“We then placed him as a sperm-drop in a place of settlement, firmly fixed. Then we made the drop into an alaqah. Then we changed the alaqah into a lump. Then we made out of that lump into bones. And then we clothed the bones with flesh. Then We caused him to grow and come into being and attain the definitive form. So blessed is Allah, the best of creators.” [Chapter 23, verses 13-14]
The Qur’an uses the Arabic word “alaqah” to describe an early stage of human embryonic development. The collection of verses above describe the process of the development of a human being in the correct chronological order (click on picture to enlarge):
Arabic words are generally based on a “root” which uses three consonants to define the underlying meaning of the word. Various vowels, prefixes and suffixes are used with the root letters to create the desired inflection of meaning.
The root word from which the word “alaqah” is derived is the word “Aa-la-qa.” It has the general meaning of “to cling” or “to suspend.” By employing various grammatical manipulations on this root you can come up with many derivations, each of which is closely associated with the concept of “clinging or suspending.”
The specific derivation “alaqah”, which is the word used in the Qur’an, has a dual meaning in Arabic. Depending on the context it can either mean “a clump of blood” or “leech.” This can be seen for example in the Arabic-English Dictionary “A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic” by J. Milton Cowan. On page 634, this word is translated into English as “medicinal leech; leech, blood, blood clot.”
In summary, we can list three meanings for the word “alaqah”, one of which is the general root meaning and the others which are the more specific meanings of the derivation “alaqah”:
- Blood clot.
Critics may argue that Muslims just cherry pick the meaning that best lends itself to embryology. What we will demonstrate is that no matter which of the three meanings are used (“Blood clot”, “Suspended” or “Leech”) they are all in perfect harmony with modern scientific knowledge of embryology. So, let’s now see what significance each of these different meanings share with the human embryo…
CAN THE EMBRYO BE DESCRIBED AS A “BLOOD CLOT”
By the end of the third week of development, the heart of the embryo connects with its blood vessels and forms the cardiovascular system. It is during this period when the heart begins to beat and the blood starts to circulate, before this time the blood is fluid but does not move around the embryo. This resembles the physical description of a blood clot:
Professor Keith Moore, one of the world’s eminent scientists in the fields of anatomy and embryology, states:
“The heart and great vessels form from mesenchymal cells in the heart primordium-cardiogenic area. Paired, endothelium-lined channels-endocardial heart tubes-develop during the third week and fuse to form a primordial heart tube. The tubular heart joins with blood vessels in the embryo, connecting stalk, chorion, and umbilical vesicle [yolk sac] to form a primordial cardiovascular system. By the end of the third week, the blood is circulating, and the heart begins to beat on day 21 or 22.” 
CAN THE EMBRYO BE DESCRIBED AS “SUSPENDED”
Thanks to advances in medical science we know today that the umbilical cord itself is formed from the connecting stalk:
According to embryologists the connecting stalk is formed as soon as the embryo comes into existence and acts as a forerunner to the umbilical cord:
“connected to the cytotrophoblast by a connecting stalk of extra-embryonic mesoderm (primitive connective tissue). The stalk is the forerunner of the umbilical cord.” 
Amazingly, embryologists John Allan and Beverley Kramer use the word “suspend” to describe the role of the connecting stalk:
“Caviation of the extra-embryonic mesoderm does not occur at the connecting stalk which remains intact to suspend the developing embryo in the extra-embryonic coelom.” 
CAN THE EMBRYO BE DESCRIBED AS A “LEECH”
Compare the structure of a human embryo at 25 days to that of a leech:
This is an x-ray taken at the same stage:
Now let’s compare the internal anatomical structures:
The following image is impossible to be seen with the naked human eye, it can only be seen with the aid of a microscope. It shows the similarity of the head of the leech with that of the human embryo:
Professor Dale Layman describes the embryo as worm-like in appearance:
“Another membrane becomes the yolk sac, which provides nourishment for the early embryo. By 24 days, a connecting stalk appears in the middle of the now worm-like body.” 
Professor Keith Moore states:
“The human embryo is truly leech like.”
In summary, each of the three possible meanings of the Arabic word “alaqah” perfectly matches the developing human embryo and is in harmony with modern scientific knowledge of embryology.
WHAT TO CONCLUDE ABOUT THE QUR’AN
These are the only reasonable possibilities that can explain the presence of this amazing scientific knowledge in the Qur’an:
- Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a medical genius and discovered these facts himself.
- Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) plagiarised the information from someone else.
- The knowledge comes from God.
The first option is not possible because Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) could neither read nor write and in the 7th century when the Qur’an was revealed the equipment needed to discover these facts of embryology, such as microscopes, obviously did not yet exist. On top of this, Arab society had many superstitious and groundless beliefs. Lacking the technology to examine the universe and nature, these early Arabs believed in legends inherited from past generations. History has recorded a large number of myths and superstitions pertaining to the Arabs and the Iraqi Islamic scholar Sayyid Mahmud Alusi has collected many of them. For example, the Arabs took their cows and the oxen to the bank of a stream for grazing. At times it so happened that the oxen drank water but the cows did not. Thereupon they thought that this was due to the evil spirits which had accommodated themselves between the horns of the oxen and were preventing the cows from drinking. In order therefore to drive away the bad spirits they hit the faces of the oxen. 
The second option is also not possible because the best source of knowledge on embryology during Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) time, the writings of Greek philosopher Aristotle and physician Galen, made some major mistakes when discussing embryology as will be demonstrated:
Firstly, Aristotle believed that only the male produces fluid (the genetic material) responsible for the creation of the embryo. In his book “On The Generation of Animals” he supposes the male semen to be the active form and the female ovum as providing only the passive element for fertilization . This is an idea contradictory to modern embryology and even Prophetic tradition, as Muhammad (pbuh) explained in a hadith (narration of his as recorded by his close companions) that the materials of fertilisation are a combination of fluids “from a male and from a female” .
In fact, Aristotle was of the opinion that semen mixed with women’s menstrual blood, coagulating to form the embryo. Aristotelian accounts of human development are evidently incompatible with both the Qur’an and modern embryology.
Secondly, Aristotelian views on human development include that male embryos are generated on the left side of the womb, and female embryos on the right side of the womb . This is an incorrect concept that the Qur’an does not mention.
Thirdly, Aristotle held the belief that the upper body is formed before the lower body . Again, this incorrect idea does not exist in the Qur’an.
Now with regards to Galen, he also asserted that semen from both the male and female mix with menstrual blood. In his book “On Semen”, he concludes that the formation of the fetus arises from the two semens mixing with the subsequent involvement of the menstrual blood . It’s also worth noting that Galen adopted the view that the semen is produced from blood . This incorrect idea does not exist in the Qur’an.
It’s worth pointing out that the belief that an embryo developed from a coagulum (clot) of blood and seed was a common misconception that stayed with non-Muslims until the 1600s, nearly a thousand years after the Qur’an corrected the misconception.
In summary, how could the Prophet (pbuh) copy only the correct information from Aristotle and Galen and, at the same time, reject the incorrect information? Also, how could he include other aspects of the developing human embryo, which are not mentioned in Aristotelian or Galenic literature, but yet correspond with modern embryology? The only rational deduction to these observations is to assert that the Qur’an did not borrow or copy from either of them.
Through deductive reasoning then, we have ruled out options 1 and 2. I will leave it to the eminent Professor of embryology, Keith Moore, who was not a Muslim at the time of uttering this statement to make the only logical conclusion:
“The descriptions of the human embryo in the Quran cannot be based on scientific knowledge in the 7th century. The only reasonable conclusion is that these descriptions were revealed to Muhammad from God”
1 – Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 7th Edition. Saunders. 2008, page 48
2 – Barry Mitchell and Ram Sharma. Embryology: An Illustrated Colour Text. 2nd Edition. Churchill Livingstone. 2009, page 2.
3 – The Fundamentals of Human Embryology. 2nd Edition. Wits University Press. 2010, page 27.
4 – Anatomy Demystified.2004, page 366.
5 – Biharul Anwar vol. II pp 286 – 369.
6 – Aristotle. Generation of Animals. English trans. A. L. Peck, Heinemann. 1942 edition, page 111, 729a.
7 – Ahmad, vol 1 page 465.
8 – Aristotle. Generation of Animals. Translated by A. L. Peck. Heinemann. 1942 edition.
9 – Aristotle. Generation of Animals. Translated by A. L. Peck. Heinemann. 1942 edition.
10 – Corpus Medicorum Graecorum: Galeni de Semine (Galen: On Semen) (Greek text with English trans. Phillip de Lacy, Akademic Verlag, 1992), pages 50, 87 – 89.
11 – Corpus Medicorum Graecorum: Galeni de Semine (Galen: On Semen) (Greek text with English trans. Phillip de Lacy, Akademic Verlag, 1992), pages 107 – 109.