Iran, Abortion - and Islamic Embryology?

Dianne N. Irving
Copyright July 20, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

Does Islamic law itself justify early abortions? Could the current change in abortion law in Iran (see news article below) be just the first step toward justifying the use of abortifacients, genetic pre-selection, human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, human genetic engineering, etc.?

According to some Islamic interpretations of the Qur'an and the Hadith, it would seem likely, because, according to them, a human BEING does not begin to exist until after the 42nd day - rather vaguely reminiscent of the West's recent flirtation with the now formally rejected term "pre-embryo", and the term used recently by Islamic Canadian human embryologists Moore and Persaud in the 5th edition of their well-known textbook, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (but since removed). [For a critical analysis of their 5th edition, see Irving, "'New age' embryology text books: 'Pre-embryo', 'pregnancy' and abortion counseling: Implications for fetal research", Linacre Quarterly May 1994, 61(2):42-62; at:

According to current Islamic writings, before the 42nd day, the "embryo" is simply in the process of evolving into a human being. This claim, too, is similar to another Darwinist "theory" debunked by scientists decades ago, but still sometimes embraced in the West, i.e., the "biogenetics theory", or "phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny". This theory is still used, e.g., in the current Canadian CIHR Report on Stem Cell Research now employed to ground a "reduced moral status" for the early human embryo and to regulate the new Canadian C-6 bill recently passed concerning "artificial human reproduction" (including cloning and stem cell research). [See Irving, "University Faculty for Life: Submission of Concern to the Canadian CIHR Re the 'Human Stem Cell Research Recommendations 2001'", at:

Of interest are the explanations of this "modern human embryology" found on many internet websites, as well as in a series of pamphlets, The Developing Human According to the Qur'an, the Hadith and Modern Embryology [Woodside, NY: IPCI-USA, 1992), Part 1, p. 2; Parts 1 - 5 based on the research carried out by the Commission for Scientific Miracles in the Qur'an and Hadith, Embryology Committee, King Abdul Aziz University, Saudi Arabia].

For example, these pamphlets quote directly from the Qur'an : "He created him from NUTFAH and immediately laid down the plan (or programme) of its future development." (80:19). The term "nutfah" is interpreted here as a "drop of liquid". The pamphlets give their gloss on this and subsequent readings from both the Qur'an and the Hadith: "They also knew from the Hadith that the creation of organs, with which they were familiar, occurred after the 42nd day. ... The human embryo is considered to BECOME HUMAN at 40-42 days." (Part 1, pp. 4-5). (emphasis added) Thus according to this Islamic human embryology, before 40-42 days there is an "embryo" present, but it is not a human being -- yet. That is, the human being is still in the process of "evolving". [For a rejection of much of the "science" used in these pamphlets, see Irving, "When does a human being [normally] begin? 'Scientific' myths and scientific facts", InternationalJournal of Sociology and Social Policy (Feb.1999), 19:3/4:22-47, at:; and at

These pamphlets claim that the findings of "modern science", explicitly human embryology, express complete agreement with the Qur'an and the Hadith -- and hence these writings must be divinely inspired. Citing the Islamic French physician Maurice Bucaille (addressing the French Academy of Science in 1976), they go on to add: "[O]ur knowledge of these disciplines is such that it is impossible to explain how a text produced at the time of the Qur'an could have contained ideas that have only been discovered in modern times." (Part 1, p. 2) [ See also note 51, "Women in Islam Versus Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition: The Myth & The Reality", By Dr. Sherif Abdel Azeem, World Assembly of Muslim Youth; and Research Papers: 1) Highlights of Human Embryology in the Koran and the Hadith, Keith L. Moore; 2) A Scientist's Interpretation of References to Embryology in the Qur'an by: Keith L. Moore, Ph.D.; 3) The Frontal Lobes and Higher Mental Functions, Keith Moore, A. Zindani, and M. Ahmad, in Misha'al ibn Abdullah, "What Did Jesus Really Say?",

Canadian human embryologist Keith Moore, a participant at these conferences, explicitly agrees: "After answering about 80 questions on various aspects of embryology all of which were derived from the Qur'an and Hadith, Professor Keith L.Moore (University of Toronto, Canada) found his answers were in full agreement with the information in the Qur'an and Hadith. He said: 'If I was asked these questions 30 years ago, I would not have been able to answer half of them for lack of scientific information.' In recognition of this fact, Professor Keith L. Moore and his colleagues have given place in his book for the comparative studies of the Qur'an and Hadith with Modern Embryology ... ". (Part 1, p. 6) The "book" mentioned is referenced as: Moore, Keith L. and Azzindani, Abdul Majeed A.: The Developing Human. Clinically Oriented Embryology with ISLAMIC ADDITIONS. [emphasis in original], 3rd Ed., Dar Al-Qiblah and W.B. Saunders. [This textbook is still available on-line at: Acknowledgments for the book recognize a number of "distinguished scholars" who supported the book with time or money. Number 6 on the list is Sheik Osamah bin Ladin.]

Indeed, Moore wants to change the traditional Carnegie States of Early Human Embryological Development, and attempts to do so in his texts and in these pamphlets: "[T]he study of the Qur'an has revealed another basis for the classification of the stages of the developing embryo which is based on easily understood actions and changes in shape. It utilizes terms which were sent from God to Muhammad the Prophet by the Angel Gabriel and recorded in the Quar'an." (Part 2, p. 2) (emphasis added) The pamphlet then goes on to explain the gradual "evolution" of the "embryo" into a human being while inside the uterus. [See also, Keith L. Moore, "A Scientist's Interpretations of References to Embryology in the Qur'an", in Islam's Contribution to Science, at: For some trenchant rebuttals of this specific "modern embryology", see: Dr. Yusuf Needham and Dr. Butrus Needbeer, "Qur'anic Embryology", at:; also, "The Qur'an and Modern Science: Extracts from the video 'The Truth',; also, at

One does have to question what is happening to the venerable and trustworthy field of human embryology. The silence is deafening. Time for another Galileo?

Iran's Parliament Approves Abortion Bill


.c The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's conservative-dominated parliament approved a draft bill Tuesday that would allow abortion in the first four months of pregnancy if the woman's life is in danger or the fetus is malformed.

Before the vote, top lawmakers secured the support of Islamic religious leaders in Qom, an important step aimed at deflating some of the controversy the measure could stir in this highly religious society.

"Under the bill, abortion is allowed for two purposes: one to protect the life of mother and the other if the fetus is malformed," lawmaker Ali Baghbanian said in parliament. The session was broadcast live on Tehran radio.

The bill does not allow abortions for unwanted pregnancies.

"Islamic Sharia (law) has not allowed other cases of abortion, such as for social and economic reasons," Baghbanian said.

He said illegal abortions are performed in Iran, endangering the lives of women, but there were no official statistics available.

A further vote is required on the draft bill, but that is usually a formality and cannot reverse the general approval. The bill also requires approval by the Guardian Council, which vets all legislation.

Under the legislation, a committee including forensic doctors and an obstetrician must sign off on an abortion after medical tests.

The bill is one of few laws the parliament has approved after hard-liners won disputed February legislative elections.

A few clerics among the lawmakers oppose the bill.

"The bill tells the world that Iran's parliament has permitted abortion. That's why I oppose it," Mohammad Taqi Mohassel said.

Medical student Hengameh Namdari said the bill was nothing but a political gesture.

"The big issue over abortion is to legalize abortion in cases where couples come up with unwanted pregnancies ... the bill is merely a nice gesture of nothing," Namdari said.

But political analyst Davoud Hermidas Bavand said the bill was a positive step.

"Conservatives try to say through this bill that they won't oppose some liberal practices provided they are in power and make the decision, not their opponents. It's also a nice gesture toward the outside world," he said.

07/20/04 13:08 EDT

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.

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