The Components of the Ground and the formation of Man
The primary spiritual meaning of man’s origin from the ground does not rule out the notion, which is present in the Qur’an, of what we would today call the chemical `components’ of the human body, which are to be found in the ground [By ‘components’ or ‘elements’ (terms which are used to make the text easier to read), I am referring to matter which can be extracted from the ground and which does not decompose, i.e. the various atomic components which constitute molecules; all the elements which form part of the human body are present in lesser or greater quantities in the ground.]. In order to convey this notion nowadays acknowledged as scientifically accurate to the men alive when the Qur’an was revealed, terminology had to be used that was in keeping with the state of knowledge at the time. Man was formed from components contained in the ground. This idea emerges very clearly from numerous verses in which the formative elements are indicated by a variety of names:
-Sura 11, verse 61:
“He [God] caused you to grow from the earth.”
The idea of the earth (ard in Arabic) is reiterated in Sura 53, verse 32.
– Sura 22, verse 5 (In which God is speaking to man)
“We fashioned you from soil.”
Man’s provenance from soil (turab in Arabic) is repeated in sura 18, verse 37; sura 30, verse 20; sura 35, verse 11 and sura 40, verse 67.
-Sura 6, verse 2 :
“[God] is the One who fashioned you from clay.”
Clay (Tiyn in Arabic) is used in several verses to define the components from which man was constituted.
– Sura 32, verse 7 :
“[God] began the creation of man from clay.”
It is important to note at this point that the: Qur’an refers to the `beginning’ of a creation from clay: This obviously implies that another stage is to follow.
– Sura 37, verse 11: Although it does not seem to provide any new data for the present study, the following quotation is given for the sake of completeness. The reference in the verse is to men.
“We fashioned them from a sticky clay.”
– Sura 55, verse 14 :
“[God] fashioned man from a clay, like pottery.”
The image suggests that man was `modeled’, as indicated in the verse that is to follow. We shall also find the idea of the `molding’ of man, the subject of the next sub section.
– Sura 15, verse 26 :
“We have fashioned man from clay, from molded mud.”
The same idea is repeated in sura 15, verses 28-33.
– Sura 23, verse 12:
“We fashioned man from the quintessence of a clay.”
I have used the word `quintessence’ to translate the Arabic term sulatat, which means `one thing extracted from another thing’. As we shall see later, the word appears in another passage of the Qur’an in which it is stated that man’s descent derives from.that which is extracted from spermatic liquid; (it is known today that the active component of spermatic liquid is a unicellular organism called a `spermatozoon’).
I imagine that the `quintessence of a clay’ must refer to the various chemical components which constitute clay, extracted from water, which in terms of weight is its main element.
Water, which in the Qur’an is considered to be at the origin of all life, is mentioned as the essential element in the following verse.
– Sura 25, verse 54 :
“[God] is the One who fashioned a man from water and established relationship of lineage [by men] and kinship by women.”
As elsewhere in the Qur’an, the `man’ referred to is Adam.
Several verses allude to the creation of woman:
-Sura 4, verse 1:
?[God] is the One who fashioned you from a single person and from that [person] created his wife?
This verse is repeated in sura 7, verse 189 and sura 39, verse 6. The same subject is referred to in more or less the same terms in sura 30, verse 21 and sura 42, verse 11.
There can be no doubt that in these twelve references, much space is devoted to symbolical reflections on man’s origins, including a clear indication of what will happen to him after his death, and containing allusions to the fact that man will return to earth in order to be brought forth again on the Day of Judgment. There would also seem, however, to be a reference to the chemical composition of the human body.
The Transformations of Man Over the Ages
In contrast to the above, the commentary suggested by the verses of the Qur’an, which I shall quote below bears mainly on material notions. We are indeed in the presence here of genuine morphological transformations which take place in a harmonious and balanced fashion due to an organization, that is strictly planned, for the phenomena occur in successive phases. Thus the will of God, who rules eternally over the fate of human communities, is made manifest in all its power and splendor through these events.
The Qur’an first speaks of a `creation’; but it goes on to describe a second stage in which God gave form to man. There can be no doubt that the creation and morphological organizations of man are seen as successive events.
-Sura 7, verse 11 in which God is speaking to man
“We created you and thereupon We gave you form; thereupon, We told the angels: Bow down to Adam.”
Hence it is possible to discern three successive events, the first two of which are important to our study: God created man and thereupon gave him a form (Sawwara, in Arabic).
Elsewhere, it is stated that man’s form will be harmonious:
– Sura 15, verses 28-29 :
“When thy Lord said to the angels: I am going to fashion a man from clay, from moulded mud; when I have harmoniously fashioned him and breathed into him of My spirit, fall down, prostrating yourself unto him.”
The phrase `to fashion harmoniously’ (sawway, in Arabic) is repeated in sura 38, verse 72.
Another verse describes how man’s harmonious form is obtained through the presence of equilibrium and complexity of structure (the verb rakkaba in Arabic means `to make a thing from components):
-Sura 82, verses 7-8:
“[God] is the One. who created you, then fashioned you harmoniously and in due proportion; into whatsoever form He willed, He made you out of components.”
Man was created in whatsoever form God willed. This is an extremely important point.
-Sura 95, verse 4 in which God is speaking:
“We fashioned man according to the best organizational plan.”
The Arabic word taqwiym means `to organize something in a planned way’, implying therefore an order of progress that has been strictly defined in advance. It so happens that specialists in evolution, when describing the transformations that occur over the course of time, use that very expression: the organizational plan is surely very evident .from scientific studies of the subject.
In sura 95, from which the above verse is taken, the context is the creation of man in general with reference to the fact that once man has thus been given organized form by divine will, he sinks to a wretched condition (implying decrepitude in old age). The sura does not make any mention whatsoever of embryonic development; it simply describes the creation of human beings in general. In terms of structure, the organizational plan obviously refers to the human species as a whole.
-Sura 71, verse 14:
“[God] fashioned you in stages [or phases].”
The interpretation I have given to this verse reflects the importance of context as a means of suggesting what a particular word may refer to.