When Does the Soul Enter the Fetus?
What grounds do we have to say that life starts at 120 days? The verse of the Qur’an (Surah Mu’minun, 14) seemingly says that life is breathed into the body after the bones are clothed with flesh, but it does not specify how long after. What is stopping us from assuming it’s more than 120 days?
According to the jurists (fuqaha), the soul (ruh) enters the foetus at around 120 days (4 months) from conception. They have based this duration upon a Qur’anic verse and a Hadith of the beloved of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). Our belief is that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) explained, both verbally and practically, the contents of the book of Allah. Hence, coming to a correct conclusion cannot be achieved by merely looking at the verse of the Qur’an; rather, it is imperative to see what the beloved of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) has to say about the relevant issue.
Allah Most high says to his beloved servant and Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace):
“And We have sent down unto you the message (Qur’an); that you may explain clearly to men what is sent for them.” (Sura al-Nahl, V: 44)
Hence, life being breathed into the foetus at 120 days is understood by looking at the verse of the Qur’an and the Hadith collectively. In the verse, Allah Most High states the stages of embryonic development in the womb of the mother. He Most High says:
“And verily We did create man from a quintessence (of clay). Then We placed him (as a drop of sperm) in a place of rest, firmly fixed. Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood. Then of that clot We made a (foetus) lump. Then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh. Then We developed out of it another creature (by breathing life into it). So blessed be Allah, the most marvellous Creator” (Sura al-Mu’minun V: 12-13-14).
In the Hadith recorded by the two most authentic authorities, Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim (may Allah have mercy on them both) in their respective Sahih collections, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) discusses in detail the periods elapsing between these stages mentioned in the Qur’an.
Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said:
((إنَّ أحدكم يُجمَع خَلْقُه في بطن أمه أربعين يومًا، ثم يكون علقةً مثل ذلك، ثم يكون مُضغةً مثل ذلك، ثم يَبعث الله ملكًا فيُؤمر بأربع كلمات، ويقال له: اكتُبْ عملَه، ورزقَه، وأجلَه، و شقيٌّ أو سعيدٌ، ثم يُنفخ فيه الروح))
“Each one of you is constituted in the womb of the mother for forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period. Then Allah sends an angel who is ordered to write four things. He is ordered to write down his deeds, his livelihood, his (date of) death, and whether he will be blessed or wretched (in religion). Then the soul is breathed into him…” (Sahih al-Bukhari no: 3036).
Based on the above Qur’anic verse and Hadith, the jurists (fuqaha) have inferred that the soul (ruh) enters the foetus at around 4 months/120 days after gestation.
Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“The soul enters the foetus at 120 days (4 months), as established by the Hadith.” (Radd al-Muhtar ala Durr al-Mukhtar 1/202)
Thus, when the age of the unborn child reaches 120 days (4 months), it no longer remains a lifeless object; rather, it is a living human being. At this point, all organ differentiation is almost completed and the child acquires the shape of a human body.
And Allah knows best
Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK