Human Embryonic Development

In order to appreciate the statements of the Qur’ān better, it is imperative we present a summary of the most up to date findings in the science of embryology. The following has been abridged from the works of the leading scientists in the field, namely, ‘The Developing Human - Clinically Oriented Embryology’ 9th Edition (2013) by Prof. Dr. Keith L. Moore and Dr. Persaud, ‘Langman’s Medical Embryology’ 13th Edition (2015) by Dr. T.W. Sadler and ‘Larsen’s Human Embryology’ 5th Edition (2015) by Dr. Schoenwolf, Dr. Bleyl, Dr. Brauer and Dr. Francis-West. Text books from these scientists form part of the standard curriculum taught in all major universities around the world in the field of medicine and embryology.   

Historic Preamble

The first recorded embryological studies are in the books of Hippocrates of Cos, the famous Greek physician (circa 460–377 BC), who is regarded as the father of medicine. In order to understand how the human embryo develops, he recommended: “Take twenty or more eggs and let them be incubated by two or more hens. Then, each day from the second to that of hatching, remove an egg, break it, and examine it. You will find exactly as I say, for the nature of the bird can be likened to that of man.”

Aristotle (circa 384–322 BC), a Greek philosopher and scientist, wrote a treatise on embryology in which he described development of the chick and other embryos. Aristotle promoted the idea that the embryo developed from a formless mass, which he described as a “less fully concocted seed with a nutritive soul and all bodily parts.” This embryo, he thought, arose from menstrual blood after activation by male semen.

Claudius Galen (circa 130–201 AD), a Greek physician and medical scientist in Rome, wrote a book, On the Formation of the Foetus, in which he described the development and nutrition of fetuses and the structures that we now call the allantois, amnion, and placenta.

Illustrations from Jacob Rueff’s De Conceptu et Generatione Hominis (1554) showing the fetus developing from a coagulum of blood and semen in the uterus. This theory was based on the teachings of Aristotle, and it survived until the late 18th century.  (Needham J: A History of Embryology. Cambridge, University Press, 1934)The Talmud contains references to the formation of the embryo. The Jewish physician Samuel-el-Yehudi, who lived during the second century AD, described six stages in the formation of the embryo from a “formless, rolled-up thing” to a “child whose months have been completed.” Talmud scholars believed that the bones and tendons, the nails, the marrow in the head, and the white of the eyes, were derived from the father, “who sows the white,” but the skin, flesh, blood and hair were derived from the mother, “who sows the red.” These views were according to the teachings of both Aristotle and Galen.

Constantinus Africanus of Salerno (circa 1020–1087 AD) wrote a concise treatise entitled De Humana Natura. Africanus described the composition and sequential development of the embryo in relation to the planets and each month during pregnancy, a concept unknown in antiquity. Medieval scholars hardly deviated from the theory of Aristotle, which stated that the embryo was derived from menstrual blood and semen. Because of a lack of knowledge, drawings of the fetus in the uterus often showed a fully developed infant frolicking in the womb. 

It has been stated that the embryologic revolution began with the publication of William Harvey’s book, De Generatione Animalium, in 1651. Harvey (1578–1657) believed that the male seed or sperm, after entering the womb or uterus, metamorphosed into an egg-like substance from which the embryo developed. Harvey was greatly influenced by one of his professors at the University of Padua, Fabricius of Aquapendente, an Italian anatomist and embryologist who was the first to study embryos from different species of animals. Harvey examined chick embryos with simple lenses and made many new observations. He also studied the development of the fallow deer; however, when unable to observe early developmental stages, he concluded that embryos were secreted by the uterus. Girolamo Fabricius (1537–1619) wrote two major embryologic treatises, including one entitled De Formato Foetu (The Formed Fetus), which contained many illustrations of embryos and fetuses at different stages of development.

17th century drawing of a sperm by Hartsoeker

Early microscopes were simple but they opened an exciting new field of observation. Marcello Malpighi, studying what he believed were unfertilized hen’s eggs in 1675, observed early embryos. As a result, he thought the egg contained a miniature chick. A young medical student in Leiden, Johan Ham van Arnheim, and his countryman Anton van Leeuwenhoek, using an improved microscope in 1677, first observed human sperms. However, they misunderstood the sperm’s role in fertilization. They thought the sperm contained a miniature preformed human being that enlarged when it was deposited in the female genital tract.

Caspar Friedrich Wolff refuted both versions of the preformation theory in 1759, after observing that parts of the embryo develop from “globules” (small spherical bodies). He examined unincubated eggs but could not see the embryos described by Malpighi. He proposed the layer concept, whereby division of what we call the zygote produces layers of cells (now called the embryonic disc) from which the embryo develops. His ideas formed the basis of the theory of epigenesis, which states that development results from growth and differentiation of specialized cells. These important discoveries first appeared in Wolff’s doctoral dissertation Theoria Generationis. 

The preformation controversy ended in 1775 when Lazaro Spallanzani showed that both the oocyte and sperm were necessary for initiating the development of a new individual. From his experiments, including artificial insemination in dogs, he concluded that the sperm was the fertilizing agent that initiated the developmental processes. Heinrich Christian Pander discovered the three germ layers of the embryo, which he named the blastoderm. He reported this discovery in 1817 in his doctoral dissertation.

Karl Ernst von Baer described the oocyte in the ovarian follicle of a dog in 1827, approximately 150 years after the discovery of sperms. He also observed cleaving zygotes in the uterine tube and blastocysts in the uterus. He contributed new knowledge about the origin of tissues and organs from the layers described earlier by Malpighi and Pander. Von Baer formulated two important embryologic concepts: corresponding stages of embryonic development and that general characteristics precede specific ones. His significant and far-reaching contributions resulted in his being regarded as the father of modern embryology.
Latest Embryological Research

Human development begins when a sperm fuses with the ovum to create a unique single cell called the zygote. The zygote contains the genetic information (DNA) needed to become a baby. The zygote travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus. As it travels the cells of the zygote divide repeatedly to form a hollow ball of cells called a blastocyst. The blastocyst attaches to the endometrium or lining of the uterus on about the 6th day and continues to implant itself in the uterus wall with cells which eventually form the placenta. This process takes more than a week until cell differentiation occurs, developing the embryo and placenta from the blastocyst. The embryo is now attached to the primitive placenta and is hanging via the ‘connecting stalk’ that will eventually become the umbilical cord. Larsen’s Human Embryology (5th Edition 2015) provides the below timings for human development.   

Human embryos (fig. above) is taken from the Kyoto collection at Carnegie stages 7 to 23. The embryo has been dissected from its embryonic membranes at all stages. The Carnegie Embryonic Staging System is used internationally and its use enables comparisons to be made between the findings of one person and those of another.
Moore’s Developing Human (9th Edition 2013) timetable of human deveopment up to stage 13.  

Langman’s Medical Embryology (13th Edition 2015)

In summary, it was not until modern times, with the help of the electron microscope, that scientists learnt more accurate information about human embryonic development. Prior to this, many commentators on embryology were always beset with mistakes and fallacies. However, it shall be seen that the terminology used to describe human development in the Qur’ān is characterized by accuracy and descriptiveness. 

Embryology in the Qur’ān – Correlation Studies with Modern Embryology

Professor Dr. Keith L. Moore is an internationally recognized leader in the teaching of human anatomy and embryology. He has revolutionized the field of medicine for more than 60 years through his innovative research. His investigation in the causes of birth defects led to major advances in how physicians screen for and diagnose several genetic conditions. Dr. Moore is a professor emeritus in the Division of Anatomy within the Department of Surgery’s Faculty of Medicine, at the University of Toronto, Canada. He has contributed to numerous publications and texts, which include The Developing Human, in its 9th Edition, and Before We are Born, which is in its 8th Edition.

In 2007 Professor Moore became the first recipient of the Henry Gray/Elsevier Distinguished Educator Award, The American Association of Anatomists’ (AAA) highest award for human anatomy education:  

“[Professor Keith Moore is] the first recipient of the Henry Gray/Elsevier Distinguished Educator Award, AAA’s highest award for human anatomy education. The nominator said “Keith is an individual of nearly legendary status among anatomists around the world…He has had a monumental impact on anatomical education, not only at a national but also at an international level.” 

The Chair of the Award Committee who presented the award said “His books were like a breath of fresh air for faculty and students alike. Structures and developmental processes were no longer viewed in isolation from practical application, things to be memorized to exceedingly fine detail, but were presented within a clinical context - that became the famous blue boxes— and taught to a level of detail useful for clinical practice— His contribution to anatomy education around the world has been profound and continuous, and will be an enduring legacy.”

Most recently in 2012, Dr. Moore received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal – a commemorative medal to honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians. He was also awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science from The Ohio State University in recognition of his lifetime of achievements in the field of anatomy and on the advancement of medicine.

 2012: Dr. Keith L. Moore (Professor Emeritus of Surgery) was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science from The Ohio State University in recognition of his lifetime of achievements in the field of anatomy and on the advancement of medicine. 

Correlation Studies with the Qur’ān

In 1983 a special edition of Dr. Moore’s popular textbook The Developing Human was published. He said, “There is an Islamic edition… it’s really an English edition of my book with Islamic additions. My publisher [Saunders] agreed to allow King Abdul-Aziz University to print this special edition but it cannot be sold because they don’t want it sold in competition to the regular English edition… You can’t purchase it as I understand it in a regular bookstore, but if you need it for your Muslim libraries you can purchase this. That was the arrangement that was made with my publisher.”

In the foreword to The Developing Human with Islamic Additions, Moore explains that he assisted Sheikh Abdulmajeed Azzindani in the preparation of the text, “It has been a real pleasure for me to assist Sheikh Abdulmajeed Azzindani with the preparation of this Islamic edition of my textbook of embryology. The text is the same as the original, except that numerous references to statements in the Qur’ān and Sunnah about embryology have been added.” The publication retains the same ISBN number as the standard print. 

Forward by Keith L. Moore to The Developing Human with Islamic Additions.In 1980, Dr. Moore was invited to Arabia to lecture on anatomy and embryology. While he was there, Moore was approached by the Embryology Committee of K.A. University for his assistance in interpreting certain verses in the Qur’ān and some sayings in the Hadiths which referred to human reproduction and embryological development. Dr. Moore was amazed at the scientific accuracy of some of the statements which were made in the 7th century AD. He says, “For the past three years, 

I have worked with the Embryology Committee of King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah, Arabia, helping them interpret the many statements in the Qur’ān and Sunnah referring to human reproduction and prenatal development. At first I was astonished by the accuracy of the statements that were recorded in the 7th century AD, before the science of embryology was established.” The Embryology Committee presented and published several papers with Moore and others co-authoring a number of papers. In the comparative study, each Qur’ānic verse and text of the Hadith were thoroughly researched in Qur’ānic Interpretations, the most reliable books of Hadith and more than five Classical Arabic language references for the meanings of the words. The interpretations were then discussed with a number of contemporary Muslims scholars.

Furthermore, interviews and discussions were also held with a number of internationally eminent embryologists, obstetricians and gynaecologists. This was the Committee’s means of ascertaining the religious as well as the scientific aspects of the study. 
 
During that time, Dr. Moore himself consulted a number of embryologists for their opinions: 

“…I was invited to Saudi Arabia to lecture on embryology at King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia… and while I was there, at my suggestion, invited Dr. [T.V.N] Persaud and Dr. [E. Marshall] Johnson to come to Saudi Arabia. And they [the Embryology Committee] asked them the same questions, and I purposefully didn’t tell them my interpretations, I wanted them to give their own. So they did and their answers were similar to mine…

Dr. [E. Marshall] Johnson is one of the most outstanding embryologists and teratologists in the United States. We didn’t just pick anyone, I picked the best.
And in Canada, Dr. [TVN] Persaud at the University of Manitoba, where I spent twenty years, is also an outstanding embryologist who has three doctors degrees… so I picked the very best.

Sir Robert Geoffrey Edwards, CBE, FRSAnd then, when I started thinking about other embryologists around the world, we brought in Dr. [Robert] Edwards from Cambridge [world-renowned for his early work on in vitro fertilization]… so we invited him to Saudi Arabia and again he was asked the same questions and they [the Embryology Committee] got essentially the same answers.… [and] one of my colleagues in Kyoto, Japan.…he didn’t go to Saudi Arabia, [and] he has been consulted and so on.

So we have consulted embryologists around the world for their opinions on these statements in the Qur’ān, and it’s clear from what Dr. Persaud has said and from all of our work in this area that these statements are correct.”

The study of the Qur’ān and Hadith has revealed a new system for the classification of the stages of the developing embryo based on easily understood actions and changes in shape. In a relatively few Qur’ānic verses is contained a rather comprehensive description of human development. 

No such distinct and complete record of human development, such as classification, terminology, and description existed before the Qur’ān. In most, if not all instances, this description antedates by many centuries the recording of the various stages of human embryonic and fetal development recorded in the traditional scientific literature. Until recently these details were not fully appreciated, since they referred to details in human development which were scientifically unknown in earlier times.

Analysis of the Qur’ānic text

In the Qur’ān, God mentions that human embryonic development passes through a number of distinct stages:

Qur’ān 23:13-14

The stages in the Ayah [verse] can be summarised as follows:

Stage 1: The Nutfah 
Stage 2: The ‘Alaqah 
Stage 3: The Mudghah 
Stage 4: Bone Formation [Idham]
Stage 5: Clothing the Bones with Flesh [Lahm]
Stage 1: The Nutfah 

The Nutfah literally means ‘a [single] drop’ of fluid whereas Manii means ‘semen’.  God says, “Had he not been a sperm [nutfah] from semen [manii] emitted?” [Qur’ān 75:36] 

In the Qur’ān and Hadith, Nutfah is used in three different but related contexts:

The Male Nutfah [Qur’ān 75:36]
The Female Nutfah 
Nutfah Amshaj – mixed or mingled Male and Female Nutfah [Qur’ān 76:2]  

The Male Nutfah

Figure 14: Complete diagram of a human spermatozoa

The word Nutfah was mentioned twelve different times in the Qur’ān and the word Manii was mentioned thrice. In the male context, the Nutfah is a single particle from the Manii when it is ejaculated – i.e. a single cell [sperm] from amongst the 200-300 million or so sperm cells. 

Furthermore, we learn from a statement of the Prophet Muhammad that not all of the semen is required for impregnation to occur. The Prophet Muhammad was asked about coitus interruptus and replied, 

مَا مِنْ كُلِّ الْمَاءِ يَكُونُ الْوَلَدُ وَإِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ خَلْقَ شَىْءٍ لَمْ يَمْنَعْهُ شَىْءٌ

“Not from all the fluid is a child produced. When Allah intends to create anything, nothing can prevent Him.”

This demonstrates that even in the act of coitus interruptus, a small segment of fluid is enough for pregnancy to occur and is not pivotal on the final ejaculation. Before the 16th century, writings on embryonic development did not distinguish the constituent parts of the semen in its role of fertilisation. 

In these Ayat [verses], there are a lot of facts that require careful consideration. We know the sex of the newborn is determined by the sperm - it is definitively stated that the male and female are fashioned from a sperm-drop from the semen that has been ejaculated. If a sperm carrying an X chromosome fertilises an ovum [which always contains an X chromosome], the offspring will be a girl, while if the fertilising sperm contains a Y chromosome, the offspring will be a boy. 

The Qur’ān has stated this fact 1,400 years ago, before anybody knew anything about X and Y chromosomes. 

The Female Nutfah

The Female Nutfah [ovum] per se is not mentioned explicitly in the Qur’ān, but is inferred in the term Nutfah Amshaj – i.e. mingled from both male and female [refer to Qur’ān 76:2]. However, it is clearly stated in the Hadith from the Prophet. A Jew came to the Prophet and asked, ‘O Muhammad. Tell me from what thing man is created.’ The Prophet said, ‘O Jew, from both Male and Female Nutfah, man is created.’

This is a very astonishing revelation, as it is only recently that we came to know that both male and female cells [sperm and ovum] join together to form the human zygote – a fact not known before the 19th century.

The Role of Genes

مِنْ أَيِّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقَهُ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ خَلَقَهُ فَقَدَّرَهُ

‘From what substance did He create him? From a sperm-drop [nutfah] He created him and destined [qadr] for him.’
Qur’ān 80:18-19

In a single zygote, there are 46 chromosomes. They contain genes which determine the  type of characteristics the body has, like hair colour, skin type, etc. 
Hence, it is within this Nutfah that God has determined and destined all the physical characteristics that an individual has. It is amazing that the description of these realities are so accurately stated by God in the Qur’ān.

The Prophet said, ‘God has ordained an angel that accompanies the different stages of development of the Nutfah. The ‘Alaqah, the Mudgha and in every stage he asks God, ‘O God, what to do next?’ If God determines its full development, the angel asks, ‘Is it a boy or a girl? Happy or unhappy, his livelihood and his life span. All is written [determined] while he is in the mother’s womb.’ [Bukhari]

Stage 2: The ‘Alaqah Stage
 

Linguistic Analysis 
According to many Arabic dictionaries, the word ‘alaqah includes the following meanings:
Attached and hanging to something, 
Blood clot,
Leech.

‘Alaqah as ‘attached and hanging’
As we see in Figure 15, the embryo [which is represented by the bilaminar embryonic disc] is attached to the placenta and is hanging or suspended in the chorionic cavity by the connecting stalk. This is in agreement with the meaning of the word ‘alaqah as “attached and hanging to something”.

Figure 17 shows a diagram of the primitive cardiovascular system in an embryo of about 21 days. During this stage we find that the external appearance of the embryo and its sacs is similar to that of a blood clot. 

“Implantation begins at about the 6th to 7th day after fertilization. The part of the blastocyst projecting into the uterine cavity remains relatively thin. The syncytiotrophoblast contains a proteolytic enzyme which causes destruction of the endometrial cells so that that the blastocyst sinks deeper and deeper into the uterine mucosa…The final deficiency in the endometrium is sealed off by a blood or fibrin clot, overlying the blastocyst. This cover is called the operculum. By about 10 to 12 days after fertilization, the blastocyst is completely encased in the endometrium and thus, implantation is complete.” 
The blood, though fluid, does not circulate until the end of the third week. On the 21st day, the heart of the embryo connects with the blood vessels in the embryo, the connecting stalk, the chorion and the umbilical vesicle [yolk sac], and the blood starts to circulate and the heart begins to beat. Thus, the embryo takes the appearance of a blood clot even though its blood is fluid. 

‘Alaqah as ‘leech’
Scholars, linguists and dictionaries have all mentioned one of the meanings of ‘alaqah as a leech. The fourteenth century dictionary Lisān al-‘Arab states that “ ‘alaqah refers to a worm living in the water that sucks blood, the plural of which is ‘alaq”  and the dictionary of al-Qāmūs al-Muhit states that ‘alaq is “a small creature of water that sucks blood [a leech].” The word ͑alaqah also occurs in several languages related to Arabic. In Hebrew there is עֲלוּקָה ͑alûqāh [or alukah], the generic name for any blood-sucking worm or leech. And in Aramaic and Syriac there are words with apparently similar meanings. In Ad-Damīrī's Arabic zoological lexicon, Hayāt al-Hayawān [The Life of the Animals, 1372 C.E.], there is an article on the leech [‘alaq] and in Ibn Wahshīya’s Kitāb al-Sumūm [The Book on Poisons, c. 950 C.E.] there is the treatment for the one who has swallowed a leech [‘alaq].

A popular ninth century Christian polemic against Islam claims that Muslims believe that “God created man from a leech” based on the work of Nicetas of Byzantium. Nicetas, who wrote between 842 and 867 C.E., had a copy of the Qur’ān in Greek translation which he made use of to identify the tenets of Islam. His Greek translation renders both ‘alaq and ‘alaqah as bdella [βδελλα], meaning “leech”.

The classic Qur’ānic commentator, Ibn Kathīr [b. 1302 C.E.], mentions the meaning as “elongated like the shape of a leech - فصارت علقة حمراء على شكل العلقة مستطيلة”. Finally, The Qur’ān: an Encyclopedia has an entry for ‘alaq that also mentions the same meanings: “The linguistic definition of ͑alaq [singular ͑alaqa] is ‘leech’, ‘medicinal leech’, ‘[coagulated] blood’, ‘blood clot’, or ‘the early stage of the embryo’.

Figure 18: Drawings illustrating the similarities in appearance between a human embryo and a leech [‘alaqah]. A, shows a lateral view of an embryo [size 2.5-3.0mm] at days 24 to 25 during folding, showing the large forebrain and the ventral position of the heart [from Moore & Persaud: The Developing Human 9th Edition [2013]. B, shows a drawing of a leech.

Note the leech-like appearance of the human embryo at this stage.
Figure 18: Drawings illustrating the similarities in appearance between a human embryo and a leech [‘alaqah]. A, shows a lateral view of an embryo [size 2.5-3.0mm] at days 24 to 25 during folding, showing the large forebrain and the ventral position of the heart [from Moore & Persaud: The Developing Human 9th Edition [2013].  B, shows a drawing of a leech.

Note the leech-like appearance of the human embryo at this stage.

A leech is an apt description of the early human embryo. The embryo clings to the endometrium or lining of the uterus [day 7] just as a leech clings to the skin. The embryo is also surrounded by amniotic fluid just as the leech is surrounded by water. If we consider the literal meaning of “leech” for ‘alaqah, we find that during the third week, the embryo loses its round shape and elongates until it takes the shape of a leech.

Figure 18 above and Figure 19 clearly indicate that the shape of the embryo does in fact resemble a leech. At this stage the cardiovascular system has started to appear and the embryo is now dependent upon the maternal blood for its nutrition like a leech which feeds on the blood of others.

Figure 19: A, shows a lateral view of an embryo [size 2.5-3.0mm] at days 24 to 25 [Modified from Moore & Persaud: The Developing Human 8th Edition]. B, Hirudo medicinalis, medicinal leech. C, Scanning electron micrograph of an embryo at Week 4, 26 - 30 days [Professor Kathy Sulik, The University of North Carolina]. Note the leech-like appearance of the human embryos at this stage.

In the BBC television series, The Human Body: The Incredible Journey from Birth to Death, Professor Robert Winston also describes the embryo in a similar way. Prof. Winston demonstrates how the embryo obtains nourishment from the blood of the mother by comparing it with a leech which feeds on the blood of others, 
“[The leech] takes whatever it needs to live by sucking the blood of whatever it can latch onto; in this case that’s me! As it sucks my blood, it takes from it all that it needs to live, it literally lives off me and the whole of pregnancy is shaped by a similar kind of parasitic relationship...it does raid her blood for the raw materials it needs to grow. From the word go, both leech and embryo are out for themselves.”

Figure 20:  Presenter Professor Robert Winston with a blood sucking leech [‘alaqah] attached to his forearm. Professor Winston shows how the embryo obtains nourishment from the blood of the mother, similar to the leech which feeds on the blood of others. [The Human Body. The Incredible Journey from Birth to Death, © BBC Worldwide Ltd, 1998].

Similarly, in Anatomy Demystified, the early embryo is described as worm-like in appearance which is nourished by the mother’s blood supply, “Another membrane becomes the yolk sac, which provides nourishment for the early embryo. By 24 days, a connecting stalk appears in the middle of the now worm-like body.” 

A segmented body like a leech
The body of the leech is divided into a number of segments which gives rise to a ringed appearance of the body, hence the name “ringed worms.” The human embryo is also segmented just like a leech or worm as Professor Peter Nathanielsz describes in A Time to be Born: The Life of the Unborn Child, “By the end of the third week the embryo has undergone segmentation, rather like an earthworm, and now consists of zones like stacked circular tires.”

These layers curl to form a tube-like structure which Anthony Smith, in The Human Body, also likens to a worm, “the early embryo is like a worm, with a gut running from one end to the other, an outer covering also running from end to end and a central layer filling the space between the two.” Ted Zerucha in Human Development also describes the gut of the embryo as a tube, “Running through the body, along the anterior-posterior axis, is the gut. The gut is essentially a tube that runs from the mouth, through the digestive system, to the anus.” 

The tube-like depiction of the embryo’s gut is not unlike that of an annelid as described in The Columbia Encyclopedia, “The digestive system of annelids consists of an unsegmented gut that runs through the middle of the body from the mouth, located on the underside of the head, to the anus, which is on the pygidium [the posterior terminal region].” 

Internal structure of a leech

If we examine the anatomy of the leech we find that the appearance of its internal structures is also similar to that of the human embryo:
Figure 21 A shows a ventral view of a dissected medicinal leech. Note how the body is made up of a number of similar segments which resemble the somites in human embryos.
 
Figure 21 B shows an embryo at 24-25 days. The actual size of the embryo at this stage is just 3.0mm.

Figure 22 A-C showing dorsal views of embryos during the third and fourth weeks.

Figure 22 D shows the internal structure of the leech. Note the remarkable similarity in appearance between the embryos and the anatomy of the leech. 

Prevention of blood-clotting
A striking similarity between the leech and the embryo is the way in which enzymes are released to facilitate easy blood-flow and the prevention of the clotting of blood. As the embryo draws nourishment [leech-like] from the mother’s blood, the anticoagulant enzyme, Thrombomodulin, [TM] prevents the blood clotting. In the leech, the protein that serves the same function is called Hirudin.
A B C D
Figure 22: Dorsal views of embryos during the third and fourth weeks. A, Dorsal view of a 5-somite embryo, actual size 2.5mm. B, Dorsal view of an older eight-somite embryo, actual size 3.0mm. C, Dorsal view of a 13-somite embryo at approximately 24 days, actual size 3.0mm [Photographs from Professor Hideo Nishimura, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan]. D, The anatomical structure of the leech [Illustrated by James Rawlins Johnson, A Treatise on the Medicinal Leech, London, 1816. [Rare – In process] UCLA Biomedical Library: History and Special Collections for the Sciences].

Summary of ‘Alaqah stage
The Qur’ānic term ͑alaqah is a comprehensive expression for the second stage of embryonic development that descriptively encompasses the primary external and internal features. In this one word, the general shape of the embryo as a leech is described, the internal events such as the formation of blood and closed vessels are described, and the attachment of the embryo to the placenta is also brought to mind. 

The similarity between the embryo and leech is remarkable:

the external shape of the leech resembles an embryo at 22-25 days [Figure 18 and 19], 
the internal structure of the leech resembles an embryo of 22-26 days [Figure 21 and 22],
the embryo clings to the lining of the uterus in a similar way to a leech that clings to the skin, 
the embryo obtains nourishment from the blood of the mother [Figure 17], like the leech which feeds on the blood of others [Figure 19],
the embryo has a segmented body like a worm or leech, 
the early embryo further resembles a leech in that it has a tube-like gut running from one end to the other. 
The Qur’ānic term ͑alaqah refers to the embryo when it is extremely small. The ‘alaqah is just 0.7-3.0mm in length. Due to the small sizes involved, scientists could not have recognised the detailed features of the ͑alaqah stage until the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. 

Prof. Keith L. Moore concludes that it is “remarkable how much the embryo of 23-24 days resembles a leech. As there were no microscopes or lenses available in the 7th century, doctors would not have known that the human embryo had this leech-like appearance. In the early part of the fourth week, the embryo is just visible to the unaided eye because it is smaller than a kernel of wheat.”
Stage 3: Mudghah stage

Figure 23: Photograph of the embryo at the end of the ‘alaqah stage [age 24 to 25 days]. Ten pairs of the 13 pairs of somites are easily recognized, but the embryo is still relatively straight and has a leech-like appearance.

The embryo at 24-25 days is finishing the ‘alaqah stage.  It changes into the mudghah stage at 26-27 days. The transformation from ‘alaqah to mudghah is in fact very rapid, and during the last day or two of the ‘alaqah stage, the embryo is beginning to develop some of the characteristics of the mudghah, e.g. the somites begin to appear and become a distinct feature of this stage.

One of the meanings of the word mudghah is “something that is chewed by teeth.”  If one were to take a piece of gum and chew it in his or her mouth and then compare it with an embryo at the mudghah stage, we would conclude that the embryo at the mudghah stage acquires the appearance of a chewed substance.  This is because of the somites at the back of the embryo that “somewhat resemble teeth-marks in a chewed substance.”  [see Figures 24 and 25].

Figures 24: Photograph of an embryo at the mudghah stage [28 days old].  The embryo at this stage acquires the appearance of a chewed substance, because the somites at the back of the embryo somewhat resemble teeth marks in a chewed substance.  The actual size of the embryo is 4 mm. 
Figure 25: When comparing the  appearance of an embryo at the mudghah stage with a piece of gum that has been chewed, we find similarity between the two.

A. Drawing of an embryo at the mudghah stage. We can see here the somites at the back of the embryo that look like teeth marks. [Moore and Persaud, The Developing Human, 5th ed., p. 79.]

B.  Photograph of a piece of gum that has been chewed.                

The appearance of the somites or “imprints” changes continuously, just as the teeth imprint changes on a chewed substance with each act of chewing. The embryo changes its overall shape, but the structures derived from the somites remain. Just as a substance acquires furrows, swellings and a corrugated surface as it is being chewed, so does the appearance of the embryo. 
The embryo turns in its position due to the modifications in its centre of gravity with new tissue formation, similar to the turning of a substance with chewing.

Figure 26: Human embryo day 32 with 35 somites. The embryo is about 7.0 mm in length. Note the indentations that are identified between somites, and with these indentations, the embryo resembles a chewed substance in its external appearance.

In Figure 26, the embryo looks somewhat like a chewed lump. The chewed appearance results from the somites which resemble teeth marks. The somites [cuboidal blocks of mesodermal tissue] represent the beginnings or primordia of the vertebrae. By the 3rd week of human embryonic development, about 38 pairs of somites form.  By the 5th week there are 42-44 pairs of somites. Most of the axial skeleton [skull, vertebral column, ribs, and sternum] and skeletal muscles will be derived from these somites. 

As there were no microscopes available in the 7th century C.E., people would not have known that the human embryo had this chewed-like appearance. Professor Marshall Johnson states:

“You have to be really careful on what is the definition of ‘seeing’. I can see a piece of dandruff on this tabletop; I can just barely make it out because this is a nice black surface [but] I can see no detail in it. If I want to see detail in it then I need some sort of visual aid, something to aid my vision, I need a magnifying glass, I need a microscope. So I might be able to see a piece of dandruff, but to see any detail in it as is described in the Qur’ān, I need an instrument that wasn’t developed until the 1700s.”  
Stage 4: Bone Formation [Idham]

فَكَسَوْنَا الْعِظَامَ لَحْمًا فَخَلَقْنَا الْمُضْغَةَ عِظَامًا

God continues, “...and We made [from] the lump [mudghah], bones, and We covered the bones with flesh” [23:14]. The mudghah or somite embryo is fashioned into bones which are clothed with flesh.

Hamilton, Boyd and Mossman write that “the somites are the bases from which the greater part of the axial skeleton and musculature develop.” 

The timing of this phase has been mentioned in the following statement of the Prophet Muhammad, “When 42 nights [i.e. 6 weeks] have passed from the time of the nutfah [time of conception], God sends an angel to it, who shapes it and makes its ears, eyes, skin, muscles and bones…”
 
 “Before the 42nd day, it is difficult to distinguish the human embryo from the embryos of many animals, but at this time it becomes clearly distinguishable in its appearance.” The formation of the skeleton gives the embryo its human shape. 

       









Figure 27: Human embryo at about  50-51 days [Ulrich Drews, Color Atlas of Embryology, 1995]

In the 6th week the cartilaginous skeleton begins to form and the embryo acquires a soft skeleton [as we see in Figure 27]: 
“Formation of bone does not begin uniformly throughout the body. Rather, there is a sequential appearance of bony tissue. However, in the 7th week the spreading development of the skeleton occurs. Bone development in the limbs commences in the limb buds from mesenchymal cells. Primary ossification centres appear in the femur during week 7 and in the sternum [breast bone] and the maxilla [upper jaw] in weeks 8-9.”

Stage 5: Clothing the Bones with Flesh [Lahm]

God says, فَكَسَوْنَا الْعِظَامَ لَحْمًا  “...We covered the bones with [lahm] flesh” [23:14]. In the Fundamentals of Human Embryology, it is noted that, “Soon after the cartilaginous models of the bones have been established, the myogenic cells, which have now become myoblasts, aggregate to form muscle masses on the ventral [front] and dorsal [back or posterior] aspects of the limbs.” 

Although precursor cells [myoblasts, or primitive muscle cells] are present adjacent to developing bone, “differentiation into skeletal muscle attachments occur after the ossification process in the shaft and ends of the bones has begun.”

Conclusion
It is clear from the preceding pages that God, in the Qur’ān, gives a detailed account of the development of the human embryo. Firstly, it accurately describes the main stages of development. Each word describes the characteristic of a specific stage and its morphological and physiological identity. Secondly, it describes the sequence of these events in the same chronological order as discovered by the electron microscope.  
Scientist's Acceptance of the Truths in the Qur’ān

Professor Emeritus Keith L. Moore is one of the world’s most prominent scientists in the fields of anatomy and embryology and is the author of the book entitled ‘The Developing Human’, which has been translated into eight languages. Dr. Keith Moore is Professor Emeritus of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada. There, he was Associate Dean of Basic Sciences at the Faculty of Medicine and for 8 years was the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy. In 2007, Professor Moore became the first recipient of the Henry Gray/Elsevier Distinguished Educator Award, The American Association of Anatomists’ (AAA) highest award for human anatomy education. Most recently in 2012, Prof. Moore received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal – a commemorative medal to honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians. 
Professor Moore said, 

“Because the staging of human embryos is complex, owing to the continuous process of change during development, it is proposed that a new system of classification could be developed using the terms mentioned in the Qur’ān and Sunnah.  The proposed system is simple, comprehensive, and conforms with present embryological knowledge. The intensive studies of the Qur’ān and Hadith [reliably transmitted reports of the Prophet Muhammad] in the last four years have revealed a system for classifying human embryos that is amazing since it was recorded in the 7th Century C.E. Although Aristotle, the founder of the science of embryology, realised that chick embryos developed in stages from his studies of hen’s eggs in the fourth century B.C., he did not give any details about these stages. As far as it is known from the history of embryology, little was known about the staging and classification of human embryos until the twentieth century. For this reason, the descriptions of the human embryo in the Qur’ān cannot be based on scientific knowledge in the seventh century. The only reasonable conclusion is: these descriptions were revealed to Muhammad from God.  He could not have known such details because he was an illiterate man with absolutely no scientific training.”
Consequently, Professor Moore was asked the following question: “Does this mean that you believe that the Qur’ān is the word of God?”  He replied: “I find no difficulty in accepting this.” 

Professor Moore consulted a number of embryologists for their opinions:

“…I was invited to Saudi Arabia to lecture on embryology at King Abdul-Azziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia… and while I was there, at my suggestion, invited Dr. [T.V.N] Persaud and Dr. [E. Marshall] Johnson to come to Saudi Arabia. And they [the Embryology Committee] asked them the same questions, and I purposefully didn’t tell them my interpretations, I wanted them to give their own. So they did and their answers were similar to mine…Dr. Johnson is one of the most outstanding embryologists and teratologists in the United States. We didn’t just pick anyone, I picked the best. And in Canada, Dr. Persaud at the University of Manitoba, where I spent twenty years, is also an outstanding embryologist who has three doctors degrees… so I picked the very best. And then, when I started thinking about other embryologists around the world, we brought in Dr. [Robert] Edwards from Cambridge [world-renowned for his early work on in vitro fertilization]… so we invited him to Saudi Arabia and again he was asked the same questions and they [the Embryology Committee] got essentially the same answers.… [and] one of my colleagues in Kyoto, Japan.…he didn’t go to Saudi Arabia, [and] he has been consulted and so on. So we have consulted embryologists around the world for their opinions on these statements in the Qur’ān, and it’s clear from what Dr. Persaud has said and from all of our work in this area that these statements [in the Qur’ān] are correct.” 

Professor Emeritus T. V. N. Persaud is Professor of Anatomy, Professor of Pediatrics and Child Health and Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  There, he was the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy for 16 years.  He is well-known in his field.  He is the author or editor of 22 textbooks and has published over 181 scientific papers.  In 1991, he received the most distinguished award presented in the field of anatomy in Canada, the J.C.B. Grant Award from the Canadian Association of Anatomists. Henry Gray/Elsevier Distinguished Educator Award, American Association of Anatomists, 2010.  

When he was asked about the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān, he stated the following:

“The way it was explained to me is that Muhammad was a very ordinary man. He could not read, didn’t know [how] to write. In fact, he was an illiterate. And we’re talking about twelve [actually about fourteen] hundred years ago. You have someone illiterate making profound pronouncements and statements and that are amazingly accurate about scientific nature. And I personally can’t see how this could be a mere chance. There are too many accuracies and like Dr. Moore, I have no difficulty in my mind that this is a divine inspiration or revelation which led him to these statements.” 
Professor Persaud has included some Qur’ānic verses and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad in some of his books.

Dr. E. Marshall Johnson is Professor Emeritus of Anatomy and Developmental Biology at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. There, for 22 years he was Professor of Anatomy, the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy, and the Director of the Daniel Baugh Institute. He was also the President of the Teratology Society. He has authored more than 200 publications. In 1981, during the Seventh Medical Conference in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, Professor Johnson said in the presentation of his research paper:

“Summary: The Qur’ān describes not only the development of external form, but emphasises also the internal stages, the stages inside the embryo, of its creation and development, emphasising major events recognised by contemporary science.”

“As a scientist, I can only deal with things which I can specifically see. I can understand embryology and developmental biology. I can understand the words that are translated to me from the Qur’ān. As I gave the example before, if I were to transpose myself into that era, knowing what I knew today and describing things, I could not describe the things which were described. 

I see no evidence for the fact to refute the concept that this individual, Muhammad, had to be developing this information from some place. So I see nothing here in conflict with the concept that divine intervention was involved in what he was able to write.” 

Dr. Yoshihide Kozai is Professor Emeritus at Tokyo University, Hongo, Tokyo, Japan, and was the Director of the National Astronomical Observatory, Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan. He said:

“I am very much impressed by finding true astronomical facts in [the] Qur’ān, and for us the modern astronomers have been studying very small pieces of the universe. We’ve concentrated our efforts for understanding of [a] very small part. 

Because by using telescopes, we can see only very few parts [of] the sky without thinking [about the] whole universe. So, by reading [the] Qur’ān and by answering the questions, I think I can find my future way for investigation of the universe.”

Professor Tejatat Tejasen is the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy at Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Previously, he was the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the same university. During the Eighth Saudi Medical Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Professor Tejasen stood up and said:

“During the last three years, I became interested in the Qur’ān . . . . From my study and what I have learned from this conference, I believe that everything that has been recorded in the Qur’ān fourteen hundred years ago must be the truth, that can be proved by the scientific means. 

Since the Prophet Muhammad could neither read nor write, Muhammad must be a messenger who relayed this truth, which was revealed to him as an enlightenment by the one who is eligible [as the] creator. This creator must be God. Therefore, I think this is the time to say La ilaha illa Allah, there is no diety to worship except God, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah, Muhammad is Messenger [Prophet] of Allah [God]. Lastly, I must congratulate for the excellent and highly successful arrangement for this conference . . . . I have gained not only from the scientific point of view and religious point of view but also the great chance of meeting many well-known scientists and making many new friends among the participants. The most precious thing of all that I have gained by coming to this place is La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah, and to have become a Muslim.”

After all these examples we have seen about the scientific miracles in the Holy Qur’ān, let us ask ourselves these questions:

Could it be just a coincidence that all this recently discovered scientific information from different fields was mentioned in the Qur’ān, which was revealed fourteen centuries ago? Could this Qur’ān have been authored by Muhammad or by any other human being? 

How could Prophet Muhammad have possibly known all this 1,400 years ago, when scientists have only recently discovered this using advanced equipment and powerful microscopes which did not exist at that time?   

The only answer is that the Qur’ān is the word of God Almighty.

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