Qur'an and Semen Production (Qur'an 86:7)

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Qur'an 86:7 says that sperm originates from the backbones and the ribs, a theory similiar to another erroneous theory proposed by Hippocrates in 5th century BC (1000 years before Islam). Hippocrates taught that semen comes from all the fluid in the body, diffusing from the brain into the spinal marrow, before passing through the kidneys and via the testicles into the penis.[1]

This article analyzes the Qur'anic idea of semen production from between the sulb and the tara’ib.

Introduction[edit]

Many individuals have promulgated the Qur'anic idea of semen production from between the sulb and the tara’ib. This has led to several distinct classes of explanations provided by them. There are already articles available that refute these assertions.[2] However, this article aims to summarize the case against the various claims, so that a comprehensive review can be made of the issue.

Surah 86:7[edit]

Arabic: يخرج من بين الصلب والترائب

Transliteration: Yakhruju min bayni alssulbi waalttara-ibi

Literal: It emerges/appears from between the spine and the rib bones.[3]

Yusuf Ali: proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs.

Pickthal: that issued from between the loins and ribs.

Arberry: issuing between the loins and the breast-bones.

Shakir: coming from between the back and the ribs.

Sarwar: which comes out of the loins and ribs.

Khalifa: from between the spine and the viscera.

Hilali/Khan: proceeding from between the back-bone and the ribs.

Malik: that is produced from between the loins and the ribs.

QXP: that issued from between tough rocks and mingled dust.

Maulana Ali: coming from between the back and the ribs.

Free Minds: it comes out from between the spine and the testicles.

Apologetic Claims[edit]

The most prominent explanations are as follows:

  1. Drs. Maurice Bucaille and A.K. Giraud: Sulb and tara’ib refer to the sexual areas of the man and woman.
  2. Ahmed A. Abd-Allah: Accepts and extends Bucaille’s assumption, and claims that all the acknowledged translations and tafsirs are in error, as sulb and tara’ib does not refer to a man’s backbone and ribs, but to the man’s “hardening” (i.e. penis) and a woman’s erogenous zones (not including the vagina).
  3. Dr. Zakir Naik: Sulb and tara’ib refers to the backbone and ribs of both sexes, however the verses refer only to the gonads in the embryonic stage, and not to adults in the act of sexual reproduction.
  4. Dr. Jamal Badawi: The verses refer not to semen production but to the blood of the aorta as the ‘gushing fluid poured forth’.
  5. Tafsir Ibn Kathir: Sulb refers to the man’s backbone, and tara’ib refers to the woman’s chest.
    1. Tafsir al-Jalalayn - issuing from between the loins, of the man, and the breast-bones, of the woman.
    2. Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs- (That issued from between the loins) of a man (and ribs) the ribs of a woman.
  6. Muhammad Asad: Sulb refers to the man’s loins and tara’ib refers to the woman’s pelvic arch.
  7. Moiz Amjad makes three claims; a) Sulb and tara’ib refers to the blood supply of the testes emanating from between the man’s back and ribs, b) The embryonic gonads originate in the area as per Dr Zakir Naik, and c) The sulb and tara’ib region is a euphemism for the male sexual organ.
  8. Yusuf Ali: Backbone is a symbol of man's strength. Man's seed is a metaphor which flows between the backbone and the ribs.

Analysis[edit]

Maurice Bucaille[edit]

"Two verses in the Qur'an deal with sexual relations themselves...When translations and explanatory commentaries are consulted however, one is struck by the divergences between them. I have pondered for a long time on the translation of such verses (In plain English that means there is "an improbability or a contradiction, prudishly called a `difficulty'" ), and am indebted to Doctor A. K. Giraud, Former Professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Beirut, for the following:

`(Man was fashioned from a liquid poured out. It issued (as a result) of the conjunction of the sexual area of the man and the sexual area of the woman.'

"The sexual area of the man is indicated in the text of the Qur'an by the word sulb (singular). The sexual areas of the woman are designated in the Qur'an by the word tara'ib (plural).

"This is the translation which appears to be most satisfactory."

While there is evidence that sulb can mean “hardening” and thus, the penis, there is no evidence that tara’ib can mean the vagina. Bucaille and Giraud appear to have assumed that tara’ib means the ’sexual areas of the woman’, without providing supporting evidence. Even if tara'ib means what Bucaille and Giraud want it to mean, the term, 'sexual areas of the woman' is too vague to be meaningful. To assume that it means the vagina is merely an assumption, and may constitute the logical fallacy of equivocation.

Ahmed A. Abd-Allah[edit]

Abd-Allah extends Bucaille’s proposition, providing dictionaries and tafsirs to support his case that sulb means ‘hardening’ and tara’ib means the sexual areas of the woman.

Here is Abd-Allah's definition of sulb:

Note that 'sulb' is *singular*. In the dictionary by Wehr you cite below, you will see that its meaning of backbone is *only* when we take the *plural* word of sulb (aslaab). In its singular form, it means hardening.

Almost all the commonly available translations of the Qur'an refer to sulb as the backbone, though some refer to loins. Even Ibn Kathir accepts backbone. Is Wehr a more authoritative and knowledgeable authority on the Arabic language than Ibn Kathir? This is difficult to believe.

Regardless, Abd-Allah’s proposition is undercut by his own definitions of tara’ib. He failed to show that his tafsirs and dictionaries explain tara’ib to mean vagina. Instead, tara’ib is defined as breasts, eyes, legs and chest. While erogenous zones are important in foreplay, the sexual act really must be consummated through the vagina.

Abd-Allah’s reference to Ibn Kathir’s tafsir is also disingenuous, as he only mentions the one half of the description which supports his case (i.e. tara’ib refers to the woman), while leaving out the other half that contradicts it (i.e. tara’ib is the woman’s ribs).

Zakir Naik[edit]

Man Created From A Drop Emitted From Between The Back Bone And The Ribs

“Now let man but think From what he is created! He is created from A drop emitted – Proceeding from between The back bone and the ribs.” [Al-Qur’aan 86:5-7]

In embryonic stages, the reproductive organs of the male and female, i.e. the testicles and the ovaries, begin their development near the kidney between the spinal column and the eleventh and twelfth ribs. Later they descend; the female gonads (ovaries) stop in the pelvis while the male gonads (testicles) continue their descent before birth to reach the scrotum through the inguinal canal. Even in the adult after the descent of the reproductive organ, these organs receive their nerve supply and blood supply from the Abdominal Aorta, which is in the area between the backbone (spinal column) and the ribs. Even the lymphatic drainage and the venous return goes to the same area.

Naik’s embryology is askew. The original position of the cells destined to develop into spermatogonia (sperm producing cells) is not ventro-medial to the kidneys (where they undoubtedly develop) but in the wall of the yolk sac:

Testes and ovaries are derived from the mesodermal epithelium (mesothelium) lining the posterior abdominal wall, the underlying mesenchyme and the primordial germ cells.

The primordial germ cells form in the wall of the yolk sac during week 4. They later migrate into the developing gonads at week 6 and differentiate into the definitive germ cells (oogonia / spermatogonia).[4]

Even if Naik’s assertion that the verse refers to the embryonic testes is accepted, it is unclear whether the gonads are located where he claims, i.e. between the spinal column and the eleventh and twelfth ribs.

This cross-sectional diagram of the human embryo shows the gonads at or around the level of the placenta:

Gondev154.gif

Thus, it is not strictly true that the embryonic testes is located specifically between the spinal column and the eleventh and twelfth ribs as the gonadal or genital ridge (precursor of the gonads) is commonly believed to lie medial to the lower part of the mesonephros, while the adult kidney actually develops from the metanephros.

It is incorrect to assume the position of the embryonic gonads from the position of the adult kidneys, as the embryonic positions of gonads and kidneys are not the same as their adult positions. Gonads descend, while kidneys enlarge and ascend. It should also be noted that the developing gonads are ventro-medial to the mesonephros (i.e. the embryonic kidney) and not the metanephros (which would develop into the adult kidney). Hence it would seem that Zakir Naik does not know the embryology of the urogenital system and cannot differentiate between the mesonephros and the metanephros.

Even if Naik’s implied association between embryonic and adult anatomical positions were to be accepted, he is also wrong because in the condition of cryptorchidism where the testes is undescended, the highest position of the undescended testes is below the kidney.[5]

Note that the inferior pole of the kidney lies around L3 (the third lumbar vertebra), thus the embryonic testes must be below L3. The twelth rib does not extend below L2. Since the testes are below the kidneys, there is no possibility that the testes were ever between the ribs and the backbone either in the embryonic or the adult (as with cryptorchidism) stage.

It also seems disingenuous to interpret a ‘drop emitted, proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs’ to mean the embryonic development of the testes, as the ‘drop emitted’ suggests a fully developed and functional testes, rather than an embryonic structure. Embryonic testes do not emit, ejaculate, gush forth, pour forth, spurt or ejaculate any substance; only the peri- and post-pubertal testes do.

Naik’s explanation of the nerve, blood and lymphatic circular from the abdominal aorta is irrelevant and constitutes the logical fallacy of the red herring. This is because verse 85:6 speak about ‘a drop emitted’, commonly taken to mean semen and semen only, as this drop is directly responsible for human reproduction, something which cannot be claimed for nerve signals, blood or lymph. Further, circulation and nerve supply do not correlate with embryonic origin. For example, the blood supply, lymphatics and nerve supply of the lower limbs originate in the abdomen and pelvis. This does not mean the lower limbs embryonically originated in the abdomen and pelvis.

Jamal Badawi[edit]

Badawi must assume that "gushing fluid poured forth" refers to the aorta which according to a book cited by him, Clinical Anatomy, supplies the testes and ovaries with the necessary nutrients and this is what the Quran refers to.[6]

Badawi’s proposition is proven to be in error with the same explanation given for Naik’s blood circulation proposition.

Ibn Kathir[edit]

Yakhruju min bayni as-sulbi w'at-tara'ib

Proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs

This concludes the description started in ayah 5. The following is an excerpt of commentary on this passage, from Tafsir Ibn Kathir:

'Referring to the creation of man from a drop of fluid gushing forth from between the backbone and the ribs, Allah emphasizes the inherent weakness of man... Allah says that man has been created from a mix of seminal fluid of man which gushes forth from the backbone and the yellowish fluid of woman that flows from her ribs.'[7]

Modern medical science has shown that semen does not emanate from the male’s backbone, nor do the female’s sexual secretions emanate from the ribs.

Muhammad Asad[edit]

(5) LET MAN, then, observe out of what he has been created:

(6) he has been created out of a seminal fluid
(7) issuing from between the loins [of man] and the pelvic arch [of woman].

* The plural noun tara'ib, rendered by me as "pelvic arch", has also the meaning of "ribs" or "arch of bones"; according to most of the authorities who have specialized in the etymology of rare Quranic expressions this term relates specifically to female anatomy (Taj al-'Arus).

Even if Asad’s definition of sulb as the male loins is accepted, it is a stretch to accept that sexual reproduction is the consequence of a union between the male loins and the female pelvic arch.

The tafsir does not claim tara’ib means the pelvis, but the pelvic arch which is a specific part of the pelvis. This suggests that a claim of euphemism cannot apply due to the specificity of the description.

Moiz Amjad[edit]

Moiz Amjad makes three claims:

1. Sulb and tara’ib refer to the blood supply of the testes emanating from between the man’s back and ribs.

This proposition is proven to be in error with the same explanation given to Naik.

2. The embryonic gonads originate in the area (as per Zakir Naik).

This proposition is proven to be in error with the same explanation given to Naik.

3. The sulb and tara’ib region is an euphemism for the male sexual organ.

Amjad attempts to show this by drawing lines on pictures of a human skeleton. However, any line can enclose any human organ if that line is drawn on the surface of the body.

Similarly, arguments claiming that the sulb and tara’ib is a euphemism for both the male and female sexual organs make little sense. There are better euphemisms for sexual organs than two other unrelated human organs, since sperm never flows between seperate organs; wherever it is, it always flows inside a single organ.


Yusuf Ali[edit]

A man's seed is the quintessence of his body. It is therefore said metaphorically to proceed from his loins, i.e., from his back between the hipbones and his ribs. His backbone is the source and symbol of his strength and personality. In his spinal cord and in the brain is the directive energy of the central nervous system, and this directs all action, organic and psychic. The spinal cord is continuous with the Medulla Oblongata in the brain.[8]
  • Firstly, Yusuf Ali does not explain what he means by seed: Sperm, semen, ovum or zygote. This should have been clarified because the verse is generally taken to be referring to a male fluid but a human is not created without the female ovum. If "seed" refers to one sex, it is biased and incorrect; but if it refers to both sexes, the interpretation of backbone and ribs must be valid for both.
  • If the backbone is so crucial for man to exist, it is hard to comprehend why the similarly crucial seed (or drop) would flow near the backbone instead of both being the same thing metaphorically. A man's backbone can often be symbolic but in no way is it related to his offspring.
  • There is no reason for even mentioning medulla oblongata here.

Miscellaneous Claims[edit]

The functioning of two spinal cord centers located between vertebrae and ribs connecting spinal cord and sex organs, and of the nerves controlling valves around urethra, causes ejaculation.

This claim is erroneous since it twists the meaning of the verse to say that the force for ejaculation comes from between the backbone and the ribs. The actual verse mentions a "liquid flowing" and not its cause.

A line drawn from the tip of the coccyx to the upper portion of either seminal vesicle and extended forward touches the ribcage. The seminal vesicles from which the semen spurts out, lie between the ribs and the coccyx (lower back, loin, backbone).

The ribs are above the seminal vesicles which are above the tip of the coccyx when a standing person's anatomy is viewed. Since only the top of the seminal vesicles falls between the bottom of the coccyx and the bottom of the rib-cage on the above mentioned line, the vesicle is not really between the loins and ribs.[9] This argument also ignores the prostate glands (source of 25-30% of semen), testes (2-5%) and bulbourethral glands (up to 1%).

The word tara’ib refers to the woman’s uterus, since the rib cage surrounds it during pregnancy.

Though the ribcage is roughly cylindrical, the uterus is never inside it. Further, the embryo is already "created" much before pregnancy since the verse refers to fertilisation. The liquid being discussed here never flows anywhere close to a woman's ribs.

The verse refers to humans emerging from between the backbone and ribs, so it is about a baby and not sperm.

This is partly similar to the claim of tara'ib meaning uterus; a baby has nothing to do with its mother's ribs. If one were to describe the emergence of a baby by referring to external organs, one would have better said "between backbone and abdomen", not ribs. In all major translations, verse 86:7 (Coming from between the backbone and the ribs) is an incomplete sentence which continues from 86:6 ("He is created from a gushing fluid"), hence it is only a fluid that is said to emerge.

The germ cells which later become sperms are formed near the backbone.

This is not true. The entire process of spermatogenesis from a spermatogonium to a sperm occurs in various regions of the testicles.[10]

Conclusion[edit]

The various attempts to show that the Qur'an correctly describes semen production are not supported by modern scientific knowledge.

These propositions are frequently conflicting, for instance, Ibn Kathir refers to tara’ib as a female organ, while other tafsirs claim it belongs to the man.[11] Another conflict is the definition of sulb to mean either the backbone or the ‘hardening’ or the loins.

A point often missed, though alluded to by Dr. Campbell, is the phrase “min bain” which literally means “from between”. If this interpretation is accepted, which seems to be the case from a reading of the commonly accepted translations, then one must also note that semen emanates from the penis, and not from between the penis and the vagina. To be strictly correct, semen emanates from the penis into the vagina. This point seems to rule out tara’ib as being anything to do with the female sexual partner.

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See Also[edit]

  • Reproduction - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Reproduction
  • Mistranslated Verses - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Mistranslated Verses

External Links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Hippocratic Writings , op. Cit., 317-8
  2. For example, those of Sam Shamoun's found here and here.
  3. 86. At-Tariq - The Morning Star (سورة الطارق) - Revealed in Makkah (English: Literal) - IslamicNature, accessed November 15, 2011
  4. Taihung Duong, Ph.D., "Urogenital system embryology", Indiana University School of Medicine, accessed February 9, 2014 (archived), http://web.indstate.edu/thcme/duong/EMBRYOL.html. 
  5. genetics basics
  6. Sam Shamoun, "A Christian Response to Dr. Jamal Badawi's "Seven Wonders of The Quran"", Answering-Islam, accessed February 9, 2014 (archived), http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/wonders.htm. 
  7. "A Quranic Journal: Surah at-Tariq ayah 7", Al-Muhajabah, November 13, 2002 (archived from the original), http://archive.is/UJp0t. 
  8. Yusuf Ali, Abdullah. The Meaning of the Glorious Quran. p. 446. 
  9. For a visual reference, see this medical diagram. Taken from: "Reproductive Health Module (SECTION I: Reproductive Anatomy and Physiology)", Columbia University: Mailman School of Public Health, accessed March 22, 2014 (archived), http://www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/pubhealth/modules/reproductiveHealth/anatomy.html. 
  10. Spermatogenesis
  11. "Sura Tariq (The Night) no.86 (verses 1-10)", Montazar.net, September 18, 2003 (archived), https://web.archive.org/web/20030918233810/http://www.montazar.net/eng/menu/1/quran/tafseer/tafseer-of-holy-quran/light/html/086/86_1-10.htm.