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by Elias Kareem

Figure 1: Left lateral view of an embryo at Carnegie stage 14 (about 32 days). Photograph from the Carnegie Collection

Figure 1: Left lateral view of an embryo at Carnegie stage 14 (about 32 days). Photograph from the Carnegie Collection

The Qur’an mentions the term mudghah مُضْغَةً as the third stage of human prenatal development. The word mudghah has several meanings: “something that has been chewed by the teeth”, “a piece of meat of a size that can be chewed” and “the small substances.” These meanings were described in a previous post: Embryology in the Qur’an: The Mudghah Stage.

In this post I highlight some observations regarding the meaning of mudghah as “something that has been chewed by the teeth”.

Human embryo at Carnegie Stage 14 day 32 with 35 somites

Figure 2: Human embryo at Carnegie Stage 14, 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 2 above, 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. The appearance of the somites or “imprints” changes continuously, just as the teeth imprint changes on a chewed substance with each act of chewing. And just as a substance acquires furrows, swellings and a corrugated surface as it is being chewed, so does the appearance of the embryo. 

Chewed gum

Figure 3: Illustration of a full set of adult human teeth which has a depiction of a piece of gum added to the original diagram for illustrative purposes. The gum has been shaped like an embryo and then chewed. The dental impressions form an imprint of the teeth on the soft gum.[1]

Figure 3 shows a piece of gum that has been shaped like an embryo and then chewed. During the act of chewing, the dental impressions form an imprint of the teeth on both sides of the gum as shown in Figure 4. The teeth imprints and their segmental arrangement are said to resemble the somites of an embryo. The human embryo is also said to be segmented and the segments of the embryo consist of somites, the cell masses which develop into ribs, vertebrae and back muscles.[2]

Comparing the appearance of an embryo at the mudghah stage with a piece of gum that has been chewed. A, an embryo at around 26 days showing several pairs of bead-like somites. (The Developing Human, Moore and Persaud, 5th ed., p. 79.) B, photograph of a piece of gum that has been shaped like an embryo and then chewed. Note how the teeth marks on the chewed substance resemble somites of the embryo.

Figure 4: Comparing the appearance of an embryo at the mudghah stage with a piece of gum that has been chewed. A, an embryo at around 26 days showing several pairs of bead-like somites. The embryo is less than 4.0 mm in length. (The Developing Human, Moore and Persaud, 5th ed., p. 79) B, photographs of a piece of gum that has been shaped like an embryo and then chewed.[3]

As there were no microscopes available in the 7th century CE, 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’an, I need an instrument that wasn’t developed until the 1700s.” [4]

NOTES

[1] Adult teeth image modified from http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/jpitocch/genbio/humanteeth.JPG 

[2] By the end of the third week the embryo undergoes segmentation, see  Embryology in the Qur’an: The ‘Alaqah Stage, p. 11.

[3] The right lateral views shown here were modified from the left lateral views of the embryo and chewed gum.

[4] E. Marshal Johnson as quoted in Surely the Qur’anic ‘Alaqah (the leech-like stage) is easily observed with the naked eye?

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