you out of dust, then out of a drop, then out of a MUDGHAH, partly formed and partly unformed...

Verse [23:14] divides embryological development into four stages. The first stage picks up right after fertilization ("drop"), and is characterized by an ALAQAH or "leech-like structure" which describes how the egg implants itself into the uterus (see above). The second stage describes the embryo as evolving into a MUDGHAH which means something which has been chewed (especially a piece of meat), or which has the appearance of having been chewed. This seemingly crude description is in fact quite accurate: after the fertilized egg lodges itself in the uterus, it begins to receive its first nutrients and energy from its mother. Consequently, it begins to grow especially rapidly, and after a week or two it looks like a ragged piece of meat to the naked eye. This effect is enhanced by the development of small buds and protrusions which will eventually grow into complete organs and limbs.

The next two stages described in verse [23:14] tell of bones being made from the MUDGHAH, followed by the "clothing" of the bones with flesh or muscles. If we follow the progress of the embryo with our own eyes, we find that after approximately four weeks, a process called 'differentiation' begins, where groups of cells within the embryo transform themselves to form certain large organs. One of the earliest structures to develop in this stage is the cartilaginous basis of the human skeleton (in subsequent months, the cartilage hardens or ossifies). It is followed soon after by the appearance of a host of other organs including muscles, ears, eyes, kidneys, heart, and more. This maintains the order described in the Quran. Verse [23:14] concludes with the growth of the organism in the womb (and simple growth is the primary characteristic of the fetal stage) followed by its birth.

Verse [22:5] adds one more interesting note on the embryo. In this verse, the MUDGHAH is qualified with the phrase

"partly formed and partly unformed."

As alluded to above, our modern observations of embryological development have revealed how different structures and organs develop one after another through differentiation. This gives rise to unusual situations where the embryo is unevenly formed (i.e. lungs but no ears for example). [11:16]

H. - On Cosmology

Of all the references in the Quran to scientific matters, the most numerous are on the creation and structure of the universe and the earth. This area is singled out in several verses like the one below as an example of Allah's creative power:

[45:3] Verily, in the heavens and the earth are signs for those who believe.

For a much more detailed exposition of the Quran and cosmology (and science in general), interested readers should consider reading M. Bucaille's book 'The Bible, The Quran, and Science' [10]. Below, a brief summary of some of the more powerful verses.

First, a verse which makes a small note regarding the age of mankind with respect to the universe:

[76:1] Has there not been over Man a long period of Time when he was not yet a thing thought of?

The Arabic word for "Time" in this verse is "Dahr" and it can mean either all of eternity or simply a tremendously long time. Modern science can help us understand this verse better. The first appearance of humans on this earth is estimated to have occurred on the order of one million years ago. The age of the universe, on the other hand, is estimated at roughly fifteen billion years. If we normalize the age of the universe to one day, then man would be less than six seconds old.

The following verse deals with the creation of the heavens and the earth.

[50:38] And We created the heavens and the earth and all between them in six days, and nothing touched us of weariness.

Notice the sharp counterpoint to the Bible at the end of this verse regarding whether Allah "rested" after the sixth day from tiredness. However, a more subtle yet perhaps vastly more important difference is brought out when we look at the first verse in the Bible, Genesis [1:1]:

Bible [1:1] In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

There is no mention of "and all between them", as opposed to the Quran (which refers to this in several verses, no less). Modern science has just within this last century discovered that much of the mass of the universe is contained in the vast spaces between galaxies and stars (ignoring for the moment the possibility of 'dark matter' which would only make a stronger point). In spite of having only a single hydrogen atom every few cubic meters on average (interstellar material), the universe is so huge that the "empty" space may account for more of the total universe's mass than all the stars combined - at the very least, it is a significant amount. Thus, it is an important omission to leave out "all between" the earth and the other stars and galaxies ("heavens").

As to the debate which has wracked Christianity and Judaism for centuries regarding the meaning of "six days", the word "days" in classical Arabic has a secondary meaning of a "very long time" or an "era" [12]. The Quran, however, presents a conclusive answer to this question via the following three verses scattered throughout the text:

[22:47] And yet they ask you to hasten on the Punishment! But Allah will not fail in His promise. Verily a Day in the sight of your Lord is like a thousand years of your reckoning.

[32:5] He (Allah) directs (all) affairs from the heavens to the earth: in the end will (all affairs) go up to Him on a Day the space whereof will be (as) a thousand years of your reckoning.

[70:4] The angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a Day the space whereof is (as) fifty thousand years.

It is clear from these verses that a "day" in the Quran can easily have different meanings in different contexts, and is thus not constrained to mean a strict 24-hour period.

The next two verses address certain details of creation.

[21:30] Don't those who reject faith see that the heavens and the earth were a single entity then We ripped them apart?...

[41:11] Moreover, He applied His design to the heavens, while it was (yet) vapor, and He said to it and to the earth, "Come (into being), willingly or unwillingly." They said, "We do come in obedience."

Verse [21:30] foreshadows the modern cosmological theory known as the Big Bang theory wherein all matter is presumed to have originated from a violent explosion. Verse [41:11] refers to a later stage in creation, one in which a cosmologist would describe the universe as filled with a nebulous gas undergoing a slow coalescence into gross structures such as clusters, galaxies, stars, and so on. The words of these two verses may seem coarse and simplistic to the modern eye, but this does not detract from their general accuracy.

Then there are verses that speak of the sun and the moon.

[25:61] Blessed is He Who put in the heavens constellations, and put in it a lamp and a light-giving moon.

This verse emphasizes the sun as a direct source of light ("lamp"), whereas the moon is not given this title. Man has long since established that the moon's light is simply reflected sunlight.

[55:5] The sun and the moon follow precise courses.

The meaning of this verse is obvious, and we have known the mathematical description of these "courses" since Kepler and Newton formulated them several centuries ago.

[21:33] It is He Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon: all swim along, each in its rounded course.

This verse supplements the previous one: here, we learn that the sun and moon follow "rounded courses." It is significant that the Arabic word used here - "falak" - does not mean circular course, just rounded. Kepler was the first European astronomer to realize that the paths of the planets and the moon are elliptical. It was not until later, though, that astronomers also realized that the sun has an orbit as well - around the center of the Milky Way. The Quran contains a number of verses on the structure and contents of the universe. There are too many to list here, but the following three form an interesting sample:

[51:47] And the heavens We did create with Our Hands, and We do cause it to expand. Flatly stating what Einstein refused to believe at first, this verse anticipates Hubble's discovery of the expanding universe by approximately thirteen centuries. This verse makes a very clear point that the expansion is continuous (until the Day of Judgement, which is guaranteed by Allah to come upon us unexpectedly).

[42:29] And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the living creatures that He has scattered through both of them...

[45:13] And He has subjected to you (man), from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in that are signs indeed for those who reflect.

These two verses are extremely interesting. Not only does the first one very strongly imply the existence of living creatures on other planets throughout the universe, but the second tells us that the heavens are "subject" to us. With a little imagination, we (or perhaps our children) can begin dreaming of the possibility of interstellar travel - and not just confined to our own solar system!


[1]. The Quran
[2]. At-Tabari. Abridged Tafseer (commentary) of the Quran. Arabic
[3]. Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Meaning of the Holy Quran. Amana Corporation, Maryland, 1991
[4]. Asad, Muhammad. The Message of the Quran. Dar-Al-Andalus Limited, Gibraltar, 1984
[5]. Irving, Thomas. The Noble Quran. Amana Books, Vermont, 1992.
[6]. Pickthall, Mohammed. The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. Penguin Books, New York
[7]. Dawood, N. J. The Koran. Penguin Books, London, 1990
[8]. Nadvi, Syed M. Muslim Thought and its Source. Ashraf Press, Lahore, 1947
[9]. Kazi, Mazhar. Guidance from the Messanger. Islamic Circle of North America, New York, 1990
[10]. Bucaille, Maurice. The Bible, the Quran, and Science. American Trust Publications, Indiana, 1979
[11]. Moore, K., A. Zindani, M. Ahmed. New Terms For Classifying Human Development
[12]. Wehr, Hans. Arabic-English Dictionary. Spoken Language Services, New York, 1976
[13]. Steingass, F. Arabic-English Dictionary. Librairie du Liban, Lebanon, 1978
[14]. The Holy Bible - Revised Standard Version
[15]. Sussman, Maurice. Developmental Biology. Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1973
[16]. Bodemer, Charles. Embryology, Encyclopedia Americana. Grolier Incorporated, Connecticut, 1988
[17]. Chandler, T. J. The air around us. Natural History Press, New York, 1969
[18]. Kotsch, William. Weather for the Mariner. Naval Institute Press, Maryland, 1983
[19]. Battan, Louis. Fundamentals of Meteorology. Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1983
[20]. Sagan, Carl et. al. Life, Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, Chicago, 1992
[21]. Davies, Paul. The Cosmic Blueprint. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1988
[22]. Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. Ballantine Books, New York, 1980

By: A. Abd-Allah

Note: All translations of the Quran in this article are based on several translators including Yusuf Ali, Marmaduke Pickthal, T. B. Irving, and N. J. Dawood. However, there are some differences which the author felt made the English closer to the Arabic. The author is indebted to Dr. M. Zerroug for reviewing this article.