“Verily, each of you is brought together in his mother’s abdomen for forty days in the form of a drop of fluid. Then it is a clinging object for a similar [period]. Thereafter, it is a lump looking like it has been chewed for a similar [period].”
Before we begin the explanation of this hadith concerning the creation of the human being inside the womb, which you can find listed in full here, we are reminded that the author of this book of commentary, pointed out that Imam Al-Nawawi included the addition of, ‘in the form of a drop of fluid (nutfah)’ to the end of the sentence, ‘Verily, each of you is brought together in his mother’s abdomen for forty days.’
Whilst there are other texts that record the first stage of development as nutfah, this hadith is not one of them. There are at least four references to this hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari, in The Book of the Beginning of Creation; The Book of the Prophets; The Book of Divine Will (Al-Qadr); and The Book of the Oneness and Uniqueness of Allah (Tawheed) and none of them include this addition of ‘nutfah‘ to the sentence.
The author illustrates that with this word removed, the meaning of the hadith is substantially changed. The generality of the statement, “Verily each of you is brought together in his mother’s abdomen for forty days.”, could, from this wording, be understood to apply to all of the stages of foetal development that are subsequently mentioned. This would imply that these first three stages of development take place within forty days, not take forty days each as some interpretations imply. He outlines that this part of the hadith would therefore actually best be translated as:
“Surely each of you is brought together in his mother’s abdomen for forty days. It is therein a clinging object during this period. Thereafter, it is a lump looking like has been chewed in this period. The angel is then sent to him…” (This wording can be found in Bukhari)
This interpretation is consistent with other narrations on this topic, such as the following from Sahih Muslim in the section entitled Kitab al-Qadar:
“After the drop (nutfah) is in the womb for forty or forty-five nights, the angel comes to it and says: ‘O Lord, will it be fortunate or unfortunate?’ And these matters shall be written. Then he says: ‘O Lord, will it be male or female?” (Sahih Muslim)
“When the drop (nutfah) passes forty-two nights in the womb, God sends to it an angel who shapes it and creates its hearing, seeing, skin, flesh, and bones. Then he says: ‘O Lord, is it a male or a female?’ Then your Lord decrees whatever He wills.” (Sahih Muslim)
“The drop (nutfah) remains in the womb for forty nights. Then the angel appears to it.” (Sahih Muslim)
These hadith, as well as many others, all state that the angel comes to the womb bringing the ruh, or soul, to the human being, after about forty days. It must be mentioned that there is a difference of opinion, and this is not the majority opinion. The majority of scholars and commentators of hadith understand this hadith to mean that these three stages of foetal development take place over one hundred and twenty days, with each stage taking forty days. This leads them to the conclusion that the soul is breathed into the child after one hundred and twenty days.
The Qur’an does not give any timeframe to the development, neither forty days nor one hundred and twenty days. The authentic hadith do not state one hundred and twenty days anywhere, though some scholars have understood this by implication. There are however, authentic hadith which clearly give a total time frame of foetal development before the soul is delivered as around forty days, as listed above.
And Allah knows best.
The stages of foetal development will be discussed in subsequent postings InshaAllah.