Indeed, We create man out of the essence of clay, then We place him, a living germ, in a safe enclosure. Then We create out of this living germ a clot of congealed blood, and out of the clot, We create an embryonic lump. Then We create within the embryonic lump bones, then We clothe the bones with flesh. We then bring this into being as another creation. Exalted be God, the best of creators.
(The Believers, Al-Mu’minoon, 23: 12-14)

The surah givers a detailed account of the qualities and characteristics of believers. The verses quoted above point out the indications available within man himself leading to faith. They speak of the various stages of development of a human being, starting with the very beginning of human origin, and ending with resurrection on the Day of Judgment, to establish a firm link between this life and the life to come.

The gradual formation of man, following the same sequence, confirms first the truth of the Originator, and also the deliberate planning in the course it follows. This cannot be the result of a blind coincidence. Nor can it be a random beginning at first and then a consistent line that never fails or deviates, when we could reasonably think of numerous courses it could have followed. The truth is that human beings come into existence in the way they do because their Creator wants it this way, and He does things according to His own plan and design.

Moreover, giving this full picture with the different stages shown to follow each other without fail also indicates that belief in the Creator who plans everything and following the course of action believers follow, as indicated in the first eleven verses of this surah, is the only way to achieve the perfect standard human beings can achieve in this life and in the hereafter. Thus, the two opening passages of the surah are interlinked.

“Indeed, We create man out of the essence of clay.” This statement implies that there are stages in the creation of human beings, without specifying them. The implication is much clearer in the Arabic original where the term is given in English as ‘essence’ also connotes a chain of development. Hence, it means that man goes through different stages, one leading to the other, from the very first beginning of clay to the eventual creation, man. This is a truth we get to know from the Qur’an. We do not need any confirmation for it from scientific theories concerned with the origin of man or other living things.

The Qur’an establishes this truth, presenting it as an area for contemplation on God’s work and design. Thus, we can deeply contemplate the great divide between the clay and man who came from that clay through a succession of stages. The details of this succession are not mentioned because it is unimportant to the wider aims of the Qur’an. Scientific theories try to find a definite ladder for the origins and evolution so that they can establish the chain leading from the clay to man. In their attempts, these theories may come up with some true conclusions and may make mistakes. We may not confuse the truth established in the Qur’an, which mentions the succession of stages, with the attempts made by scientists to establish the different stages of succession. These attempts are always open to error, proving today what it may disprove tomorrow in the light of advanced techniques and technologies.

This truth is sometimes expressed very briefly in the Qur’an, when it says: “The creation of man began with clay.” Here we have no reference to the stages through which man’s creation goes. The ultimate reference then is the most detailed Qur’anic text, which refers to a “succession of stages”. We should remember that the Qur’an uses a more general or shorter text, only because it is more suitable to the context in which it occurs.

How has man evolved from the essence of clay is not given in the Qur’an, because it is not part of the Qur’anic objectives. The stages of this succession may be exactly as scientific theories suggest or may be different. It may happen that man will be able to formulate an accurate idea of such succession. However, the parting point between the Qur’anic view of man and the way scientific theories look at him is that the Qur’an honors man, stating that a measure of God’s spirit has been breathed into him to make him a man with the qualities and characteristics that distinguish man from animals. In this, the Islamic view is fundamentally different from that of all materialist theories. God certainly tells the truth.

This applies to the origin of the human race: It starts from the essence of clay. As for individual human beings, they go through well-known stages: “We place him, a living germ, in a safe enclosure.” The creation formula that brings about new individuals of the human race, and their method of reproduction, follows a line set by God. A drop of fluid is discharged from the man to settle in the woman’s uterus. It is not the whole drop; rather, a single cell out of hundreds of thousands forming this drop. It settles in this ‘safe enclosure’ in the uterus which is supported by the hipbones, protecting it from the shocks and knocks that occur to the body as one moves about.

The Qur’anic text makes the sperm a stage in the succession of man’s creation, coming immediately after the existence of man. This is true, but it also deserves contemplation. A human being in his full stature, and with all his features, elements, and characteristics, is enclosed within this cell of sperm. It then develops into an embryo when it begins its new existence through a new series of stages.