بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
We are living in an era of information explosion in which data, news and knowledge of all kinds stream into our lives 24/7 via multiple media inlets, so much so that now it has become a challenge to pick and choose that input which we want to receive; which we deem relevant. Pregnancy, childbirth, infant care and parenting topics are no exception.
From detailed pregnancy books to 3D-animated videos; subscriptions that facilitate personalized, week-by-week email pregnancy updates, to extensive online obstetric resources and pediatric websites, an expectant mother nowadays is amply aware of every change that is going on inside her body, as it happens or even beforehand.
The Qurʾān revealed the process of the creation of man long before science gave every part of his anatomy, down to the inner contents of his individual cells, a unique name and pictorial description.
In fact, in the Qurʾān, Allāh described the chronological phases of fetal growth and development 14 centuries ago, long before any ultrasound machine existed:
وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِن سُلَالَةٍ مِّن طِينٍ
ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاهُ نُطْفَةً فِي قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ
ثُمَّ خَلَقْنَا النُّطْفَةَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْعَلَقَةَ مُضْغَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْمُضْغَةَ عِظَامًا فَكَسَوْنَا الْعِظَامَ لَحْمًا ثُمَّ أَنشَأْنَاهُ خَلْقًا آخَرَ فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ
“Verily We created man from a product of wet earth; then placed him as a drop (of seed) in a safe lodging; then We fashioned the drop into a clot, then We fashioned the clot into a little lump, then We fashioned the little lump into bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it another creation. So blessed be Allāh, the Best of Creators!” [23:12-14]
هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ عَلَقَةٍ ثُمَّ يُخْرِجُكُمْ طِفْلًا ثُمَّ لِتَبْلُغُوا أَشُدَّكُمْ ثُمَّ لِتَكُونُوا شُيُوخًا وَمِنكُم مَّن يُتَوَفَّى مِن قَبْلُ وَلِتَبْلُغُوا أَجَلًا مُّسَمًّى وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
“It is He Who has created you from dust then from a sperm-drop, then from a leech-like clot; then does he get you out (into the light) as a child: then lets you (grow and) reach your age of full strength; then lets you become old,- though of you there are some who die before;- and lets you reach a term appointed; in order that you may learn wisdom.” [40:67]
According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir, this reference to man's creation from “تُرَابٍ”, or dust, implies the origin of mankind viz. the creation of the first human being, Prophet Adam [عليه السلام], from dust: “["And Allāh did create you from dust, then from Nutfah"], means, He initiated the creation of your father Adam from dust, then He created his offspring from semen of worthless water.”
Modern science has, by now, explained the entire process of the creation of a human being, down to those minute, microscopic intricacies that were invisible to the human eye centuries ago.
Many times in the Qurʾān, Allāh draws our attention to the way we were created. It is interesting to remember though, that at the time when these verses were revealed, human beings had limited knowledge about the process of human birth, unlike now.
Why would Allāh then invite us to ponder on the origin of our creation? The contexts in which He mentions our origins lead to some interesting observations. But first, lets analyze the word most oft-repeated in the Qurʾān when Allāh mentions man's creation:
The root of this word is: نَطَفَ يَنطِفُ – natafa yantifu: “To flow gently, trickle, ooze, drop.”
The dictionary meaning of the word “nutfah” is – “Drop of fluid; semen“.
النطفة: الماء الصافي، قَلَّ اَوْ كثرَ – “It is clear liquid, a little or a lot. From this it is used for ماء الرجل maa-ur rajul: The water (semen) of a man.”
ليلةٌ نَطوف is when it rains all night long.
Man is a disputer
Allāh says in the Qurʾān:
خَلَقَ الإِنسَانَ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ فَإِذَا هُوَ خَصِيمٌ مُّبِينٌ
“He (Allāh) has created man from a sperm-drop; and behold this same (man) becomes an open disputer!” [16:4]
أَوَلَمْ يَرَ الْإِنسَانُ أَنَّا خَلَقْنَاهُ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ فَإِذَا هُوَ خَصِيمٌ مُّبِينٌ
“Does not man see that it is We Who created him from a sperm-drop? Yet behold! He (stands forth) as an open disputer!” [36:77]
The word خَصِيمٌ is derived from خَصمَ which means “he contended with in an altercation“, and the word الخِصَام means “the statements that a listener is made to hear, which may cause him to desist or refrain from his assertion, plea or claim“.
In another place in the Qurʾān, Allāh says about man: “وَهُوَ أَلَدُّ الْخِصَامِ” – “And he is the most rigid of opponents” [2:204], where this word الخِصَام is used again to describe man.
Question is, why does Allāh mention the origin of man (the nutfah) along with the fact that man is an open disputer?
Man disputes about Allāh; about religion; about being right. Sometimes, man goes on arguing even if he possesses little knowledge of what he is arguing about, just to prove himself to be right, or to be better, than his “opponent”.
This type of arguing and disputing is, usually, less about establishing the haqq and abolishing falsehood, and more about one-upping the adversary to come out looking better, or on the right path, as the definition of the word الخِصَام implies; also, to attempt to make the adversary clam up and desist from putting forth their claims or opinions.
Allāh mentions how man was created from nothing but a microscopic sperm, which is not even visible, and yet he grows into a creature who argues about the very being that created Him from this miniscule little drop of fluid – he disputes about Allāh, His attributes, or any other aspect of Islam, to avoid submitting to Him – the Creator who not just created him, but also gave him provision since day one to make him grow, acquire a physical form, then be blessed with sight, hearing, and intellect:
إِنَّا خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ أَمْشَاجٍ نَّبْتَلِيهِ فَجَعَلْنَاهُ سَمِيعًا بَصِيرًا
“Verily We created Man from a drop of mingled sperm, in order to try him. So We gave him Hearing and Sight.” [76:2]
Man falls into disbelief and ingratitude
Another context in which Allāh mentions the origin of man as being from the nutfah, is the fact that man falls into kufr, i.e. when he grows up, he starts to deny Allāh's blessings, or to belie His Prophets and their monotheistic message, or reject Allāh's commands, refusing obstinately to obey them. Kufr also constitutes the denial of the establishment of the Hour (الساعة).
In Surah Al-Kahf, a man who owned 2 luscious gardens was conversing with his pious companion and bragging about possessing more wealth and a larger family than him. He went on to say that “I do not think that this (wealth) will perish – ever. And I do not think the Hour will occur. And even if I should be brought back to my Lord, I will surely find better than this as a return.” [18:34-36]
His pious companion, who was a believer, responds by making him recall how Allāh created him, saying:
قَالَ لَهُ صَاحِبُهُ وَهُوَ يُحَاوِرُهُ أَكَفَرْتَ بِالَّذِي خَلَقَكَ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ سَوَّاكَ رَجُلًا
“His companion said to him, in the course of the argument with him: “Do you deny Him Who created you out of dust, then out of a sperm-drop, then fashioned you into a man?”" [18:37]
In this context, Allāh warns us through these verses of the Qurʾān, not to fall into the same trap – that if we have been blessed with abundant wealth and a large family, we should not be fooled by this superfluous worldly benefits into denying the absolute reality of the imminence of the Hour (الساعة).
Heedlessness about the Akhirah makes one slowly slip down the slope of adherence to the commands of Deen, and disbelief starts to creep into our hearts like rust, chipping away our faith in Allāh and in the Akhirah.
One of the ways suggested, in the above verse of the Qurʾān, to keep ourselves humble before Allāh and firmly grounded in the correct belief (aqeedah), is to remember our origin – our creation. How, once, we were nothing more than a tiny embryo, a single ovum fertilized by a single sperm (مِن نُّطْفَةٍ), from which Allāh fashioned us into a complete, symmetrical, fair-looking human being (سَوَّاكَ) in our mothers' wombs, having a body that contains innumerable anatomical systems (respiratory, nervous, digestive, cardio-, reproductive etc.) functioning together in perfect unison:
مِن نُّطْفَةٍ خَلَقَهُ فَقَدَّرَهُ
“From a sperm-drop He had created him, and then moulds him in due proportions;” [80:19]
وَأَنَّهُ خَلَقَ الزَّوْجَيْنِ الذَّكَرَ وَالْأُنثَى – مِن نُّطْفَةٍ إِذَا تُمْنَى
“That He did create in pairs,- male and female, from a seed when lodged (in its place);” [53:45-46]
The “miracle” of our creation enables us to recognize and remain in total awe of Allāh's limitless powers. That in turn allows us to submit to Him and to His message conveyed to us through His Prophets.
For surely, the Magnificent Creator who fashioned a complete living being out of a mere sperm drop, can resurrect that same human being hundreds of years after his death; after his total decomposition into nothingness.
Because for the One for whom the first, original creation was so easy, the resurrection will be even easier:
كَمَا بَدَأْنَا أَوَّلَ خَلْقٍ نُّعِيدُهُ وَعْدًا عَلَيْنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا فَاعِلِينَ
“…Even as We produced the first creation, so shall We produce a new one; a promise We have undertaken. Truly shall We fulfil it.” [21:104]
The “despicable” water
Another context in which Allāh mentions the creation of man, is how he originates from a “lowly” water viz. human semen. Whilst the first human being was created and fashioned from dust, his progeny continued on earth via this water:
أَلَمْ نَخْلُقكُّم مِّن مَّاء مَّهِينٍ
“Have We not created you from a fluid (held) despicable?” [77:20]
The place in the human anatomy from where this “despicable” water originates is also mentioned by Allāh:
فَلْيَنظُرِ الْإِنسَانُ مِمَّ خُلِقَ – خُلِقَ مِن مَّاء دَافِقٍ – يَخْرُجُ مِن بَيْنِ الصُّلْبِ وَالتَّرَائِبِ
“Now let man but think from what he is created. He is created from a drop emitted. Proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs.” [86:5-7]
Allāh then goes on to exhort how, if He could create a human progeny from such a water that gushes forth from man's own body, He is utterly and completely able to recreate man in the Akhirah, after his death and decomposition in this world/dunya:
إِنَّهُ عَلَى رَجْعِهِ لَقَادِرٌ
“Surely He (Allāh) is able to bring him back (to life)!” [86:8]
Allāh mentions 3 other words in another place in the Qurʾān where He mentions the “despicable” water – “طِين”,”نسل” and “سلالة”:
الَّذِي أَحْسَنَ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقَهُ وَبَدَأَ خَلْقَ الْإِنسَانِ مِن طِينٍ – ثُمَّ جَعَلَ نَسْلَهُ مِن سُلَالَةٍ مِّن مَّاء مَّهِينٍ
“Who made all things good which He created, and He began the creation of man from clay; And made his progeny from a quintessence of the nature of a fluid despised.” [32:7-8]
The point that comes across is how Allāh brought every one of us into this world from a mere drop of fluid – a fluid that is considered dirty, lowly and worthy of being washed off and discarded; which emanates from a part of the body that is also kept hidden and considered shameful; a part that excretes the filth (urine) from our bodies.
Furthermore, when a human baby comes into this world, it again does so through the same anatomical part of his mother's body.
Allāh reminds man again and again of his lowly and inferior origins, of his first and subsequent creation, in order to cull his arrogance and reinforce his belief in Allāh's absolute power of creation and resurrection.
Because as long as we keep reminding ourselves of how we were created, how we were born, and how we came into existence from nothing, to ultimately grow bigger and take the shape of a functioning human being from the merger of two tiny cells, we will perhaps be able to stop doubting how Allāh will put us back together in the Akhirah when the Hour is established.