Hamza Andreas Tzortzis
Language: English | Format: PDF | Pages: 60 | Size: 8 MB
This paper is an analysis of chapter 23 verses 12 to 14 of the Qur’an in light of modern embryology. This study will provide a linguistic breakdown of the relevant verses and correlate these linguistic items to modern science. To ensure a comprehensive understanding of this study, an overview of qur’anic exegesis will be provided to appreciate how the Qur’an is made accessible and intelligible to the reader. This study will also address various contentions, which attempt to challenge the credibility of the qur’anic discourse and its concurrence with modern embryology. Among these responses will be a refutation of both the ancient Greek plagiarisation thesis and the accusation that al-Harith bin Kalada, a 7th century physician, was the source of the Prophet’s (PBUH) medical knowledge.
In chapter 23 verses 12 to 14 the Qur’an provides eight meaningful points describing the process of the developing human embryo:
We created man from an essence of clay, then We placed him as a drop of fluid in a safe place. Then We made that drop of fluid into a clinging form, and then We made that form into a lump of flesh, and We made that lump into bones, and We clothed those bones with flesh, and later We made him into other forms. Glory be to God the best of creators. 1
WHAT IS THE QUR’AN?
Linguistically the word Qur’an means ‘reading’ and came to be referred to as ‘the text which is read’. The Qur’an also calls itself al-kitab, which lexically implies a written book. Thus the significance of writing, reading and reflecting upon the Qur’an has been emphasised from the very beginning of Islam. The qur’anic material is divided into suwar2, meaning ‘chapters’ in Arabic. According to the historian Phillip Hitti, the collected written text of the Qur’an is one of the youngest epoch-making books and the most widely read book ever written.3
The Qur’an is the supreme authority in Islam as it is the fundamental and essential source of the Islamic creed, ethics, laws, and guidance. For Muslims, the Qur’an is of Divine origin. It is the speech of the Creator and not the word of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)4. Rather, it was revealed to him, and through him to mankind, in word and meaning. Az-Zarqani, a 9th century scholar of the Qur’an, summarises the description of the book. He writes:
The Qur’an is the Arabic speech of God, which He revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) in wording and meaning, and which has been preserved in the compiled written pages of the Qur’an, and has reached us by recurrent reporting.5
THE SCIENCE OF QUR’ANIC EXEGESIS
The Qur’an, like any other legislative and spiritual book, requires exegesis. Qur’anic exegesis, known as tafsir in Arabic, is essentially the knowledge through which one increases an understanding of the Qur’an and a comprehension of its commandments and wisdom.6 Qur’anic exegesis is a branch of knowledge dealing with “the method of the delivery of the words of the Qur’an, their interpretation, their individual and composite forms and expediencies.” 7 It is this science by which the Qur’an is understood, its meanings explained and its rulings derived. Thus the Qur’an is made accessible and intelligible to the reader.
What follows are the sources of qur’anic exegesis used by exegetes to interpret the Qur’an:
1. THE QUR’AN: The first source of exegesis is the Qur’an itself. Many verses in the Qur’an compliment and clarify the meaning of other verses8. This use of intertextuality is considered significant in the study of linguistics9. The following is an example of the Qur’an explaining itself through relevant verses:
a. “The path of those you have favoured” is here unexplained but then elaborated upon in a verse elsewhere in the Qur’an. 10 [See below]
b. “Those whom God has favoured, such as the Prophets, loyal persons, martyrs and honourable men. How fine are such companions”
2. THE PROPHETIC TRADITIONS: The second source is the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).12 The Qur’an often mentions the Prophet’s (PBUH) role of expounding upon the Qur’an in word and deed. 13
3. THE STATEMENTS OF THE COMPANIONS: The third source is the explanations of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH), who learnt the Qur’an directly from him. Many of them devoted their entire lives to studying the Qur’an, its exegesis and related knowledge.14
4. THE ARABIC LANGUAGE: Another source of exegesis is the Arabic language in which the Qur’an was revealed. A verse is interpreted using the Arabic language as a tool for analysis if the other sources do not offer an interpretation.
SCIENCE IN THE QUR’AN
The Qur’an’s relationship with science has been discussed for centuries, with scholars debating whether to use science as an exegetical tool to elucidate its meanings.
The 14th Century scholar Al-Shatibi was against using science. He argues the Qur’an is a religious book which is mainly focused on the manifestation of the Divine will in the human sphere of existence. Al-Shatibi writes:
Many people have overstepped all bounds and made undue claims about the Qur’an when they assigned to it all types of knowledge of the past and the present such as the natural sciences, mathematics and logic.15
However, the 11th Century theologian and philosopher, Al-Ghazali advocates using science to elucidate the meanings of the Qur’an. Al-Ghazali views the Qur’an as providing the foundations to all types of knowledge. He states, for example, that all knowledge is implied “in the signs and indications in the Qur’an”16 and in his book The Jewels of the Qur’an he argues that the principles of various sciences “are not outside the Qur’an.” 17
Scholars also claim the Qur’an is an intrusive text engaging with the inner dimensions of man. Communicative strategies employed by the Qur’an to achieve this include the technique of asking questions and referring to sign-posts to God i.e. its allusions to the natural world. There are an estimated 750 verses concerning science and natural phenomena.18 Continue reading