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Bukhari 3208‏ :

‘Allah's Messenger (ﷺ), the true and truly inspired said, "(The matter of the Creation of) a human being is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period. Then Allah sends an angel who is ordered to write four things. He is ordered to write down his (i.e. the new creature's) deeds, his livelihood, his (date of) death, and whether he will be blessed or wretched (in religion). Then the soul is breathed into him.’

Now, from what I’ve read, most jurists say that the fetus becomes fully human at 120 days (I think Malikis are the only ones who believe it’s 40). They site the Hadith mentioned above but doesn’t the majority interpretation contradict the Quran and science?

The Hadith states that Man is ‘gathered’ or ‘yujma’a’ in the womb of his mother for 40 days, he then becomes an ‘alaqah’ (for a disputed period, the Hadith says ‘mithla thalika’), he then finally becomes a ‘mudhgah’.

The issue with the majority opinion which interprets the ‘gathering’ stage as being a separate one amongst the other two with each stage lasting for 40 days is that scientifically, such a period doesn’t exist. For example, one cannot be male and female discharge (which is what the ‘gathering’ refers to in the majority opinion) for 40 days. By such a period, the child is already an embryo.

The same thing goes for the ‘alaqah’ stage, you cannot possibly be an ‘alaqah’ at 80 days because the child is already an advanced and developing fetus with bones and a face.

And this is all especially true with the ‘mudgha’ stage which actually refers to the stage where the child is an embryo, but misinterpretation makes it into a 120 day baby.

It also contradicts the Quran in 23:14:

‘ Then We developed the drop into a clinging clot ˹of blood˺, then developed the clot into a lump ˹of flesh˺, then developed the lump into bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, then We brought it into being as a new creation.1 So Blessed is Allah, the Best of Creators.’

From the Quran, the ‘mudgha’ stage is when the child is but a lump of flesh with only a spine (resembling something that is chewed) and it precedes the stage when the baby develops into a fetus with bones. Obviously, the popular interpretation of the Hadith contradicts the Quran by claiming the child is merely an embryo at 120 days despite the fact the Quran says the embryonic or ‘mudgha’ stage precedes the fetal stage.

So, if that interpretation contradicts facts, then why is it still a majority opinion?

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  • I don't know where do you got the information that Malikis or anybody says that the fetus becomes fully human at 120 or 40 days, the scholars only agree that the soul is breathed into him after 120 days. However there are differences on rulings such as inheritance etc. and whether a slave-woman could be regarded mother of child for miscarriage in prior stages. The point here is that the qur'an counts the 'idah of a woman after the death of her husband as of 4 months and 10 days > 120 days. Further there's no difference between mudgha in qur'an nor in the sunnah in meaning or interpretation.
    – Medi1Saif
    Apr 25 at 11:14
  • However imam Ahmad narrated a version of the hadith which may lead to the understanding that it takes 160 days till the flesh covers the bones instead of 120 days, which ibn Rajab claims is certainly wrong in his Jami' al-'Uloom wal-Hikam.
    – Medi1Saif
    Apr 25 at 11:17

2 Answers 2

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Simply because the ambiguous cannot change the definitive.

The interpretation of these Quranic verses and the hadith in what exactly they mean by each stage is subject to much interpretation. It is too vague to provide us with too meaningful an idea.

In addition to that, we also have the question of whether when the hadith uses those terms (mudghah, alaqah), it is using them in the exact same sense as the verse in question. Obviously, each of these terms are also vague and do not provide us with too specific of an idea.

This vagueness is expected. The purpose of the Quran wasn't to tell us how babies formed. Trying to seek that information from it is like trying to find out how many people were in the cave in Surah Kahf.

On the other hand, what seems to be clear and definitive is that the Prophet says "something happens for 40 days, something else happens for a similar amount, and something else happens for a similar amount before the soul is breathed in."

So, this seems to add up to 120 days, and that isn't affected by the thousands of ways you could interpret the other parts of the hadith according to modern knowledge.

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  • Well, the terms used can’t be ambiguous. ‘Mudhgah’ means something which is chewed; a fetus at 120 days sure isn’t a chewed piece of meat (note that the word mudhgah can’t have a number of meanings, it literally means a chewed substance). If the interpretation of a Hadith contradicts a scientific fact, then how could it still be a popular opinion?
    – APQ106
    Apr 23 at 21:58
  • @APQ106 First of all, your understanding of the word mudghah is wrong and you are overly confident that it is the only one possible. Don't you know the heart can be called mudghah? Is that a chewed piece of meat according to you?? The meaning is much vaguer and broader than you think. It just means a relatively small piece of flesh.
    – The Z
    Apr 24 at 3:16
  • I suspect it is because you are taking scientific interpretations too seriously that try to claim there is some miracle related to chewed shape or something
    – The Z
    Apr 24 at 3:17
  • Thanks for the reply. The claim that the vocabulary used is ’vague’ is far from satisfying. The mere fact that it’s the same two words from the Quran being used (that is, ‘alaqah’ and ‘mudhga’), is enough for a conclusion to be made that the context was the same. If this isn’t the case in your view, and you insist that there is some obscurity, then any attempt to try to find another explanation requires a great deal of mental gymnastics.
    – APQ106
    Apr 24 at 19:00
  • It’s a deliberate ignorance of the truth if we attempt to escape the question by claiming the vocabulary is vague. Yes, a ‘mudgha’ in this context definitely means a piece of meat, the actual meaning being a chewed one. Now, a fetus isn’t just a piece of meat is what I intended to say. The Quran backs this up by saying that the mudgha (embryonic) stage precedes the fetal one. I’m only looking at this logically, 13 and 1/3 days is the only possible answer relating to the length of each stage.
    – APQ106
    Apr 24 at 19:11
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The idea of 40 days for the nutfah stage (which probably was extrapolated to those other two stages) seems to come from the talmud. See the 40 days sections in this short article https://quranspotlight.wordpress.com/articles/quran-hadith-talmud-galen/

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