Printer-friendly versionSend to friendPDF version

Question

Allah says: “So let man see from what he is created. He is created from a water gushing forth - proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs” [Sûrah al-Târiq: 5-7]

This verse states that sperm originates from between the ribs and the spine. The problem is that it is a known fact sperm is created in the testicles. What is more disturbing is that this same idea was espoused in ancient Greece by Hippocrates about 1100 years before the time of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Please clarify this matter for me.

Answered by

the Scientific Research Committee - IslamToday.net
It is inconceivable that the true word of Allah could ever contradict scientific fact, since the universe is Allah's creation, and Allah fully knows what He created. A Muslim, when faced with what appears to be a contradiction between the Qur’ân and a scientific fact knows there can only be two possibilities:
1. That which is being construed as a scientific “fact” is not in actuality a fact.

2. The verse that is being construed as being in conflict with science is being misinterpreted, misapplied, or misunderstood.
Any claim being made that there is a contradiction between science and the Qur’ân has to be evaluated individually. The factuality of the scientific claim needs to be assessed as well as the true meaning of the verse that is supposedly at variance with it.

It is an inarguable fact that sperm is created in the testicles. Therefore, we must make sure we are understanding these verses correctly. We must look carefully at the verses to ascertain exactly what the Qur’ân is saying and – more importantly – what it is not saying.

There are some serious problems with this translation and the assumptions made therein.

To begin with, these verses say nothing whatsoever about the creation of sperm or the creation of anything else. Consequently, they do not inform us of where the creation of sperm takes place. They merely say that the substances under discussion come out form the places being described. The word being used is “yakhruj” meaning “to exit, leave, come out, emerge”. It in no way implies anything related to creation or origination.

Secondly, the phrase “mâ’ dâfiq” (emitted fluid) is not restricted in meaning to sperm but is used in Arabic for both the sperm and the egg. Ibn Kathîr, in his commentary on this verse, writes: “It emanates from the man and the woman, and with Allah’s permission, the child comes forth as a product of both.”

Thirdly, the words translated as “backbone” (sulb) and “ribs” (tarâ’ib) are not understood in Arabic to belong to the same person. Arabs understand the “sulb” to refer to a part of the male body and the “tarâ’ib” to a part of the female. Ibn Kathîr states: “It refers to the ‘sulb’ of the man and the ‘tarâ’ib’ of the woman, which is the area of her chest.” He then quotes this interpretation on the authority of the Prophet’s companion Ibn `Abbâs. This same understanding is given in all the major classical works of Qur’anic commentary.

Moreover, the word “sulb” should not necessarily be translated as “backbone”. This word has many possible meanings and backbone is only one of them. It is also quite commonly used to mean the loins of a man. This is how it is used elsewhere in the Qur’ân. Allah says: “Prohibited to you (for marriage) are…wives of your sons proceeding from your loins (aslâb, the plural of sulb).” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 23] There can be no problem with sperm coming out from the area of a man's loins.

Likewise, when we look at the word being translated as “ribs” (tarâ’ib, the plural of tarîbah) we find that it is used linguistically for the general are of the chest and the abdomen. In al-Qâmûs, the famous classical dictionary of al-Fayrûzabâdî it is defined as a number of things: “the bones of the chest or what comes after the two collarbones or what comes between the collarbones and the chest or the four ribs to the right of the chest or the four ribs to the left of the chest or the hands, eyes and feet or the collarbones.” Some Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and some Successors had also provided many possible meanings, like the lower ribs and al-Dahhâk’s statement that it is the area between the breasts and feet and the eyes (a mere indication of centrality).

This word clearly has a very broad and diverse definition. It is so ambiguous a word that the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) could not give it a precise definition. Scholars of Qur’ânic commentary have consistently admitted to there being at least three different possible meanings for this word as it is used in the verse. This is an admission that they do not know for certain what the tarâ’ib are, except that they generally agree it refers to an area of the woman’s body. It can apply to any region nearing the ribcage. Therefore, the area of the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, or the uterus can easily fit into the general area that is being indicated by these verses.

What we are dealing with here is a gross error in translation and not a scientific error at all.