Progress in botany at the time of Muhammad (S) was not advanced enough in any country for scientists to know that plants have both male and female parts. Nevertheless, we may read the following in the chapter Taa Haa: “(God is the One who) sent down rain from the sky and with it brought forth a variety of plants in pairs.” Qur’an, 20:53
Today we know that fruit comes from plants that have sexual characteristics even when they come from unfertilized flowers, like bananas. In the chapter ar-Ra‘d we read the following:
“… and of all fruits (God) placed (on the earth) two pairs.” Qur’an, 13:3
In the field of physiology, there is one verse which appears extremely significant to me. One thousand years before the discovery of the blood circulatory system, and roughly thirteen centuries before it was determined that the internal organs were nourished by the process of digestive , a verse in the Qur’an described the source of the constituents of milk, in conformity with scientific facts. To understand this verse, it must first be known that chemical reactions occur between food and enzymes in the mouth, the stomach and the intestines releasing nutrients in molecular form which are then absorbed into the circulatory system through countless microscopic projections of the intestinal wall called villi. Blood in the circulatory system then transports the nutrients to all the organs of the body, among which are the milk-producing mammary glands.
This biological process must be basically understood, if we are to understand a verse in the Qur’an which has for many centuries given rise to commentaries that were totally incomprehensible.
Today it is not difficult to see why! This verse is taken from the chapter an-Nahl:
“Verily, in cattle there is a lesson for yon. I give you drink from their insides, coming from a conjunction between the digested contents ( of the intestines ) and the blood, milk pure and pleasant for those who drink it.” Qur’an, 16:66
The constituents of milk are secreted by the mammary glands which are nourished by the product of food digestion brought to them by the bloodstream. The initial event which sets the whole process in motion is the conjunction 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 over one thousand years after the time of Prophet Muhammad (S).
There are a multitude of statements in the Qur’an on the subject of human reproduction which constitute a challenge to the embryologist seeking a human explanation for them. It was only after the birth of the basic sciences which contributed to our knowledge of biology and the invention of the microscope, that humans were able to understand the depth of those Qur’anic statements. It was impossible for a human being living in the early seventh century to have accurately expressed such ideas. There is nothing to indicate that people in the Middle-East and Arabia knew anything more about this subject than people living in Europe or anywhere else. Today, there are many Muslims, possessing a thorough knowledge of the Qur’an and natural sciences, who have recognized the amazing similarity between the verses of the Qur’an dealing with reproduction and modern scientific knowledge.
I shall always remember the comment of an eighteen-year-old Muslim, brought up in Saudi Arabia, commenting on a reference to human reproduction as described in the Qur’an. He pointed to the Qur’an and said, “This book provides us with all the essential information on the subject. When I was at school, my teachers used the Qur’an to explain how children were born. Your books on sexeducation are a bit late on the scene!”
If I were to spend as long on all the details of reproduction contained in the Qur’an, as the subject merits, this pamphlet would become a book. The detailed linguistic and scientific explanations I have given in The Bible, The Qur’an and Science are sufficient for the person who does not speak Arabic nor know much about embryology to be able to understand the meaning of such verses in the
light of modern science in more depth. It is especially in the field of embryology that a comparison between the beliefs present at the time of the Qur’an’s revelation and modern scientific data, leaves us amazed at the degree of agreement between the Qur’an’s statements and modern scientific knowledge. Not to mention the total absence of any reference in the Qur’an to the mistaken ideas that were prevalent around the world at the time.
Let us now isolate, from all these verses, precise ideas concerning the complexity of the semen and the fact that an infinitely small quantity is required to ensure fertilization. In chapter al-Insaan the Qur’an states:
“Verily, I created humankind from a small quantity of mingled fluids.” Qur’an, 76:2
The Arabic word nutfah has been translated as “small quantity”. It comes from the verb meaning ‘to dribble, to trickle’ and is used to describe what remains in the bottom of a bucket which has been emptied. The verse correctly implies that fertilization is performed by only a very small volume of liquid. On the other hand, mingled fluids ( amshaaj ) has been understood by early commentators to refer to the mixture of male and female discharges. Modern authors have corrected this view and note that the sperm is made up of various
components. When the Qur’an talks of a fertilizing fluid composed of different components, it also informs us that human progeny will be formed from something extracted from this liquid. This is the meaning of the following verse in chapter as-Sajdah:
“Then He made [ man’s ] offspring from the essence of a despised fluid.” Qur’an, 32:8
The Arabic word translated by the term ‘essence’ is sulaalah which means ‘something extracted, the best part of a thing’. In whatever way it is translated, it refers to part of a whole. Under normal conditions, only one single cell, spermatozoon, out of over 50 million ejaculated by a man during sexual intercourse will actually penetrate the ovule. Implantation Once the egg has been fertilized in the fallopian tube, it descends to lodge itself inside the uterus. This process is called the ‘implantation of the egg’. Implantation is a result of the development of villosities, which, like roots in the soil, draw nourishment from the wall of the uterus and make the egg literally cling to the womb. The process of implantation is appropriately described in several verses by the word ‘alaq, which is also the title of the chapter in which one of the verses appears:
“God fashioned humans from a clinging entity.” Qur’an, 96:2
I do not think there is any reasonable translation of the word ‘alaq other than to use it in its original sense. It is a mistake to speak of a ‘blood clot’ here, which is the term Professor Hamidullah uses in his translation. It is a derivative meaning which is not as appropriate in this context. Embryo The evolution of the embryo inside the maternal uterus is only briefly described, but the description is accurate, because the simple words referring to it correspond exactly to fundamental stages in its growth. This is what we read in a
verse from the chapter al-Mu’minoon:
“I fashioned the clinging entity into a chewed lump of flesh and I fashioned the chewed flesh into bones and I clothed the bones with intact flesh.” Qur’an, 23:14
The term ‘chewed flesh’ (mudghah) corresponds exactly to the appearance of the embryo at a certain stage in its development.
It is known that the bones develop inside this mass and that they are then covered with muscle. This is the meaning of the term ‘intact flesh’ (lahm). The embryo passes through a stage where some parts are in proportion and others out of proportion with what is later to become the individual. This is the obvious meaning of a verse in the chapter al-Hajj, which reads as follows:
“I fashioned (humans) a clinging entity, then into a lump of flesh in proportion and out of proportion.” Qur’an, 22:5.
Next, we have a reference to the appearance of the senses and internal organs in the chapter as-Sajdah:
“… and (God) gave you ears, eyes and hearts.” Qur’an, 32:9
Nothing here contradicts today’s data and, furthermore, none of the mistaken ideas of the time have crept into the Qur’an. Throughout the Middle Ages there were a variety of beliefs about human development based on myths and speculations which continued for several centuries after the period. The most fundamental stage in the history of embryology came in 1651 with Harvey’s statement that “all life initially comes from an egg”. At that time, when science had benefited greatly from the invention of the microscope, people were still arguing about the respective roles of the egg and spermatozoon. Buffon, the great naturalist, was one of those in favor of the egg theory.Bonnet, on the other hand, supported the theory of ‘the ovaries of Eve’, which stated that Eve, the mother of the human race, was-supposed to have had inside her the seeds of all human beings packed together one inside the other.
BIBLE, QUR’AN AND SCIENCE
We have now come to the last subject I would like to present in this short pamphlet: it is the comparison between modern knowledge and passages in the Qur’an that are also referred to in the Bible.
We have already come across some of the contradictions between scripture and science regarding the creation of the universe. When dealing with that topic, I stressed the perfect agreement between modern knowledge and verses in the Qur’an, and pointed out that the Biblical narration contained statements that were scientifically unacceptable. This is hardly surprising if we are aware that the narration of the creation contained in the Bible was the work of priests living in the sixth century BC, hence the term ‘sacerdotal’ ( priestly ) narration is officially used to refer to it. The narration seems to have been conceived as the theme of a sermon designed to exhort people to observe the Sabbath. The narration was constructed with a definite end in view, and as Father de Vaux (a former head of the Biblical School of Jerusalem) has noted, this end was essentially legalist in character.
The Bible also contains a much shorter and older narration of Creation, the socalled ‘Yahvist’ version, which approaches the subject from a completely different angle. They are both taken from Genesis, the first book of the Pentateuch or Torah. Moses is supposed to have been its author, but the text we have today has undergone many changes.
The sacerdotal narration of Genesis is famous for its whimsical genealogies, that go back to Adam, and which nobody takes very seriously. Nevertheless, such Gospel authors as Matthew and Luke have reproduced them, more or less wordfor- word, in their genealogies of Jesus. Matthew goes back as far as Abraham, and Luke to Adam. These writings are scientifically unacceptable, because they set a date for the age of the world and the time humans appeared on Earth, which most definitely contradicts what modern science has firmly established.
The Qur’an, on the other hand, is completely free of dates of this kind. Earlier on, we noted how perfectly the Qur’an agrees with modern ideas on the formation of the Universe. On the other hand, the Biblical narration of primordial waters is hardly, nor is the creation of light on the first day before the creation of the stars which produce this light; the existence of an evening and a morning
before the creation of the earth; the creation of the earth on the third day before that of the sun on the fourth; the appearance of beasts of the earth on the sixth day after the appearance of the birds of the air on the fifth day, although the former came first. All these statements are the result of beliefs prevalent at the time this text was written and do not have any other meaning.
Age of the Earth
As for the Biblical genealogies which form the basis of the Jewish calendar and assert that today the world is 5738 years old, these are hardly admissible either. Our solar system may well be four and a quarter billion years old, and the appearance of human beings on earth, as we know him today, may be estimated in tens of thousands of years, if not more. It is absolutely essential, therefore, to
note that the Qur’an does not contain any such indications as to the age of the world, and that these are specific to the Biblical text.
There is a second highly significant subject of comparison between the Bible and the Qur’an; descriptions of the deluge. In actual fact, the Biblical narration is a fusion of two descriptions in which events are related differently. The Bible speaks of a universal flood and places it roughly 300 years before Abraham. According to what we know of Abraham, this would imply a universal cataclysm around the twenty-first or twenty-second century BC This story would be untenable, in view of presently available historical data. How can we accept the idea that, in the twenty-first or twenty-second century BC, all civilization was wiped off the face of the earth by a universal cataclysm, when we know that this period corresponds, for example, to the one preceding the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, at roughly the date of the first Intermediary period before the eleventh dynasty? It is historically unacceptable to maintain that, at this time, humanity was totally wiped out. None of the preceding statements is acceptable according to modern knowledge. From this point of view, we can measure the enormous gap separating the Bible from the Qur’an.
In contrast to the Bible, the narration contained in the Qur’an deals with a cataclysm that is limited to Noah’s people. They were punished for their sins, as were other ungodly peoples. The Qur’an does not fix the cataclysm in time.
There are absolutely no historical or archaeological objections to the narration in the Qur’an.
A third point of comparison, which is extremely significant, is the story of Moses, and especially the Exodus from Egypt of the Hebrews. Here I can only give a highly compressed account of a study on this subject that appears in my book. I have noted the points where the Biblical and Qur’anic narrations agree and disagree, and I have found points where the two texts complement each other in
a very useful way. Among the many hypotheses, concerning the historical time-frame occupied by the Exodus in the history of the pharaohs, I have concluded that the most likely is the theory which makes Merneptah, Ramesses II’s successor, the pharaoh of the
Exodus. The comparison of the data contained in the Scriptures with archeological evidence strongly supports this hypothesis. I am pleased to be able to say that the Biblical narration contributes weighty evidence leading us to situate Moses in the history of the pharaohs. Moses was probably born during the reign of Ramesses II. Biblical data. are therefore of considerable historical value in the story of Moses. A medical study of the mummy of Merneptah has yielded further useful information on the possible causes of this pharaoh’s death. The fact that we possess the mummy of this pharaoh is one of paramount importance. The Bible records that pharaoh was engulfed in the sea, but does not give any details as to what subsequently became of his corpse. The Qur’an, in chapter Yoonus, notes that the body of the pharaoh would be saved from the waters:
“Today I will save your dead body so that you may be a sign for those who come after you.” Qur’an, 10:92
A medical examination of this mummy, has, shown that the body could not have stayed in the water for long, because it does not show signs of deterioration due to prolonged submersion. Here again, the comparison between the narration in the Qur’an and the data provided by modern knowledge does not give rise to the slightest objection from a scientific point of view.
Such points of agreement are characteristic of the Qur’anic revelation. But, are we throwing the Judeo-Christian revelation into discredit and depriving it of all its intrinsic value by stressing the faults as seen from a scientific point of view? I think not because the criticism is not aimed at the text as a whole, but only at certain passages. There are parts of the Bible which have an undoubted historical value. I have shown that in my book, The Bible, The Qur’an and Science, where I discuss passages which enable us to locate Moses in time. The main causes which brought about such differences as arise from the comparison between the Holy Scriptures and modern knowledge is known to modern scholars. The Old Testament constitutes a collection of literary works produced in the course of roughly nine centuries and which has undergone many alterations. The part played by men in the actual composition of the texts of the Bible is quite considerable.
The Qur’anic revelation, on the other hand, has a history which is radically different. As we have already seen, from the moment it was first commto humans, it was learnt by heart and written down during Muhammad’s own lifetime. It is thanks to this fact that the Qur’an does not pose any problem of authenticity.
A totally objective examination of the Qur’an, in the light of modern knowledge, leads us to recognize the agreement between the two, as has already been noted on repeated occasions throughout this presentation. It makes us deem it quite unthinkable for a man of Muhammad’s time to have been the author of such statements, on account of the state of knowledge in his day. Such considerations are part of what gives the Qur’anic revelation its unique place among religious and non-religious texts, and forces the impartial scientist
to admit his inability to provide an explanation based solely upon materialistic reasoning.
Such facts as I have had the pleasure of exposing to you here, appear to represent a genuine challenge to human explanation leaving only one alternative: the Qur’an is undoubtedly a revelation from God.