When is the gender of the baby in the womb informed?

The Details of the Question

“When the nutfah (sperm) that settles in the womb is forty-two days old, Allah sends an angel to give it a form and creates its eyes, ears, flesh, skin and bones. Then, the angel says, ‘My Lord, will it be male or female?’…”
- Before that, the fetus is a group of mudghahs.
- In the hadith, it is stated that gender becomes definite on the 42nd day. Is there a scientific explanation for it?

- In another hadith, it is stated that gender becomes definite on the 120th day; is it not contradictory to the hadith below?

- Abdullah b. Mas’ud narrates:

“The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, 
“Nutfah stays in the womb for forty days in the same state. After forty days, it turns into a blood clot. After another forty days, it becomes a piece of flesh. After forty days, its bones begin to form. When Allah decides to determine its creation, he sends an angel. The angel asks, “My Lord! Will it be male or female? Will it be happy or unhappy? Will it be long or short? Will it be incomplete or complete? How long will it live? What will its livelihood be like? Will it be healthy or crippled?” All of them are written down.” One of the men who was present there said,

“If all of them are determined and written, why do we do deeds?” The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “Do your deeds! Everyone will be directed toward what he was created for.’’

- Will you pay attention to this hadith?

- Will you answer my questions separately?

a) What is meant by the nutfah’s staying in the same state in the hadith?
b) It is stated in the hadith that the bones are formed after 160 days, but they are formed in the 6th week.
c) It is stated in one of the hadiths that the angel comes on the 42nd day, in another one, on the 120th day and in the second hadith 160th. Is there no contradiction in it - God forbid?

d) It is stated in the second hadith that gender will be definite 160 days later, and in the first hadith that 42 days later; in other hadiths, it is 120 days. How should it be understood?

e) In those hadiths, sometimes Allah directly says and sometimes angels ask. The questions are different. What is the wisdom behind the difference in similar hadiths?

f) In some hadiths, the angel comes in the nutfah stage, in the piece of meat stage and in some in the bone stage in others. What is the wisdom behind it?

g) Are those hadiths wrong according to al-Muminun verse 14? It is stated in al-Muminun verse 14 that it turns into a piece of meat and in another verse partly formed and partly unformed piece of meat. Is there not a contradiction there?

- Can you answer all my questions separately because these questions are very annoying.

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The Soundness of the Narrations

We must accept that those narrations are sound (sahih) narrations in terms of chain of narrators. They are included in our soundest hadith books: Bukhari and Muslim.

Therefore, our duty is to try to understand them since the chain of narrators is sound.

The subject of “ilmu ikhtilaful-hadith”, which is among the hadith sciences, is a branch of science that tries to solve them.

The Time of the Determination of the Gender

The issue is related to the angels’ being informed about the gender. No mention is made of the creation as male and female in the sense of body and spirit at that moment.

It is already known by Allah based on His eternal knowledge whether it will be male or female or what it will be like.

Even if different times are expressed in the narrations in question, it is stated that the angels’ being informed about it and that the time when they are informed is different.

Nutfah’s staying in the same state

The narration “إن النطفة تكون في الرحم ‌أربعين ‌يوماً ‌على ‌حالها لا تَغير” that is, “nutfah stays in the same state without changing in the womb for 40 days” included in Ahmad b. Hanbal’s Musnad, is contrary to the narrations in Bukhari, Muslim and other books. The following statement is included Bukhari and Muslim: “إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما: The creation of one of you is brought together in 40 days in the womb.” It means nutfah is formed in womb.

That is, what is understood from the statement “The creation of one of you is brought together in 40 days in the womb” is this: The whole creation, from nutfah to al-alaqah, from alaqah to mudgah, is completed within forty days. That is, “the creation of one of you is gathered in his mother’s womb in forty days.” Therefore, the word nutfah does not follow this sentence in any sound or hasan narration.

Therefore, since it is contrary to the sound narration, it is not taken into consideration and the decree is given according to the sound one.

Accordingly, what is essential regarding the issue is the sound hadith meaning The creation of one of you is brought together in 40 days in the womb. It means that the fetus will be completed in forty days. Science also confirms this information.

Thus, it is understood that the information given in this sound hadith is a miracle of the Messenger of Allah and is a fact that can be understood only today.

Answer a, b, c, d:

Our Prophet (pbuh) used different expressions in the hadiths while describing the formation of the child in the womb. While some hadiths give the impression that the child comes to life when it is one hundred and twenty days old, others state that the child comes to life when it is forty days old.

Then the following question can come to mind:

How can the hadith narration, which gives the impression of three separate forty days, be explained?

In that case, the hadith narrations giving the impression of one hundred and twenty days are interpreted as within the same forty days, not as three separate forty days.


As a matter of fact, the expression “fi dhalika” is included in the narration in Muslim. It can be translated as “in it”. In other words, it means “fi dhalikal-waqt / in that same time.” It means the time of the first forty days, not another time.

It means that the sequence in the hadith made with the conjunction “then” is like listing the news, not what is informed. That is, they happen in the same forty days. It does not mean three separate forty days.

Answer e:

Those narrations state that the angel dos not come just once, but many times, and indicates different times of those comings. In other words, in scientific terms, it is not limited; it is not specific to one time; it expresses that an angel comes and may come at other times too.

The times and numbers in the hadiths do not always mean a certain time and a certain number. Sometimes they give examples and informs us about some of the issue. For example, there are many answers to the question “what is the most virtuous deed?”. In that case, it means that the most virtuous deed can change according to the person and the situation.

The fact that the angel comes to the fetus is different is an example, not a limitation.

Answer f:

In most of the narrations, it is stated that the angel, who is in charge of the womb, asks. It arises directly from the narrator’s summarizing long narrations in the narrations that Allah speaks. Every detail of the issue is not given in all narrations, only the relevant parts are reported depending on the situation.

Therefore, the holistic approach is an important methodology rule in understanding the hadiths.

Answer g:

This information points to different images of the fetus from its first state in the mother’s womb. Sound hadiths do not contradict the verses of the Quran. Both the verse and the hadith point to the different states of the fetus in the mother’s womb. In this respect, there is a summary-detail relationship, not a contradiction - God forbid.

Similar cases exist among the verses too. One state of the fetus may be indicated in one verse another state in another verse.

For example, the following is stated in the 14th verse of the chapter of al-Muminun:

“Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a lump of chewed meat...” 

With this verse, the Quran points to some of the states of man in the womb.

The first state referred to in the verse is that the droplet, that is, the nutfah, turns into the position of “hanging”, that is, alaqah.

The second state is the period when alaqah turns into “a lump of chewed meat”.

Indeed, the embryo in the mother’s womb looks like a piece of chewed meat due to its small size and due to the fact that the bones will be formed later. It is also interesting that the embryo has a shape as if it had teeth marks on it during a certain period in the mother’s womb. Therefore, the Quran’s expression “a piece of chewed meat” is a miraculous expression to the point.

The term “a piece of chewed meat” is used in verse 5 of the chapter of al-Hajj as “a piece of chewed meat that is partly formed and partly unformed”.

Indeed, at this stage, the embryo is clear enough to be seen with the naked eye; however, since its size is too indeterminate for the details to be understood, it is in full harmony with the Quran’s expression of “a piece of chewed meat partly formed and partly unformed”.

Since some parts of the human body, such as the head, body, feet, and internal organs, begin to appear and some of them are not clear yet, it is very appropriate to use the term “partly formed and partly unformed” at this stage.

Prof. Dr. Keith L. Moore states the following about the period referred to in the Quran as “a piece of chewed meat”:

“We learnt what the aforementioned verses mean in astonishment when we examined the embryo of this stage because a structure resembling string of beads appear on the embryo on around the 28th day and they identically look like tooth marks in appearance. We made a plastic model of the embryo of this stage and marked with our teeth marks by chewing it. The generated model extremely looked like the embryo of the stage of which we were examining and that explained very well why the Quran describes the human embryo as a lump of chewed meat.” [Embryology in the Quran lecture by Dr. Keith L. Moore (University of Illinois, 1990) For his own explanations with pictures, see https://youtu.be/upa4BSH7ua4 between 36:00 - 39:00 minutes. Accessed May, 12, 2022]

So, the different explanations about the fetus in the verses and hadiths point to different phases of the fetus beginning from its initial state. Thus, the Quran and hadiths draw attention to the creation of man, point out the different aspects of the blessings bestowed upon him in this creation, and want him to give thanks to the Creator, who made a perfect human being out of a drop of water.

It should not be forgotten that the one who does knows; the one who knows definitely speaks. Does Allah not know His creatures? He definitely knows and informs His Messenger. That is the summary of the issue.

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