Qur'an Describes Gender Determination By Sperm
Various Muslims make the usual Islamic polemic about how the Qur'an can be proved by modern scientific knowledge, using the old canard about how the Qur'an is the only ancient book that states that gender is determined by the sperm. In this, they may point out the ignorance of the Greeks who thought gender was determined by the relative strengths of sperm from the male and female parents as Hippocrates imagined.
This article does not seek to prove that the ancient Egyptians shared some aspects of our modern understanding of gender determination and reproduction. It merely aims to show that the Qur'an was not the first religious text to suggest that gender is determined by the semen of the male parent.
 Apologetic Claim
An example of a Muslim making the claim that the Qur'an is the only ancient book that correctly outlines gender determination is Dr. Al Zeiny, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Evansville.
This is repeated by Dr. Zakir Naik of the Islamic Research Foundation.
The sex of a fetus is determined by the nature of the sperm and not the ovum. The sex of the child, whether female or male, depends on whether the 23rd pair of chromosomes is XX or XY respectively. Primarily sex determination occurs at fertilization and depends upon the type of sex chromosome in the sperm that fertilizes an ovum. If it is an ‘X’ bearing sperm that fertilizes the ovum, the fetus is a female and if it is a ‘Y’ bearing sperm then the fetus is a male. “That He did create In pairs – male and female, From a seed when lodged (In its place).” [Al-Qur’aan 53:45-46]
The Arabic word nutfah means a minute quantity of liquid and tumnâ means ejaculated or planted. Therefore nutfah specifically refers to sperm because it is ejaculated. The Qur’aan says: “Was he not a drop of sperm emitted (In lowly form)? “Then did he become A clinging clot; Then did (Allah) make And fashion (him) In due proportion. “And of him He made Two sexes, male And female.” [Al-Qur’aan 75:37-39]
Here again it is mentioned that a small quantity (drop) of sperm (indicated by the word nutfatan min maniyyin) which comes from the man is responsible for the sex of the fetus.Mothers-in-law in the Indian subcontinent, by and large prefer having male grandchildren and often blame their daughters-in-law if the child is not of the desired sex. If only they knew that the determining factor is the nature of the male sperm and not the female ovum! If they were to blame anybody, they should blame their sons and not their daughters-in-law since both the Qur’aan and Science hold that it is the male fluid that is responsible for the sex of the child!
Dr. Zakir Naik, Discover Islam, accessed August 31, 2013, http://www.ediscoverislam.com/Quran-Islam-and-Science/Islam-Quran-and-Science/the-holy-quran-and-modern-science.
The question is: Are the Muslims correct in asserting that the Qur'an is the only ancient book that states that gender is determined by the sperm of the male parent?
We think not. At least some of the ancient Egyptians clearly believed that the gender of progeny is determined by the sperm of the male parent.
Caroline Seawright, K4W Foundation, April 9, 2001 (Updated: August 29, 2013), http://www.thekeep.org/~kunoichi/kunoichi/themestream/sexuality.html.
Shu was the god of dry air, wind and the atmosphere, while Tefnut was the lunar goddess of moisture, humidity and water who was also a solar goddess connected with the sun and dryness (more specifically, the absence of moisture).
Some ancient Egyptians also believe that Shu and Tefnut were the children of Ra and Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty and happiness.
Virtual Museum of Natural History, accessed August 10, 2011, http://www.virtualology.com/virtualmuseumofnaturalhistory/hallofanthropology/egypt/egyptian-goddess.com/.
While others believed Shu and Tefnut were progeny of Ra alone.
Therefore, in the fully developed myth, Ra (aka Atum aka Tem) contributed sperm which determine the sex of Shu and Tefnut, in conjunction with Iusaaset (or Hathor) as his wife.
Now, there is a clear mistake in that Iusaaset (or Hathor) does not seem to contribute anything more than a womb for incubation. However, we contend this is no different from Qur'anic embryology in that the Qur'an never explicitly claims that the female parent contributes genetic material. It is merely the assumption, and an assumption only, of the Islamists that 'nutfatun amshaajin' (mixed drop or mingled sperm) includes the female gamete.
The term ‘nutfatun amshaajin’ could just as easily refer to the sperm-menstrual blood union of Aristotle and the ancient Indian embryologists, or the two sperm hypothesis of Hippocrates and Galen, or even the readily observed mingling of semen and vaginal discharge during sexual intercourse. In other words, the fact the Qur'an does not explicitly state that ‘nutfatun amshaajin’ contains the ovum, together with the existence of other possible explanations, means that it is illogical to assume the former and not the latter.
The insistence by Muslims that it explains the former is pure conjecture devoid of evidence, and constitutes the logical fallacy of equivocation, and its adoption is merely wishful thinking or the Islamic art of the ‘reinterpretation after the fact.’
One might contend that the Qur'an does not claim a role for the ovum at all, or is even ignorant of its existence. Verses 53:45-46 are strikingly similar to the Ra’s masturbation text.
Yusuf Ali: That He did create in pairs, - male and female, From a seed when lodged (in its place);
Shakir: And that He created pairs, the male and the female From the small seed when it is adapted
Sher Ali: And that HE creates the pairs, male and female, From a sperm drop when it is emitted;
Khalifa: He is the One who created the two kinds, male and female from a tiny drop of semen.
Palmer: and that He created pairs, male and female, from a clot when it is emitted;
Sale: and that he createth the two sexes, the male and the female, of seed when it is emitted;
Rodwell: And that He hath created the sexes, male and female, From the diffused germs of life,Transliterated: Arabic Waannahu khalaqa alzzawjayni alththakara waal-ontha Min nutfatin itha tumna
There are only two logical explanations of 'nutfatin itha tumna'; that it is the sperm emitted, or the blastocyst (i.e. zygote) implanted. If it is the latter, Muslims have no case to argue that the Qur'an correctly states that gender is determined by the sperm of the male parent. Hence, 'nutfatin itha tumna' must refer to the sperm emitted.
It is possible the Qur'anic verses 53:45-46 state that the male and female progenies, and not merely the genders, are created from the sperm. This is a possibility totally discounted by Islamists without evidence and suggests a biased interpretation of the verses in light of modern facts. For where is the mention of the ovum? Not in these verses nor anywhere else in the Qur'an.
In fact, the Qur'an itself provides the evidence of its doctrinal omission or rejection of the role of the ovum in procreation, for verse 2:223 states that wives are a tilth. This is saying they are like the earth receiving the zygote (i.e. seed) from the male.
Therefore, if read in the context of verse 2:223, ‘nutfatun amshaajin’ cannot contain the ovum because tilth does not contribute genetic material to the development of the seed (i.e. zygote), and must mean the semen mingled with some unspecified non-genetic material-contributing female secretion.
In light of these facts, backed by the Qur'anic verses, it is apparent that the Qur'an’s view of human conception and reproduction is that the male parent contributes the diploid seed (nutfatin itha tumna) and the female parent, as tilth, merely contributes the environment and nutrients for the growth and development of this diploid seed.
Hence it can be seen that the fully developed ancient Egyptian Ra-Hathor-Shu-Tefnut myth of gender determination and the contribution of the female parent in reproduction is very similar, if not identical, to that described by the Qur'an.
It is apparent that some of the ancient Egyptians believed that gender is created by the sperm from the male parent, and reproduction is via male and female union. This belief predated the Qur'an by about 2,900 years as evidenced by the pyramid text of Pharaoh Pepi I, 2332-2283 BC.
 See Also
- Reproduction - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Reproduction
- Dr. Omar Abdul Rehman - Does the Qur’an Plagiarise Ancient Greek Embryology?