By Ejaz Naqvi
July 31, 2018
When did we find out that plants have male
and female parts, and that they reproduce sexually? The Qur’an has made some
startling statements regarding the sexuality of the plant kingdom. As I started
the in-depth study of the Qur’an some 20 years ago, I came across a passage
about the plant kingdom that really caught my attention.
He Who has
made for you the earth like a carpet spread out; has enabled you to go about
therein by roads (and channels); and has sent down water from the sky. With it
have We produced diverse pairs of plants each separate from the others. 20:53
At first glance, you may not make much of
it. But it was the last part that really intrigued me. The Arabic word used for
“diverse pairs of plants” is Azwajan– the pleural of a ‘mate’ or ‘spouse’.
This is not the only place the Qur’an
referred to the gender of the plant kingdom. In the following, the same word is
used for the fruits.
And He it is Who spread the earth and made
in it firm mountains and rivers, and of all fruits He has made in it two kinds;
He makes the night cover the day; most surely there are signs in this for a
people who reflect. 13:3
And reflect I did.
The word bolded in the verse mentioned
above is Zowjain– a derivative of Zawj, meaning a mate or a spouse. In fact
Pickthal translated the above verse as follows.
And He it is Who spread out the earth and
placed therein firm hills and flowing streams, and of all fruits He placed
therein two spouses (male and female). He covereth the night with the day. Lo!
herein verily are portents for people who take thought. 13:3
We now know that there are two methods of
plant reproduction. One asexual, the other is sexual. Sexual reproduction in
the plant kingdom is carried out by the coupling of the male and female parts
of the same (or another) plant.
We did not know about the sexuality of the
plants and their sexual reproduction until the late 17th century. Several
German Botanists are credited with the discoveries related to sexual
reproduction in the plant Kingdom. The discovery of sex in plants is usually
credited to Rudolph Camerarius in 1694. Christian Sprengel (1750-1816), a
German Botanist, was the first to recognize that the function of flowers was to
attract insects, and that nature favored cross-pollination. Joseph
Koelreuter, another German Botanist from the same era (1733-1806) is considered
the pioneer of the study of plant fertilization.
The same Arabic word, or its root that are
used to describe the pairs of plants and fruits are also used to describe the
mates for humans.
And God has made for you spouses from your
kind and made for you, from your spouses sons and daughters and grandchildren,
and provided for you sustenance of the best: will they then believe in vain
things, and in the grace of God that they disbelieve? 16:72
The sexuality of the plants was not the
only subject for reflection for me. In these passages, there was another moment
The mere fact that the Qur’an referred to
the plants and fruits as having mates clearly implied that not only do the
plants have sexual reproduction, but they must be living beings! After all, the
non-living objects don’t have spouses or mates.
Even though the plants were known to be
made of cells back in the 17th century, it was an Indian scientist, Jagadish
Bose who discovered in 1901 that plants are, like animals, living being, and in
fact have feelings and are sensitive to light, heat, noise and various other
There is a final moment of learning for me
in these passages: None of the scientists who made these discoveries were
I am sure you will have your own reasons as
to why Muslims did not make these discoveries even though the Qur’an referred
to them about 1400 years ago.
For me it points to a bigger problem. The
Muslims have left the Qur’an.
Sure, they give lip service to its
sacredness. Sure, they may use it for Barakah, to bring blessings to the
household and for recitation to get the Sawab (Ajr, or reward).
As good as these intentions are, they overlook the main reason as to why the
Qur’an was revealed- as guidance for mankind- and to also reflect on our
surroundings to see the signs of God. The Qur’an repeatedly invites the readers
to look inwards and outwards- to ponder and reflect.
Somewhere along the line, we got more
interested in speed reading and stopped pondering and reflecting.