Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Embryology in the Qur'an, iERA's claims and other non-sequiturs

Having repeatedly debated the topic of the so-called miracle of Allah's detailed knowledge of embryology in the Qur'an, "Kevin" sent me a link to the iERA website which showed the following video:

I felt compelled to respond...
Just watched the video by iERA (Islamic  Education and Research Association) that was on the their website linked in your mail – the one where they corner Prof. Myers and ask him about embryology. Wow!
Quote: "Those stages (the four stages of embryology described in the Qur’an and awkwardly also in Helenic science) are quite specific to the Qur’an. The Qur’an is quite unique in describing those stages. How would a desert nomad know about that?"
Quote: "There’s no empirical or historical evidence for that (that Mohammad had access to this material)"
Quote: "There were only seventeen people in his city who could read and write."
Now remember this is the Islamic EDUCATION and RESEARCH Association. These people are being invited to universities across the country to give talks and THEY ARE LYING or THEY ARE IGNORANT IN THE VERY FIELD IN WHICH THEY PROFESS TO BE EXPERTS.

"People have been using traditional medicine including ethno-botany for several thousand years. Ancient Arabic medicine was influenced by the ancient medicinal practices of Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Persia and India. The Greco-Roman system of medicine was developed based primarily on the writings of Hippocrates (460-360 B.C.), Dioscorides (circa 54 to 68 AD) and Galen (130–201 AD). A combination of political and religious factors caused many Greek and Syriac-speaking scholars to move eastward to Persia and to establish centers of learning there. The city of Gundishapur in southwest Iran also became a center of learning, with a well-known medical school, in the sixth century AD. One of the Arab physicians during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (571–632 AD) was al-Harith ibn Kalada (d. 634), one of the most prominent physicians of his time, who traveled to Gundishapur in Persia and studied medicine prior to the establishment of Islam. Another renowned Arab physician was Ibn Abi Rimtha."
Here is some further information[1] about the teaching hospital in Gundishapur which I hope, as someone interested in the history of Arabic science and its influence on the rest of the world, you are already acquainted with. (And bearing in mind how much of the Nestorian heresy finds its way into the Qur’an, it is interesting to note the Nestorian connection[2] to Gundishapur as well)
"The Academy of Gundishapur was a renowned academy of learning in the city of Gundishapur during late antiquity, the intellectual center of the Sassanid empire. It offered training in medicine, philosophy, theology and science [...] it was the most important medical center of the ancient world (defined as Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East) during the 6th and 7th centuries [...]Gundishapur hospital became the most important medical center during the 6th and 7th centuries and attracted many distinguished scientists from Greece [...] Khosrow Anushiravan, who ascended the throne in 531 CE, added an observatory and a school of sciences to the Gundishapur complex, where they taught medicine, anatomy, dentistry, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, military commandership, architecture, craftsmanship, agriculture and irrigation, and geometry [...]Anushiravan organized the world's first medical symposium in Ctesiphon in 550 CE, in which hundreds of physicians and religious figures from different countries participated. Some five thousand students were studying at Gundishapur during the reign of Anushiravan, with five hundred scholars teaching in different scientific fields [...]"
This centre eventually became part of the Muslim empire...
"The Sassanid dynasty fell to Muslim Arab armies in 638 AD. The academy survived the change of rulers and persisted for several centuries as a Muslim institute of higher learning. It was later rivaled by an institute established at the Abbasid capital of Baghdad. In 832 AD, Caliph al-Ma'mūn founded the famous Baytu l-Hikma, the House of Wisdom. There the methods of Gundishapur were emulated; indeed, the House of Wisdom was staffed with graduates of the older Academy of Gundishapur. It is believed that the House of Wisdom was disbanded under Al-Mutawakkil, Al-Ma'mūn's successor. However, by that time the intellectual center of the Abbasid Caliphate had definitively shifted to Baghdad, as henceforth there are few references in contemporary literature to universities or hospitals at Gundishapur."
 Now as I understand it, both al-Harith ibn Kalada and Ibn Abi Rimtha were followers of Mohammad and part of the “band of companions”. In fact, Cyril Elgood in his A Medical History of Persia and the Eastern Caliphate (CUP 2010) on p66 even suggests Mohammad sent his sick friends to consult, Kalada whom he refers to as “this most eminent physician”. And of course we haven't even mentioned Salman the Persian or Mohammad's Jewish teacher (who is even mentioned in the Qur'an)
So, we have Galenic theory referring to the four stages of embryology as 1. Seminal matter 2. Bloody form 3. Formative foetus and 4. Perfected foetus, being taught in an institution that at least two of Mohammad’s followers are known to have attended  and we have EXACTLY THE SAME STAGES APPEARING IN THE SUPPOSED DIVINE REVELATION in surah 22 verse 5: 1.Nut’fa 2.‘Alaqat 3.Unformed mud’gha  4.Formed mud’gha.
How did Mohammad know to choose only the correct bits of the Greek theory, Muslims ask. He didn’t. Remember Qur’an talks of sperm produced from between ribs and backbone? Incorrect and taken directly from Aristotle which was taught at Gundishapur.  Why did Mohammad choose Galenic/Aristotelian theory over other, less accurate theories, Muslims ask. Because that was what was being taught at the very centre where his followers studied.
If we look at the other famous surah of the Qur’an in which embryology is mentioned (23:12-14) (Then We made out of the chewed lump bones, and then we clothed the bones in flesh, and then we brought it forth as another creation) we see further direct plagiarism, this time of Aristotle from his treatise entitled On the Parts of Animals. I quote from the William Ogle translation (New York: Garland Pub., 1987) p40: Round about the bones, and attached to them by thin fibrous bands, grow fleshy parts, for the sake of which the bones themselves exist. For just as an artist, when he is moulding an animal out of clay or other substance, takes first some solid body as a basis, and round this moulds the clay, so also has nature acted in fashioning the animal out of flesh.
I fail to see how honest Muslims with a genuine desire to seek the truth can maintain the fiction that Mohammad knew nothing of science or medicine and that therefore the references to embryology in the Revelation are miraculous.

[2] The Arabic world had had previous contact with Greek culture, including medical theory, well before Muhammad's founding of Islam. In the year 489, Nestorian Christians (supporters of the Patriarch Nestorius who had been expelled from Constantinople for heresy in 431) were in turn driven away from Edessa in Mesopotamia (where St. Ephraem had established a hospital) and subsequently founded another hospital at Gundishapur in Persia. There they had also found Greek physicians whose forebears had been in the East since the time of Alexander's empire in the fourth century B.C. Greek philosophers had also gone to Gundishapur when Justinian closed the Academy in Athens in the fifth century A.D. Even earlier, when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 76, Jews had fled to Arabia bringing with them much Greco-Roman knowledge. Thus by the time of Muhammad (570-632), Greek ideas were not unknown among the Arabs. (Medicine under Islam: Arabic Medicine Albert S. Lyons Published on 04/17/2007)


  1. great job - thanks!

  2. has an interesting article on Was Al-Harith the Source of the Prophet's embryologcal knowledge. very interesting!

  3. Thanks for the reference, Anonymous. It does seem, however, that the site you refer me to is to all intents-and-purposes a dawah site. Any site which has as one of its authors Hamzah Torzis must immediately raise suspicions.

  4. I am an Arab Muslim who is fluent in English (IELTS score=8; reading=9, listening=8.5), I am a native Arabic speaker with a good foundation of the language. And I can tell you this; despite the massive work done by IERA, it is not comparable to the precision of the Arabic words used in the Quran no matter how much I try to translate.I am a medical student who began to dive into Embryology "نطفة" "مضغة" "علقة" "قرار مكين These words just sum up the hundreds of lines with Latin-Greek medical terms that we learned "fertilization forming the zygoet, blastocyst's implantation, umbilical chord development and many more". How? Arabic words are far more expressive than English. E.g. Arabic poetry is much deeper than English, there are such expressive hidden meanings that make any Arabic listener appreciate the depth of the word. It is totally unfair to claim that "nutfah" is a drop of fluid, it is much more than that, it indicates a single cell very clearly to any Arabic ear. It is the unit; the smallest structure, a drop, a cell, etc. I hope you get what I am aiming to say...

    1. Dear Anon,
      The very few, very vague verses in the Qur'an relating to embryology have been shown to be exactly that - vague and meaningless.
      Please visit
      and then come back and tell me you still think the Qur'an is miraculous.