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 of discovery.
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 external stimuli.
There is a final moment of learning for me in these passages: None of the scientists who made these discoveries were Muslims.
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 a 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.