Someone has sent us by e-mail a set of 11 contradictions found in the Qur’an. It had an Introduction, which was answered last month. In this issue we deal with the first of the contradictions identified. It states as follows:
- Embryonic Sex Determination
One of the references on human reproduction which Muslims often quote from the Qur’an is verse 53:45-46. This is interpreted as a reference to the determination of sex at the fertilization stage itself. However, elsewhere, the Qur’an says that the sex of a developing embryo is determined well after the leech-like clot stage!
1. “That He did create the pairs – male and female – from a sperm-drop* (nutfah) when lodged” (53:45-46).
2. “Was he not a drop of sperm emitted? Then did he become a leech-like clot; then did (Allah) make and fashion (it) in due proportion. And of it He made the sexes, male and female?” ** (75:38-39)
* Note the conspicuous absence of ovum required for fertilization in the first quote.
** This view is further supported by this Hadith: “When 42 nights have passed over the drop (nutfah), Allah sends an Angel to it, who shapes it and make its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones. Then he says, “O Lord, is it male or female?” and your Lord decides what He wishes” (Hadith, Muslim, Book 33, No. 6392).
To answer, let us take the first objection. It says: “Note the conspicuous absence of ovum required for fertilization in the first quote.” Of course the absence of ovum is conspicuous, but its presence is also so very obvious. It says, “That He did create the pairs – male and female – from a sperm-drop when lodged.” One has to ask himself, “lodged where?” or, “lodged into what?” The answer that the mind will supply is, “lodged into the ovum.”
This position is confirmed by modern findings which state that a new human is created out of contributions made by the male as well as the female. The male contributes a single cell called spermatozoa while the female’s contribution is called ovum. Both the male as well as female cells carry what are known as DNA, 23 chromosomes each. When fertilization of the ovum with the spermatozoa occurs, the new cell has 46 chromosomes, which are needed as the Master Instruction copy to make up a new human. The entire information about what the new human will be – in physical terms – is there in these 46 chromosomes.
Now, the sex-chromosomes contributed by the female is called XX, while the sex-chromosome contributed by the female is called XY. If the combination turns into XX, or XXX, then the fetus will be female, and if it is XY, or XXY, it will be male. Thus the future sex is decided at the fertilization stage still. This is clearly stated in a hadith in which the Jews asked the Prophet why a child is male or female. How is it determined? The Prophet’s answer was, “If the woman’s liquid overcomes man’s it is a female, but if a man’s liquid overcomes woman’s, it is male.” Thus the hadith confirmed against the belief of the time of the Prophet that a woman contributes nothing, that a woman also offers something (ovum), while it confirmed the modern findings that sex is determined at fertilization.
Let us discuss the second objection. The second Qur’anic passage quoted here is as if saying that sex is determined after several biological transformations of the fertilized ovum. This is confirmed by a Hadith also, which counts even the stages. So, according to the antagonist, there is contradiction between the first passage and the second passage plus the Hadith put together.
Now let us compare the two passages (53:45-46) and(75:38-39). First passage makes a general statement. Second passage expands upon the first. The first passage is saying: When the sperm-drop is lodged into the ovum, pairs are determined: male and female. The second passage (and the Hadith) is saying: several stages are involved in between the sperm-drop stage to creation of male and female. Where is the contradiction between the two?
To illustrate, let us take the help of science, what does it say? It says that “in a way” sex determination takes place at the time of fertilization itself, right in the fallopian tube (before it travels to the safe lodge, the womb).
Look at the Qur’anic words once again: “He did create the pairs – male and female from a sperm-drop when lodged.” (53:45-46). So, according to science, and according to these verses, sex determination occurs when the spermatozoa is lodged into the ovum, or, in scientific terminology, at the precise moment of fertilization. Thus, science confirms what the Qur’anic says here.[Does the Qur’anic statement evoke any wonder? No one knows when exactly fertilization occurs, nor can anyone know about it. In fact, it is not possible for anyone to know. For, at that moment, it is a single cell, like a hundred billion others. It cannot be identified, cannot be isolated with the help of any machine. It is then in the fallopian tube, and even the woman does not know that fertilization has occurred. She will need a couple of weeks before she can seek the help of scientists to determine whether she is pregnant or not. So, if Prophet Muhammad wrote the Qur’an, how did he know that sex is determined right with conception?]
To proceed, let us consider the second passage (and the hadith) further. Although what the biologists call as “genetic sex” can (and in most cases does) determine the sex of the developing embryo (now in the womb), yet, one cannot be one hundred percent sure of what will emerge in the end.
This is because future sex of an embryo depends “largely” (but not wholly) on the class of spermatozoa that is lodged into the ovum. The female contributes only an X chromosome, while the male spermatozoa can be either X or Y. If it happens to be an X-bearing sperm from the male also, then the fetus should develop into a female. If it is a Y-bearing sperm from the male, the fetus should develop into a male. So, XX combination is female, while XY, or YY, is a male. But, this does not guarantee the sex of the embryo as one or the other. Various malfunctions can finally determine what the infant will be.
The scientific finding is that the primary determination of sex, through primary ingredients of the zygote (being XX or XY/YY) is one thing, actual development of sex gonads (organs) is another. It is the actual development of the primary sex organs (gonads) that will ultimately tell us what it will be. That does not happen at fertilization. It takes painful 6 weeks to happen: “Before the seventh week of embryonic life, the gonads of both sexes are identical in appearance and are referred to as indifferent gonads.” (The Developing Human by Keith L. Moore, p. 273).
During what the scientists call “indifferent gonad stage” (lasting 6 weeks), the genitalia are similar in both sexes. Thereafter, sexual characteristics begin to develop. If it is going to be a male, then male gonads begin to take shape. On the other hand, “In embryos lacking a Y chromosome, gonadal development occurs slowly. The ovary is not positively identifiable until about the tenth week.” (Ibid, p. 274) See the diagram on the next page.
Schematic sections illustrating the differentiation of the indifferent gonads into testes or ovaries. ‘A’ (six weeks), shows the indifferent gonad. Sex of the embryo cannot be determined at this stage. ‘B’ shows seventh week development. This is the first sign of what the sex of the fetus is going to be; that is, if any malfunction does not take place during the following stages. ‘C’ shows signs of femaleness, and is not easily distinguishable from ‘B’ until 12 weeks. ‘D’ and ‘E’ are 20 weeks old. ‘F’ is Sectional view of the seminiferous tubule of D while ‘G’ is Section from the ovarian cortex of 20 week fetus. (Illustration courtesy of The Developing Human, p. 273)
Thus, by the 7th week alone it is possible to know whether the fetus will develop into a male or not. If it does not show the signs of male-ness, it will be female. However, during the same 7 weeks, other organs are also developing: brain-tissue formation has begun, heart begins to beat (within 3 weeks), upper lip is formed, arms and feet start to take shape, etc. This agrees with the Qur’anic and hadith descriptions.
To put it in yet simpler words, the sexual organs (gonads at this stage) appear only after 6 weeks. Male gonads can be recognized after the 7th week. However, the genitalia remain similar in both sexes until the 9th week. External sexual characteristics begin to develop thereafter. Development of the external genitalia is not complete until the 12th week, by which time models of the bones have formed and the muscles have become attached to them.
The following may also be noted: “Although it is commonly stated that the sex of gonads can be distinguished during the embryonic period, it must be emphasized that a diagnosis of femaleness can be made only after failure to observe testicular characteristics in a gonad from an embryo known to be older than seven weeks…Testes can be recognized as such in embryos around the end of the seventh week.” (Ibid, p. 276).
Let us now look back at the second Qur’anic passage quoted by the skeptic and ask ourselves whether they agree with the scientific findings of past 50 years. It says, “Was he not a drop of sperm emitted? Then did he become a leech-like clot; then did (Allah) make and fashion (him) in due proportion. And of him He made the sexes, male and female?” (75:38-39)
And the Hadith:
“When 42 nights have passed over the drop (nutfah), Allah sends an angel to it, who shapes it and make its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones. Then he says, ‘O Lord, is it male or female?’ and your Lord decides what He wishes.”
We need to consider how closely the Qur’an and Hadith are stating what science confirmed 1400 years later!
We have sated above: “future sex of an embryo depends ‘largely’ (but not wholly) on the class of spermatozoa that is lodged into the ovum.” Why do we use the word ‘largely?’ It is because malformations can take place right from the time the gonads begin to develop: “Because an early embryo has the potential to develop either as a male or a female, errors in sex development may result in various degrees of intermediate sex, a condition known as intersexuality, or hermaphroditism.” (Ibid, p. 283). Of the intersexual variety, there are various kinds: true hermaphrodites, male pseudohermophradites, female pseudohermophradites. Or the fetus can suffer from ‘testicular feminzation’ (despite XY sex chrosomes), or there may occur what is known as mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis, Hypospadias (one in every 300 males), Turner’s syndrome, etc., etc. There are so many malfunctions that one wonders how true males and females arrive at all. The point in any case is that, to re-state: “future sex of an embryo depends ‘largely’ (but not wholly) on the class of spermatozoa that is lodged into the ovum.”
But more interestingly for the biologists as well as for Qur’an students, it has been discovered that presence of XX chromosome in the zygote does not guarantee a female. Males have been discovered who carry XX chromosome alone with no trace of Y-chromosome. (Adam’s Curse, a future without Men, Bryan Sykes, p. 88, Corgi Book UK, 2004, and Know Your Genes, Aubrey Milunsky, p. 41, Penguin, 1980). On research it was discovered that although the Y-bearing chromosome was absent, a small segment of it (and not the whole) was found attached on some other chromosome. In fact, quite a few male fetuses could have been aborted by male-desiring parents (largely in India and China) if they went by the tests revealing that the fetus was XX. There is a chance they were male, despite discovery of XX. Similarly, there can be “superficially female people with an X and a Y, but they are exceptions that prove the rule. The key masculinising gene on the Y chromosome is missing or broken in such people’ (Genome, Matt Ridley, p. 108, Fourth Estate Ltd., UK, 1999). That is to say, the Y chromosome is missing but is represented by a functionless strand.
The above is the explanation of why an ovum fertilized by a Y-bearing sperm can still result in a female, or other classes of intersex.
Now, one may ask, when exactly is the decision made about how the gonad is going to develop? The answer is, perhaps no one knows. One has to cross the fingers and wait for the outcome of the embryonic developments, and, in the meantime remember Allah’s words in all humbleness, “Was he not a drop of sperm emitted? Then did he become a leech-like clot; then did (Allah) make and fashion (him) in due proportion. And of him He made the sexes, male and female?” (75:38-39).
Epigram for 2nd page of editorial
One of the basic problems is that the unbelievers in the Qur’an do not learn the Arabic language. They do not know that the translation before them is a rough conveyance of the meaning of the Qur’an. What they have before them is not exactly what the Qur’an is saying. It is an approximation. They also do not know that the verses can be understood in several ways, and that the version before them is one of several, and that too a poor rendering.