There are two Hadiths at which Islam haters jump with joy. This is mainly because of a mistranslation and misconception due to the mistranslation.
The Hadiths are as follows:
أن امرأة قالت لرسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : هل تغتسل المرأة إذا احتلمت وأبصرت الماء ؟ فقال ” نعم ” فقالت لها عائشة : تربت يداك . وألت . قالت فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ” دعيها . وهل يكون الشبه إلا من قبل ذلك . إذا علا ماؤها ماء الرجل أشبه الولد أخواله . وإذا علا ماء الرجل ماءها أشبه أعمامه ” .
Annam ra’ata, qaalat li Rasoolillah sal Allahi alayhi wasallam hal taghtasilul mar’atu izaH talamat wa absaratil maa’ faqaala na’m. Faqaalat laha Aishatu tarbat yadaaki wa ullat. Qaalat faqaala Rasoolullahi sal Allahi alayhi wasallam da’eeha wa hal yakoonush shabahu illa min qibali zaaliki iza ‘ala maa’uha maa’ ar rajuli ashbahal waladu akhwaalahu wa iza ‘alaa maa’ ar rajuli maa’ aha ashbaha a’amaamahu.
“Aisha (رضي الله عنها) reported: a woman asked the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم): “Is a woman required to perform ghusl (i.e. wash completely as if showering as per the prescribed way) if she had a sexual dream and notices wetness? He responded: Yes. Aisha said to her: May your hand be covered with dust and injured (i.e. she blamed the woman for asking an embarrassing question). However, the Prophet (ﷺ) said: Leave her; resemblance happens because of it. When her water is dominant, the born child resembles his maternal uncles but if sperm of the man was dominant, the born child should resemble his paternal uncles.” [Sahih Muslim, book 3, Hadith 37]
The Hadith is usually translated as follows:
A woman came to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and inquired: Should a woman wash herself when she sees a sexual dream and sees (the marks) of liquid? He said: Yes. ‘A’isha said to her: May your hand be covered with dust and injured. She narrated: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: Leave her alone. In what way does the child resemble her but for the fact that when the discharge contributed by woman prevails upon that of man, the child resembles the maternal family, and when the discharge of man prevails upon that of woman the child resembles the paternal family.
” ماء الرجل أبيض وماء المرأة أصفر . فإذا اجتمعا، فعلا مني الرجل مني المرأة ، أذكرا بإذن الله . وإذا علا مني المرأة مني الرجل ، آنثا بإذن الله
Maa’ ur rajuli abyadu wa maa’ ul mar’ati asfar fa izaj tama’aa fa’ala maniyyur rajuli maniyyul mar’ati azkara bi-iznillahi wa iza ‘alaa maniyyul mar’ati maniyyur rajuli anathaa bi-iznillah.
The water of the man is white and the water of the woman is yellow. When they get together, if the discharge of the man (i.e. sperm) become above the discharge of the woman, the child is male, by the permission of Allah, and if the discharge of the woman becomes above the discharge of the man (i.e. sperm), the child is a female by the permission of Allah. [Sahih Muslim, book 3, Hadith 38]
The Hadith is usually translated as follows:
The reproductive substance of man is white and that of woman yellow, and when they have sexual intercourse and the male’s substance prevails upon the female’s substance, it is the male child that is created by Allah’s Decree, and when the substance of the female prevails upon the substance contributed by the male, a female child is formed by the Decree of Allah.
The criticism against the Hadiths is that the gender of the child is dependent on the chromosome of the sperm cell and has nothing to do with the discharges of either the man or the woman. The proper translations should clarify this misconception; however, we shall discuss further below. The first Hadith discusses resemblance and the second one gender.
This narration goes along with the genetic science that resemblance of children is explained through the theory of dominance where superior genes prevail over the child. It is also known that sperm is alkaline whereas women’s ejaculated fluid is acidic. In order for sperm to reach the woman’s egg it has to go through the woman discharge. Thus, when acidic and alkaline fluids meet, alkaline fluids either neutralize, or overpower acidic fluid and hence cause sperm to preserve its nature [i.e. man’s genes become weak] or that alkaline discharge effects the fluid and makes it weak. This can be one of the interpretations and understanding.
One may argue that though it may be possible, it is not convincing. However, as this is supposed to be scientifically examined, we only can reach this decision based on facts and certainty. One major point that causes all this confusion about this Hadith, and hence some people find it problematic, is that they tend to immediately understand the word water of women to mean ejaculated fluid that happens due to intimacy or arousal.
If we pay attention to the words used in this Hadith we find great findings i.e. He (ﷺ) used the word water (maa’) in reference to the liquid of women and he did not specify it any further. We have to understand what the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم meant with water of women as he did not specify it. It is true that he did not specify it but he actually described it when he said in another narration the water of women is yellow and thin. So, what is that fluid that has such a description?
It is known that ejaculated discharge due to arousal or intimacy is white. The only liquid that is yellow is actually called follicular fluid which is discharged without a relation to copulation or arousal and it is directly related to pregnancy. It comes out with a thin layer called follicle of which inside there is a small egg that combines with the sperm of man during fertilization and this has to happen in order for a child to be created.
It must be noted that neither the questioner nor answerer [i.e. the Prophet (ﷺ)] intended to explain the how of this process. Rather, he explained why children sometimes resemble their fathers and some other times, resemble their mothers. This is proven and well explained in another Hadith when the Prophet (ﷺ) clearly stated that resemblance is purely genetic when a woman delivered a black boy and the man doubted that he his wife may slept with another man as none of the family was black. When he explained it to the man he told him that genetics of great grandfather may affect grandchildren. From this we learn that it is obvious that the Prophet (ﷺ) acknowledged that determining the how of the matter was left for us to discover; the Hadith only provides us with the key, which is the answer to why this happen.
To sum it up:
- The Hadith only addresses the topic of resemblance
- Science states that ejaculated liquid of women is irrelevant to childbearing or resemblance
- The Hadith only addresses the topic of resemblance
- The Hadith calls the liquid of women as water without specifying its nature or type
- In another Hadith, this water has been described as yellow and thin
- Science states that only follicular fluid has such description whereas other ejaculated liquids are white in color
- Science states that follicular fluid has a layer inside the egg that is involved in the process because men have semen that includes sperm and women have follicular fluid that includes the egg.
Based on this, the Hadith becomes clear and understood. Unnecessary further digging is fruitless since the Prophet (ﷺ) did not explain genetic science. He simply answered how a child sometimes resemble his father’s side and at other times, his mother’s side. If this is kept in mind, one realizes that what confuses a person is due to the how of such process while the Hadith speaks of why. Therefore, we learn that one should not add assumptions or take the Hadith out of its context and then examine it according to these faulty assumptions.
Refer here for further reading.
The second Hadith:
- Some scholars like Ibn al-Qayyim questioned the authenticity of the words ‘it becomes male…it becomes female’ and said it is a possible mistake made by one of the narrators in the chain as the preserved text states about resemblance.
- It is important to pay attention to the used words in the Hadith. The key words are highlighted below for further clarification.
The water of the man is white and the water of the woman is yellow. When they get together, if the sperm of the man become above the sperm of the woman, the child is male, by the permission of Allah, and if the sperm of the woman becomes above the sperm of the man, the child is a female by the permission of Allah.
Notes on the Hadith:
- The word above here means dominant as this is one of the known meanings of the word above and has been used in Quran to mean dominant and controlled.
- The first half of the Hadith referred to the man and woman’s liquids as water while in the second half it became more specific and is referred to as the sperm.
- We already know that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) mentioned in other Hadiths that the water of women is involved in process of fertilization. We learn that this water has a description that does not befit ejaculated fluids since ejaculated fluids are white in color whereas he described the color as yellow and thin.
- The sound understanding of this text is that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) referred to the male and female chromosome of the sperm cell of the man (X as the female chromosome and Y as the male chromosome). Based on this, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) meant that when the male factor is dominant then it is a boy but when the female factor is dominant, then it is a girl. This is what science states and this is the sound understanding that one should have because the text can be understood in various ways and we know that authentic texts must be in agreement with agreed-upon facts.
What caused the confusion? People understood it in a certain way; they assumed that the sperm word used in this Hadith refer to a man and a woman while as a matter of fact, he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) referred to the sperm of the man only which is always a carrier of male and female chromosomes. This is supported by the fact that the word sperm is always exclusively for man when women’s liquid is always called water only.
Indeed, Allah knows best.
References and footnotes:
 The Hadith in Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 2002 is as follows:
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ جَاءَ رَجُلٌ مِنْ بَنِي فَزَارَةَ إِلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ . فَقَالَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّ امْرَأَتِي وَلَدَتْ غُلاَمًا أَسْوَدَ . فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ ” هَلْ لَكَ مِنْ إِبِلٍ ” . قَالَ نَعَمْ . قَالَ ” فَمَا أَلْوَانُهَا ” . قَالَ حُمْرٌ . قَالَ ” هَلْ فِيهَا مِنْ أَوْرَقَ ” . قَالَ إِنَّ فِيهَا لَوُرْقًا . قَالَ ” فَأَنَّى أَتَاهَا ذَلِكَ ” . قَالَ عَسَى عِرْقٌ نَزَعَهَا . قَالَ ” وَهَذَا لَعَلَّ عِرْقًا نَزَعَهُ ” . وَاللَّفْظُ لاِبْنِ الصَّبَّاحِ
It was narrated that Abu Hurairah said: “A man from Banu Fazarah came to the Messenger of Allah, and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, my wife has given birth to a black boy! The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Do you have camels?’ He said: ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘What color are they?’ He said: ‘Red.’ He said: ‘Are there any grey ones among them?’ He said: ‘Yes, there are some grey ones among them.’ He said: ‘Where does that come from?’ He said: ‘Perhaps it is hereditary.’ He said: ‘Likewise, perhaps this is hereditary! “