Overview - Surah 22: al-Hajj (The Pilgrimage )

Surah Introduction

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The Surah reminds about the approaching end of the world, need for the firmness of faith to support the truth and to eradicate the evil.  It talks about prayers, humbleness and sacrifice, respect of the Ka'bah, the House of Allah, and striving to defend the truth.

Sections:

  1. The Shaking of the Last Hour.  Arguments for the Resurrection from the stages of human creation and from the rain that produces vegetation.
  2. The marginal Muslims and their end.
  3. The true believers shall be rewarded.
  4. Pilgrimage to the House of Allah.
  5. Respect of the Symbols of Allah.
  6. The permission of fighting back is granted to those to whom wrong is done.
  7. Satan's enticements and Allah's especial protection of His words.
  8. The reward of those who migrate in the cause of Allah.
  9. Allah's order prevails in the heaven and earth.
  10. The Muslim community is chosen by Allah for a special purpose.

Named after the obligation of the pilgrimage to Makkah - The Hajj. The word 'Hajj' is only mentioned once in this Surah, وَأَذِّن فِي النَّاسِ بِالْحَجِّ يَأْتُوكَ رِجَالًا وَعَلَىٰ كُلِّ ضَامِرٍ يَأْتِينَ مِن كُلِّ فَجٍّ عَمِيقٍ "And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass -" [22:27]

There are 78 Ayat in this Surah.

Overview

Total Ayat78
Total Words *1274
Root Words *335
Unique Root Words *16
Makki / MadaniMadani
Chronological Order* 103rd (according to Ibn Abbas)
Year of Revelation* 12th year of Prophethood
Events during/before this Surah*
2nd Pledge of Aqabah, 1st Pledge of Aqabah, Death of Abu Talib - Death of Khadijah - Stoning at Ta'if - al-Isra wal Mi'raj - Night Journey, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 3, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 2, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 1, 2nd Migration to Abyssinia, Physical beating and torture of some Muslims - 1st Migration of Muslims to Abyssinia, Public Invitation to Islam - Persecution of Muslims; antagonism - ridicule - derision - accusation - abuse and false propaganda., Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam , Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam , Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam
Events during/after still to occur*
,Migration from Makkah to Madinah - Building of Masjid Nabi in Madinah - Treaty with Jews of Madinah - Marriage of Prophet to Aishah,Change of Qiblah from Jerusalem to Makkah - Battle of Badr,Battle of Uhud,,Battle of Ahzab - Expedition of Banu Quraydhah,Treaty of Hudaiybiyah - Letters to Kings and Rulers,,Conquest of Makkah - Battle of Hunain,Hajj led by Abu Bakr - Expedition of Tabuk,Farewell Hajj by Prophet - Death of Prophet - End of Divine Revelation
Names of Prophets Mentioned
Nuh, Lut, Ibrahim, Musa
Surah Index
‘Aad, Abraham, Adversity (patience during) , Ageing, God (a day for Him is ) (a thousand human years), God (wills no wrong to His creation) , Angels, Astronomy (celestial mechanics) , Astronomy (celestial mechanics) (moon), Astronomy (celestial mechanics) (sun), Astronomy (stars) , Beasts, Behaviour (each group given a law and way of life) (and a way of worship), Cattle, Charity, Charity (during the Hajj) , Christians, Churches, Clothing (of fire) , Commandments (general religious) , Death, Death (in God’s cause) , Disbelievers, Disbelievers (God’s promise to) , Earth, Earth (condition of at the time of resurrection) , Earth (inclination of rotational axis to orbital plane) , Embryology, Fighting, Fighting (when ordained) , Food, Grave, Hajj, Hell, Humankind (creation of) (from a drop of sperm), Humankind (creation of) (from dust), Iblis, Jews, Jihad, Jihad (striving hard in God’s cause) , Judgement (Day) , Ka’bah, Life (extra-terrestrial) , Lot, Madyan, Magians, Moses, Noah, Prayer (prostration) , Religion, Religion (no hardship in) , Resurrection, Resurrection (Day) , Resurrection (of humans) , Revelation, Sabians, Sea, Ships, Silk, Synagogues, Thamud, Trees, Weather (rain)

Central Theme

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This Surah is addressed to:

  1. The polytheists of Makkah,
  2. The wavering Muslims and
  3. The True Believers.

The polytheists have been warned in a forceful manner to this effect: “You have obdurately and impudently persisted in your ideas of ignorance and trusted in your deities instead of God though they possess no power at all and you have repudiated the Divine Messenger. Now you will meet the same end as has been the doom of those like you before. You have only harmed yourselves by rejecting Our Prophet and by persecuting the best element of your own community; now your false deities shall not be able to save you from the wrath of God.” At the same time they have been admonished time and again for their creed of polytheism (Shirk) and sound arguments have been given in favour of Monotheism (Tawhid) and the Hereafter. The wavering Muslims who had embraced Islam but were not prepared to endure any hardship in its way have been admonished to this effect: “What is this faith of yours? On the one hand you are ready to believe in God and become His servants provided you are given peace and prosperity but on the other if you meet with afflictions and hardships in His Way you discard your God and cease to remain His servant. You should bear in mind that this wavering attitude of yours cannot avert those misfortunes and losses which God has ordained for you.”

As regards the true Believers they have been addressed in two ways:

  1. In a general way so as to include the common people of Arabia also and
  2. In an exclusive way.

The Believers have been told that the polytheists of Makkah had no right to debar them from visiting the Holy Mosque. They had no right to prevent anyone from performing Hajj because the Holy Mosque was not their private property. This objection was not only justified but it also acted as an effective political weapon against the Quraysh. For it posed this question to the other clans of Arabia: Were the Quraysh mere attendants of the Holy Mosque or its owners? It implied that if they succeeded in debarring the Muslims from Hajj without any protest from others, they would feel encouraged in future to debar from Hajj and Umrah the people of any other clan, who happened to have strained relations with the Quraysh. In order to emphasize this point, the history of the construction of the Holy Mosque has been cited to show that it was built by Prophet Abraham by the Command of God and he had invited all the peoples to perform Hajj there. That is why those coming from outside had enjoyed equal rights by the local people from the very beginning. It has also been made clear that that House had not been built for the rituals of polytheism (shirk) but for the worship of One God. Thus it was sheer tyranny that the worship of God was being forbidden there while the worship of idols enjoyed full licence

In order to counteract the tyranny of the Quraysh, the Muslims were allowed to fight with them. They were also given instructions to adopt the right and just attitude as and when they acquired power to rule in the land. Moreover, the Believers have been officially given the name of “Muslims” saying, “You are the real heirs to Abraham and you have been chosen to become witnesses of the Truth before mankind. Therefore you should establish prayer (salat) and pay the financial obligation (zakah) in order to become the best models of righteous life and perform Jihad for propagating the Word of God (v. 41,77, 78.) It will be worthwhile to keep in view the introductions to Surah 2: al-Baqarah (The Cow) and Surah 8: al-Anfal (The Spoils of War).

Connection of the name of the Surah and its Ayaat

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Connection between the beginning and the ending of the Surah

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Manuscripts / Inscriptions

Connection of the Surah to the Surah before/after it

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The Virtues of the Surah

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  • Uqbah bin Amir narrated: "I said: 'O Messenger of Allah! Surah Al-Hajj has been esteemed by two prostrations?' He said: 'Yes, and whoever does not prostrate for them, he should not recite them.'  [Jami` at-Tirmidhi 578]

Special Features of the Surah

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  • This is the first Surah in which the Muslims have been allowed to fight 
  • Some Ayat were revealed in Makkah and some in Madinah.
  • Some Ayat were revealed during travel and some whilst the Prophet was settled.
  • There are two Ayat of prostration in this Surah.

Important key and unique words of the Surah

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Surah al-Hajj has 14 unique words used only once in the whole of the Qur'an [only exception is the last word 'fly' which was used twice - but in the same Ayat] 

  • (22:2) تَذْهَلُ Tadhahulu [will forget]
  • (22:9)  عِطْفِهِ Itfihi [his neck]
  • (22:17) وَالْمَجُوسَ al-Majoos [the Magians]
  • (22:21) مَقَامِعُ Maqami [hooked rods]
  • (22:27) ضَامِر Dhamir [lean camel]
  • (22:27) عَمِيقٍ Ameeq [distant]
  • (22:29) تَفَثَهُمْ Tafahum [their prescribed duties]
  • (22:36) وَجَبَتْ Wajabat [are down] 
  • (22:40) لَهُدِّمَتْ Hudimat [demolished]
  • (22:40) صَوَامِعُ Sawame [monasteries]
  • (22:45) وَبِئْرٍ Bi'r [a well]
  • (22:72) يَسْطُونَ Yastuna [attack]
  • (22:73)  يَسْلُبْهُمُ Yaslubuhum [snatched away from them]
  • (22:73) الذُّبَابُ Dhubab [fly]
     
  • (22:5) is the longest Ayat of this Surah with 69 words,

    يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّنَ الْبَعْثِ فَإِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ عَلَقَةٍ ثُمَّ مِن مُّضْغَةٍ مُّخَلَّقَةٍ وَغَيْرِ مُخَلَّقَةٍ لِّنُبَيِّنَ لَكُمْ ۚ وَنُقِرُّ فِي الْأَرْحَامِ مَا نَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ثُمَّ نُخْرِجُكُمْ طِفْلًا ثُمَّ لِتَبْلُغُوا أَشُدَّكُمْ ۖ وَمِنكُم مَّن يُتَوَفَّىٰ وَمِنكُم مَّن يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ أَرْذَلِ الْعُمُرِ لِكَيْلَا يَعْلَمَ مِن بَعْدِ عِلْمٍ شَيْئًا ۚ وَتَرَى الْأَرْضَ هَامِدَةً فَإِذَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْهَا الْمَاءَ اهْتَزَّتْ وَرَبَتْ وَأَنبَتَتْ مِن كُلِّ زَوْجٍ بَهِيجٍ "O People, if you should be in doubt about the Resurrection, then [consider that] indeed, We created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a clinging clot, and then from a lump of flesh, formed and unformed - that We may show you. And We settle in the wombs whom We will for a specified term, then We bring you out as a child, and then [We develop you] that you may reach your [time of] maturity. And among you is he who is taken in [early] death, and among you is he who is returned to the most decrepit [old] age so that he knows, after [once having] knowledge, nothing. And you see the earth barren, but when We send down upon it rain, it quivers and swells and grows [something] of every beautiful kind." (22:5)

     
 
Total Word Count per Ayat (shows how many words per Ayat) *

Unique Root Words to this Surah only


16 unique root words that do not appear in any other Surah *

Top 10 Most Frequent Root Words used in this Surah

Root Word Frequency
in Surah
Frequency
in Qur'an
أ ل ه 77 2851
ٱلَّذِى 29 1464
ن و س 15 241
ع ل م 14 854
س م و 14 381
إِلَىٰ 12 742
ق و م 12 660
ك ل ل 12 377
ب ي ن 9 523
ك ف ر 9 525

Period of Revelation

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As this Surah contains the characteristics of both the Makkan and the Madīnan Surahs the commentators have differed as to its period of revelation but in the light of its style and themes we are of the opinion that a part of it (v. 1-24) was sent down in the last stage of the Makkan life of the Prophet a little before migration and the rest (v. 25-78) during the first stage of his Madinah life. That is why this Surah combines the characteristics of both the Makkan and the Madinah Surahs.

According to Ibn Abbas, Mujahid, Qatadah and other great commentators, v. 39 is the first verse that grants the Muslims permission to wage war. Collections of hadith and books on the life of the Prophet confirm that after this permission actual preparations for war were started and the first expedition was sent to the coast of the Red Sea in Safar 2 A.H. which is known as the Expedition of Waddan or Al-Abwa.

Background Reasons for Revelation

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Relevant Hadith

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  • Uqbah bin Amir narrated: "I said: 'O Messenger of Allah! Surah Al-Hajj has been esteemed by two prostrations?' He said: 'Yes, and whoever does not prostrate for them, he should not recite them.'"  [Jami` at-Tirmidhi 578]

Lessons/Guidance/Major-Issues/Reflections

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  • A scene from the Hour of Doom.
  • Human life cycle: life in this world and life in the Hereafter.
  • Behavior of those individuals who were standing at the verge of faith is identified.
  • The fact that Allah always helps His Rasools.
  • Divine law granting equal rights to all believers in Masjid-al-Haram, whether they are natives or foreigners.
  • The fact that Allah Himself identified the site and asked Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) to build the Ka'bah and call mankind to come for Hajj (Pilgrimage).
  • Someone who commits Shirk is like someone who falls from the sky and his body is snatched away by birds.
  • The fact that it is not the blood or the flesh of a sacrificed animal which reaches Allah but the piety of the individual who is offering the sacrifice.
  • The first Commandment of Allah granting permission to the believers to defend themselves and fight against the unbelievers and mushrikin.
  • On the Day of Judgement, Allah Himself will be the Judge for all.
  • Allah's promise to those who migrate for His sake that He will reward them generously.
  • The fact that Allah called the Believers Muslims in the prior scriptures and also in the Qur'an

Tafsir Zone

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Miscellaneous Issues

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Scientific References

Human Embryonic Development

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّنَ الْبَعْثِ فَإِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ عَلَقَةٍ ثُمَّ مِن مُّضْغَةٍ مُّخَلَّقَةٍ وَغَيْرِ مُخَلَّقَةٍ لِّنُبَيِّنَ لَكُمْ ۚ وَنُقِرُّ فِي الْأَرْحَامِ مَا نَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ثُمَّ نُخْرِجُكُمْ طِفْلًا ثُمَّ لِتَبْلُغُوا أَشُدَّكُمْ ۖ وَمِنكُم مَّن يُتَوَفَّىٰ وَمِنكُم مَّن يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ أَرْذَلِ الْعُمُرِ لِكَيْلَا يَعْلَمَ مِن بَعْدِ عِلْمٍ شَيْئًا ۚ وَتَرَى الْأَرْضَ هَامِدَةً فَإِذَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْهَا الْمَاءَ اهْتَزَّتْ وَرَبَتْ وَأَنبَتَتْ مِن كُلِّ زَوْجٍ بَهِيجٍ "O People, if you should be in doubt about the Resurrection, then [consider that] indeed, We created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a clinging clot, and then from a lump of flesh, formed and unformed - that We may show you. And We settle in the wombs whom We will for a specified term, then We bring you out as a child, and then [We develop you] that you may reach your [time of] maturity. And among you is he who is taken in [early] death, and among you is he who is returned to the most decrepit [old] age so that he knows, after [once having] knowledge, nothing. And you see the earth barren, but when We send down upon it rain, it quivers and swells and grows [something] of every beautiful kind." (22:5)

Western physicians, during the 16th century, believed that a human being’s origin began entirely in the male’s semen. They envisaged that inside the male semen was a miniscule, fully formed human being who grew larger once implanted into the womb of the mother.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the previously held view was replaced by the opinion that the ‘minuscule’ human instead formed out of the woman’s menstrual blood coagulating [thickening] and that the male semen was merely an activating agent. It was not until 1775, that Italian scientist Spallanzi established that both the male semen and female ovum were required to form the human embryo.

It was also not until modern times, with the help of the electron microscope, that scientists discovered the existence of chromosomes and genes and that human embryonic development takes place in successive distinct stages.

The terminology used to describe human development in the Qur’ān is characterized by descriptiveness and accuracy. Until recently these statements were not fully appreciated, since they referred to details in human development which were scientifically unknown in earlier times.

  • 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:

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

The Male Nutfah

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 sperm cells. Before the 16th century, writings on embryonic development did not distinguish the constituent parts of the semen in its role of fertilisation.

In Ayaat (75:36-40) and (53:45-46), 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.

Stage 2: The ‘Alaqah Stage

Linguistic Analysis

According to many Arabic dictionaries, the word ‘alaqah includes the following meanings:

1. Attached and hanging to something,
2. Blood clot,
3. Leech.

1. ‘Alaqah as ‘attached and hanging’

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”.

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 syntrophoblast 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.

3. ‘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 in the dictionary of al-Qāmūs al-Muhit 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 of “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’.

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.

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.”

Similarly, in Anatomy Demystified, the early embryo is described as worm-like in appearance which is nourished by the mother’s maternal 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 earth worm, 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].” 

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.

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

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.”  

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.

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 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]

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.

In the 6th week the cartilaginous skeleton begins to form and the embryo acquires a soft skeleton: “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 mesochymal 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.